“Leaf & Petal is just a miracle,” proprietor Jamie Pursell said. “I don’t even know how it works. It has grown into something so much bigger than me.”
Jamie made those remarks in 2019 after being named the Gold Alabama Retailer of the Year for his sales category.
He and his 52-person staff operate three Leaf & Petal garden centers in Mountain Brook Village, Cahaba Heights and at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, plus a Deal Depot discount store on Summit Boulevard. The centers sell indoor/outdoor plants, containers, birdbaths, windchimes, statuary and garden décor, as well as local arts and wares, gourmet foods, furniture, home décor and more.
“We are so blessed to have wonderful employees working for us,” said Jamie. “We are so blessed to have loyal, wonderful customers who come to see us season after season.”
“Leaf & Petal is actually older than I am,” said Jamie, who is 42. The business began in 1974. “It was part of a larger regional franchise that went from North Carolina down to Alabama. My family bought the business in 2005,” he said, adding at that time the only location was at 2817 Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook Village. The Pursell family added a Summit location and the gift shop at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in 2007.
Jamie learned much about business from his dad, Taylor Pursell. “I once asked him how to respond if a customer returns a dead plant, and it is the customer’s fault it died. He asked me how many dollars’ worth of dead plants I thought customers tried to seek refunds or replacements for each year. I gave him my answer, he laughed, and said the number is ‘immaterial.’ He emphasized the lifetime value of a loyal customer and how unwise it is to ever risk losing one over a trivial matter, such as a dead plant.”
In 2013, while Jamie was traveling with his wife in London, he was inspired to create a new garden center development in Alabama with a restaurant component like those common in the United Kingdom and Europe.
“We toured several garden centers over there,” he said. “We really enjoyed the experience of having food, coffee, tea amongst the flowers at these garden centers.
“While I wanted to have a food component, I didn’t want to have to learn a whole new business,” Jamie said. “Networking through friends and some relationships I already had, I partnered with a couple of other businesses in town that were looking to expand as well, and now we have a restaurant neighbor on either side of our newest garden center,” which opened in 2018. The businesses share a lot with 101 parking spaces. “Just having the additional space and additional parking has really allowed our business to grow.”
Ralph and Jennifer Yarbrough’s Crestline Bagel and Becky Satterfield’s El ZunZún are the book-end restaurants on the Leaf & Petal campus in the Cahaba Heights neighborhood of Vestavia Hills.
We “wanted to create a situation where his customers and our customers had an increased experience,” said Ralph. “We wanted the Crestline Bagel customers to have a beautiful place to sit in our outdoor dining or in Leaf & Petal’s greenhouse. Jamie wanted his customers, when they’re shopping, to be able to come over and get a cup of coffee or get something to eat. While you shop for plants and flowers, your kids or your spouse can have lunch or breakfast.”
Jamie said, “The integration with the restaurants really makes the location in Cahaba Heights special.” The shared space has worked well for all three businesses. “It’s working better than we could have hoped for,” he said.
While the Mountain Brook and Birmingham stores have small footprints, the Cahaba Heights location is massive and includes a 3,500-square-foot gift shop and 4,000-square-foot greenhouse that was designed to double as an event space.
Besides meetings, the space also lends itself to social gatherings. There’s even been a few proposals and four or five intimate weddings amid the flowers and plants in the greenhouse. Going forward though, Jamie says he’s out of the wedding business.
“Our greenhouse has been a popular venue during the pandemic, because it is so large and open with excellent airflow–much like being outdoors,” he said. “The event venue has been booked pretty much normally since the fall of 2020.”
Other than the Botanical Gardens location, which was required to close for 90 days, from mid-March to June 2020, Leaf & Petal’s business increased during the pandemic.
By the first of April 2020, customers, who wanted to get outside and garden, swarmed to the other stores. “We couldn’t source enough edible plants to fill the demand,” said Jamie. “It seemed like everyone, my wife included, decided that they wanted to try growing more herbs, vegetables, and/or fruit while at home.
“Unfortunately, the supply is still having a hard time catching up with demand in the edibles category,” he added.
Being able to spread the Botanical Gardens employees among the open stores in those early months, helped fill in gaps left by employees who separated because of age, health concerns and other reasons, said Jamie. The dedicated Botanical Gardens team members “ended up being essential in having enough employees to make the stores run during the increased demand for plants and garden goods we saw in the spring of 2020,” he said.
“Challenges provide opportunities to serve one another and make connections stronger.”
Besides his employees and customers, Jamie credits the Birmingham Chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization for much of the growth and success of Leaf & Petal. “They know my business, inside and out,” he said of the small group of local entrepreneurs who bounce ideas and challenges off each other. “They’ve helped me go through challenging times.”
In early 2020, Jamie followed a fellow EO member in bringing on a corporate pastor as an additional resource to be there for any of his 52 employees who may be dealing with one of life’s many challenges, whether it be in the area of finances, relationships, grief, substance abuse, children or anything else. Coincidentally, the pastor’s first day to address the Leaf & Petal team was Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 – the day after Leaf & Petal’s store at the Botanical Gardens was closed due to COVID along with most schools throughout the state and nation. “The 52 people who work at Leaf & Petal are more than just employees,” Jamie said, adding he wanted to support them with more than just a paycheck. “During our weekly team meetings, the pastor is there for our employees to talk to, if they want to talk,” he said.
The other six business owners in Jamie’s EO “Forum,” “learn as a team,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing business without them.”
Number of Employees
My dad, Taylor Pursell. He has always had such great advice to share from all his business experience, especially when it comes to dealing with people.
Taking the risk and spending the money to build the big new store in Cahaba Heights.
Our close partner, The Friends of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, had to cancel their largest annual fundraiser, The Birmingham Botanical Gardens Spring Plant Sale, because of the pandemic. Because many of the plants had already been grown, they generously offered to just give them to us. Instead, we decided to sell their plants at our Deal Depot location and give 100% of the proceeds back to the Gardens. We were able to generate about $25,000, salvaging a portion of the sale. Strong relationships became especially important during the pandemic, and I learned that challenges provide opportunities to serve one another and make connections stronger.
Do everything within reason to retain the wonderful people that make your company run. The main reason Leaf & Petal has been able to continue to grow after so many years in business is that it has an amazing core team of veteran employees at each location. Having lots of veteran employees lends itself to maintaining a strong culture and the ability to improve and execute the company’s systems well.
MEMBER SINCE 2005: Leaf & Petal has garden centers in Mountain Brook Village, Cahaba Heights (pictured) and at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, plus a Deal Depot discount store on Summit Boulevard. Visit leafnpetal.com to learn more.
This article is the cover story of the July 2021 Alabama Retailer
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