An Interview With Local Small Business, Recreational Pots & Plants
How well do you know your local Cleveland small businesses?
I have shared many reasons for why we should support small businesses: sustainability, unique products, supporting local communities. But I haven’t talked in much depth yet about the relationships that are formed.
When you have an opportunity to support a small business, especially one that is local, you usually have the privilege of getting to engage, face-to-face, with the person, or persons behind the business. You can ask them their name, encounter their mannerisms, and share in beautiful moments of raw humanity.
Sometimes you just have a brief, slightly transactional, interaction. But often it goes deeper. Maybe in that initial encounter you learn a personal story about the business. Maybe after repeat visits, you gain a friend. Suddenly, it isn’t about the business anymore. It is about the shared experience of two humans existing in this world and being able to share their space together.
As part of a brand new series, and style of posts, I am proud to share the first interview with a local Cleveland Small Business. As a native of Cleveland, the small businesses closest to me mean to the most and I enjoy building relationships while directly supporting the livelihoods and/or dreams of others.
Today’s Featured Cleveland Small Business
Lori Switaj is the owner of Recreational Pots & Plants on Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s West Side. I first learned about Recreational Pots & Plants through my co-workers. We occasionally have impromptu plant store outings and this is by far our favorite store – with a wide assortment, fair pricing, and a personal and warm experience every time you enter the store. So without rambling further, read on to learn more about this amazing small business and the woman behind it all!
Please introduce yourself with your name, and where you are from
Lori Switaj. A native of outside of NYC, I now live in Downtown Cleveland.
What was your life like before starting Recreational Pots & Plants?
Ahhh, I have a crazy resume. I am former print and digital reporter and editor. I was a digital media manager for Hospice of the Western Reserve. I also own numerous rental properties. I am a former hockey coach (youth and adult) and for two decades ran a popular Friday hockey clinic in Rocky River. I have been published in local and national websites (Aol, Huffington Post, Patch) and authored a children’s book, “The Quiet.”
Can you tell us the story behind the name of your storefront?
It wasn’t my idea. My husband, Judge Timothy McCormick came up with the name while we were having breakfast with my daughter. He had an “aha” moment and both said, “Yes!” The name is actually registered.
What inspired you to start your business? When did you officially start your business?
My Puerto Rican mother was a plant junkie. She taught me about plants as a child. Owning a plant business was always a dream, but we wanted to differentiate ourselves so we added a crazy collection of pots to the store.
How do you source so many amazing, and high quality plants, at great prices?
In addition to using a few Florida nurseries, we also source from 4-5 nurseries in Greater Cleveland. We try to use as many local plants as possible, but we carry a line of patented plants that must be legally sourced from Florida.
What are your goals or what do you strive to accomplish?
I’m not trying to dominate the plant world. Right now I’m content serving our amazing customers and being part of a burgeoning Lorain Avenue.
What is unique to your business?
Pots. Pots. Pots. We have common and some rarer plants, but this is a one-stop shop. You can buy a plant, get expert care instructions or we can help you find the right plant for your conditions, but you can also find the perfect pot for your plant. We carry many whimsical pots, but also try to source from as many local ceramic and pottery artisans as possible. Many people love the local one-of-a-kind pots.
Do you advocate for any causes through your business platform?
We fully support diversity and have contributed to LGQBT events as well as several organizations involved with drug/alcohol recovery. And of course we are a big fan of education.
What is the greatest challenge in your business?
Creating awareness that we exist. We are celebrating our two-year anniversary this month and still have quite a few people stop in who just discovered our existence.
Is there any particular customer story, business ownership story, or other memory that stands out to you?
Oh boy. I’m a talker so I’ve had conversations with so many customers. Perhaps what really stands out is the eagerness of so many customers to talk about social issues. That is one of the reasons I love having a storefront in Cleveland, and particularly Ohio City. there is such an openness and willingness to accept. Regardless of age, religion, ethnicity, gender, or race, customers all have one point of commonality: plants. I see this when customers of diverse backgrounds start having plant conversations in the store. Differences are irrelevant with that point of commonality.
Do you collaborate with any other small businesses? If yes, in what ways?
Yes, we often hold sales with our next door neighbor Table for Two, and are hoping to collaborate with other businesses on Lorain Avenue.
What is the most important thing people should know before buying a plant?
Do the plant requirements (light, temperature) sync with where it will be living?
What advice would you have for someone wanting to start their own business?
DO YOUR RESEARCH. Can you afford to not draw a salary for 6-12 months? Are your goals realistic? Make sure you do market research if you are opening a storefront. Know all the costs involved in your business. Know your product(s), and be prepared to work many hours. For every hour the store is open, you can expect to work at least one additional hour sourcing, buying, advertising and marketing. It’s all worth it.
Why should society support small businesses?
Small businesses make up 99.9% of all businesses in the country and employ nearly half of the private-sector workforce. We contribute through sales and income tax, but just as importantly, we add a vitality to the neighborhoods where we exist. Each mom-and-pop store provides a unique and intimate buying experience you will not find in large chain stores.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with the community?
I love Cleveland. Really love Cleveland.
Is there any question that I did not ask, but I should have?
I think you covered everything!
I want to give a special “thank you” to Lori for agreeing to be the first small business interview featured on the blog! I stepped outside of my comfort zone to ask her be a part of this project – and I am so glad that I did.
If you know of a Cleveland-based small business, or any small business, that you think should be featured on the blog, send me an e-mail.