By Andy Cuffel
Nine years ago, I began seriously collecting plants. While I love all plants, one type of plant in particular peaked my curiosity: air plants.
I got to the point where I had so many air plants that I jumped on Facebook Marketplace to sell some of my collection. I received such positive feedback that I was soon motivated to turn this hobby into a business, and eventually opened up a physical location. That’s how Cuffel Farms was born.
Cuffel Farms is now one of the largest nurseries in the San Diego area that specializes in Tillandsias, better known as air plants, which are plants that receive their nutrients from the air around them to grow. For years, my customers would come to the nursery to find a variety of air plants and receive specialized, in-person consultations on plant scaping or building living walls.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I had to close my doors to in-person sales, I knew an important element of my business — connection with customers — was being cut off. I didn’t know what the months ahead would bring, but I feared that Cuffel Farms wouldn’t be able to make it.
I wasn’t the only San Diego small business that suddenly found itself in survival mode. According to Yelp’s newly released Local Economic Impact Report, San Diego has one of the highest temporary and permanent business closure rates in the state. It’s devastating to hear these statistics, as the closure of even one small business takes away from the flavor and culture that makes our city so unique.
Despite the grim picture painted by these statistics, Cuffel Farms has seen incredible support from our virtual community. After closing my doors in March, I noticed my customers began tagging Cuffel Farms in social media posts, letting their followers know to purchase their plants through Cuffel Farms. I slowly began seeing a steady flow of business through Facebook and Instagram as people were looking to make their homes brighter and happier.
This organic word-of-mouth generated a welcome pick-up in business and ignited a new sense of resiliency. I established a true digital presence for my business and it has turned into a really special community.
The community I’ve found and built on social media has not only sustained my business, it’s allowed us to continue growing during one of the toughest business climates ever. It’s been a reliable, easy, and, best of all, free tool that became a lifeline for us.
I have also found tons of organic marketing opportunities through social media. My customers used Facebook groups like the San Diego Succulent Swap group, or any of the other countless garden-related groups, to share information about Cuffel Farms and encourage group members to support my business.
Our successful pivot to social media has been a silver lining of the pandemic. Although the past months have been stressful, without this crisis I wouldn’t have explored the digital opportunities available to grow my business or discovered the value of them. I will be forever grateful for the San Diegans I’ve connected with online, and I will continue to foster the community we’ve built when we’re able to come together again in person.
As we work our way through this crisis, I’m urging our community to continue to support small businesses by getting online and connecting with your local shops. If you can’t make a purchase at this time show your support by posting a review of your favorite local business on social media, share them with a family member or friend, or tag and share a business with your followers to extend the network and the influence of that business.
By localizing our shopping and continuing to build and connect with our neighbors and businesses online, we are helping the small businesses that make our communities special remain open.
Andy Cuffel is the founder of the Cuffel Farms nursery in Clairemont.
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