Feeling stuck in a full-time advertising gig, Christan Summers traded her day job for days spent selling succulents out of a "greenhouse on wheels" (that's the Tulita truck, above) and making house calls to sick fiddle leaf fig trees. Launched in collaboration with Ivan Martinez, the Brooklyn-based plant company Tula House was born in April 2016, and one year later, business is, well, blooming. In between visits to bamboo plants and designing a local backyard, Christan chatted with me about growing a business and the one plant she'd take with her to a deserted island.
Take a video tour of the Tula House mobile:
Why did you decide to start Tula House?
I was working in advertising at the time and felt really out of touch with the natural world. I began to imagine what makes me happy and grounded, and nature and an active lifestyle is what kept popping up. From there, I realized how much I wanted to learn something new and feel as if I was working with my hands again. Step away from the computer, work outside and experience the seasons again. I began to think about a peaceful space — full of green, away from the hustle and open to anyone and everyone to experience.
What was the first step for getting the business off the ground?
I JUMPED. In other words, I quit my full-time advertising gig (with freelance lined up) and began to write the business plan while conducting loads of market research. Tula's business model morphed and evolved as we started to educate ourselves more and more on what the market currently offered and what we envisioned for the brand.
How did the Tulita truck come to be?
The truck came from both necessity and the desire to break tradition. The necessity part lies within the astronomical cost of renting a retail storefront in Brooklyn. Not only did we not have the money to throw into a storefront — we didn't want to. The thought of risking the potential debt for a business we hadn't yet tested didn't feel right, nor did the traditional set-up of a storefront. The luxury of building your own business is that you can slowly create your dream space. And our dream space involves sunshine, breezes, blue skies and lots of green.
The luxury of building your own business is that you can slowly create your dream space. And our dream space involves sunshine, breezes, blue skies and lots of green.
From there, Ivan was the one who came up with the mobility idea and the truck basically fell into our laps. I was doing lots of research online and began to feel discouraged as trucks were really expensive. Out of frustration one morning, I went for a walk and during that walk, I found the truck parked on the side of the road with a FOR SALE sign in the windshield. From there, we custom-built Tulita, our mini-greenhouse on wheels.
What is it like working together with Ivan? Do you tend to spend most of your day together, or do you have separate tasks that you each focus on?
I love working with Ivan. He brings a thoughtful and pragmatic approach to the business. I'm the first to admit that I'll jump on every opportunity that comes through the door and Ivan has taught me to consider the long-term effects of these opportunities . . . there is of course a balance to all that.
Our roles are very clear and we hardly see each other during the day. Ivan focuses mainly on design, merchandise, branding and the overall look and feel of the brand. I deal with business development, operations, plants, design and the people.
What's the thing that surprised you most about starting your own business?
Luckily, Tula is not my first business [the first was an online jewelry company that Christian ran while living in Paris] so I made a lot of the rookie mistakes with my first try. However, I am continuously shocked with how impatient I am with the process.
If you were on a deserted island and could only take one plant with you—what would it be?
Oh good one. A coconut palm! All about function – I can drink coco water, eat the coco meat, make cute tops out of the coco shells and use the palm fronds as a hut.
Well, we know who's going to survive if we ever get stranded on a deserted island! Thanks so much, Christan and Ivan! Want to learn more about Tula House, explore the Tulita truck or adopt some new plant babies? Follow them on Instagram to see where they're stationed, and check out their website for showroom hours.