- Chase Hafer didn’t know much about plants when he launched BloomBox. That was business partner David Zablocki’s realm. The decision to merge online sales with an in-person touch helped the duo build a one-of-a-kind online plant retailer.
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Chase Hafer never imagined that he and business partner David Zablocki would be sleeping in three-hour shifts just to get all their BloomBox orders out.
Over the course of a two-week span in 2020, the Lancaster-based online garden supply company went from having three employees to 50.
The duo launched BloomBox in 2016 with a vision to install vertical, edible garden walls. Each month they would replace the herbs with fresh plants.
Growth was slow, and during one season, they were overflowing with leftover plants. A spur-of-the-moment decision to list the plants on Facebook soon led to a complete shift in the business.
“We sold them all,” Chase says. “We thought maybe we could just grow these and sell them online.”
Their business model had a unique twist. They would deliver every plant order in person. No plant would be wrapped in plastic or boxed. Plants would be handpicked from the greenhouse and delivered within days of the order.
“We didn’t want to deal with the customer service nightmare of boxing plants,” Chase says.
By the spring of 2019, both men, then in their late 20s, were able to quit their jobs and go all in with BloomBox.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, because BloomBox was an online retailer it was exempt from the shutdown of businesses, which affected traditional garden centers. On the day the shutdown was announced in March, BloomBox had more sales than in the entire same month the previous year.
While sales were great, the pair’s work-life balance went out the window.
“It was really bad,” Chase says. “I was sleeping three hours per night, working 15 to 20 hours per day.”
After that initial surge, Chase and David knew that though they wanted to keep growing, they needed to slow the pace.
“It aged me physically,” Chase says. “It’s incredible how old I feel.”
Chase and David opened a Baltimore hub to deliver orders as far away as Virginia and Delaware and are planning a New York hub in 2023 to reach their New York City, Hudson Valley, Connecticut, and northern New Jersey customers.
They also stopped growing plants. Instead, they connected with growers and suppliers near each hub to provide their wide range of edible and decorative plants, garden supplies, books, and winter greens and wreaths.
‘Take the leap’
“We’re going to continue to grow a steady, responsibly grown business,” Chase says.
His focus has shifted to creating systems and incentives that allow his employees to grow as well.
Launching a business also has helped Chase grow as a leader.
“When I started the business, I didn’t have a ton of experience or view myself as a strong leader,” he says. “We didn’t have a choice but to become leaders. But now I’m a much more grounded leader. I can reason better, am more grounded, and take a better approach to things.”
Chase doesn’t know what he’d be doing if he hadn’t taken the risk to launch his business, but he’s never regretted doing it.
“You have to take the leap,” he says. “You can only fail if you give up.”