In some parts of the world, the mimosa pudica plant is a commonly found plant. Here in the United States, the sensitive plant is a curiosity for kids because its leaves quickly close when touched.
Larry Chipkin grew the plant when he was a boy and never forgot the experience. Since that time, it became Chipkin’s childhood dream to call it the TickleMe Plant and one day sell the plant as a business.
“Growing a TickleMe Plant from seeds and watching how the leaves fold together like magic seemed so much more exciting than growing a lima bean,” Chipkin says of his childhood experience.“Growing a TickleMe Plant from seeds and watching how the leaves fold together like magic seemed so much more exciting than growing a lima bean”
Turning a dream into reality
As he grew up, Chipkin stored the idea of selling the plant away somewhere in his memory, but when 2007 rolled around, his brother, Mark, inquired about the concept.
The question made Chipkin realize he had a decision to make.
“The choice for me was simple,” he recalls. “I could continue to dream or I could do something to start to make my dream into reality.”
And so it was; Chipkin and his brother started their online business for the TickleMe Plant. Mark retired as a science teacher to partner with his brother on the venture and helped create “fun kits” for individuals and classrooms.
“More recently, my brother initiated a program to donate seed packets to a few selected schools to jumpstart our dream,” Chipkin says.
They call the program “Tickle Their Hearts.” For every sale on their online store, one seed packet is donated.
A ticklish plant“For the most part, we are trying to get kids more excited about plants, science, nature and gardening, but we also cater to those that are young at heart”
Mimosa pudica is a fern-like plant that grows pink flowers in the summertime. Something as simple as a gentle breeze can cause the plant to close its leaves for a few minutes.
Scientists don’t know exactly why it does this, but speculate it may be a defense from potential animals that could eat the plant.
Whatever the reason, Chipkin knows kids like it.
“For the most part, we are trying to get kids more excited about plants, science, nature and gardening, but we also cater to those that are young at heart,” he notes.
Chipkin adds that when grandparents buy seeds for their grandkids, they often buy extra for themselves as well.
Getting plants into the limelight
To market their product, the brothers use Google ads and press releases, and they find social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest are a good way for customers to share about the plant. Mostly, though, the brothers like to stay proactive by reaching out to people they think would be interested in their product.
On a typical day, Chipkin spends his mornings reviewing active ads and looking for stories that might be relevant to his product. He says, for example, if he finds a story about gardening with kids, he or Mark might contact the writer to see if he or she would be interested in writing about the TickleMe Plant.
As the afternoon approaches, Chipkin says his day becomes less controlled and more “reactive.” Customers need orders quickly, supply deliveries need to be unpacked, and the occasional interview by writers and radio hosts needs to be done.To give his business more leverage, Chipkin bought season-specific URLs that redirect to TickleMePlant.com
But in the end, he says his days usually do not seem like work.
Thinking beyond the plant
In addition to TickleMe Plant seed starter kits, the brothers also produced a book for their customers.
Mark traveled around the world searching for the plant in the wild and that experience helped him write the TickleMe Plant book, which includes growing tips and interesting facts about the plant.
The seeds come in a variety of growing kits, including party favor sets, which are often used at birthday parties. Chipkin also promotes the kits for annual events like Earth Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
In fact, to give his business more leverage, Chipkin bought season-specific URLs that redirect to TickleMePlant.com. He uses EasterPlant.com, EarthDayPlant.com, MothersDayPlant.com and ValentinesDayPlant.com.
The website is bright and easy to navigate, but Chipkin says it didn’t start that way.
“When we started out, our website was very homespun, and had way too many colors and information,” he notes.
‘Listen to everyone’
“Listen to everyone’s input, but in the end trust your own instincts”
He adds it was more of a priority to get the product out in the world than wait for a perfect website. Even still, when he did work on upgrading the site, it was challenging for him.
Chipkin says for those who want to open their own Web store, they should multiply what is already working, but try new things and listen to your customers.
“Listen to everyone’s input, but in the end trust your own instincts,” he adds.
This isn’t the first dream Chipkin has pursued. He has a patent on a paper-thin easel used for business cards or similar-sized items, and also wrote a couple songs, including “I Love My TickleMe Plant.”
“My creative experiences gave me the confidence and the know-how to take a chance on this business venture, and I am glad I did,” Chipkin says.
His story just goes to show that a childhood dream can still live into adulthood and any experiences along the way only help to support what could possibly be a successful online business.