A YOUNG Cork woman used lockdown to set up her own plant business while maintaining first-class honours standards in her studies at the Cork School of Music.
Vivienne Sayers O’Callaghan, aged 20, always knew she loved to sing, but it took a global pandemic to realise she also truly loved nature, as she relished spending time on the family farm in Carraig na Bhfear.
It was also during lockdown her voracious appetite for business developed, and the result is her new company called Prickly Plants.
“It all began in my little glass-house in North Cork,” said Viv, a third year specialised voice student on the Bachelor Degree in Music, Cork School of Music MTU.
“During lockdown, I began to recognise that not everybody is so lucky. I wanted to help people bring the outdoors in, and to embrace and indulge in the relaxing and peaceful environment nature can bring us during the pandemic. It was lockdown number one that made me appreciate the life in our gardens, in our homes, in our county.”
Her lightbulb moment happened in Ikea in September, 2020, when she was still only 19.
Fast forward 10 months and, as well as selling online, she has opened her first retail store in Waterfront Business Park, Little Island, where she sells a wide range of exotic indoor house plants and is soon expanding to outdoor garden plants.
“We also offer a customised and personalised plant design service. As cafés and restaurants begin to open, we have been given the opportunity to help them bring a splash of colour and nature to their outdoor and indoor spaces.”
Surely opening a bricks and mortar shop so soon was a little risky?
“People want to feel, see and touch the plant and I wanted to make them more accessible to the customer,” says Vivienne.
“Because I do a personalised design service, I also wanted to make the buying process as personalised as possible too. I sometimes spend up to 20 minutes speaking with each individual customer in the shop and online to create that loyalty and make the customer feel special. It’s what people want.”
And what they want is more plants!
Currently, she imports her plants from Holland. But the long term goal is to build a 100% Irish supply chain and supply only Irish-grown succulents and cacti.
When she’s not juggling all the other balls in the air, she makes and sells little pots using Irish eco-cement, rainwater and Irish sand.
And Vivienne also helps with office admin for her parents’ business, Southern Mobility in Little Island, where they adapt cars for those with disabilities and requiring aids to drive.
“It’s really interesting stuff, their tagline is ‘Delivering Independence’,” she said.
Accessibility and inclusivity are important values for Viv and she has incorporated them into her business.
Until now, it’s been a ‘one woman show’, with support from family and friends, but she’s now training in her 19-year-old cousin Chloe McCarthy (who studies in the Cope Foundation’s Doras in Penrose Warf) and 15-year-old cousin Michael O’Callaghan (second year secondary student in Glanmire).
And there’s a charitable element to her work, with customers encouraged to donate to the Irish Cancer Society.
“I lost my Nan, Mary O’Callaghan (Horgan), of Whites Cross, to cancer in 2018. Even in college, when we would have concerts, I always did my best to have an Irish Cancer Society bucket out. We have all been touched by cancer. I will use every opportunity to help people like my nan,” she said.
Starting out, Viv admits she didn’t have ‘any plan whatsoever.’
“I plunged myself headfirst into business, I hadn’t an iota.
“I think my entrepreneurial nature expressed itself early when I was a student at West Kerry boarding school Coláiste Íde. This organisational inclination continued at CSM where I established a touring vocal jazz ensemble called Ain’t Misbehavin’.
“If you could think of a barbershop quartet, and add 16 more people, that was us. We took the name from Fats Waller’s song Ain’t Misbehavin’. We covered classics from Billy Joel to Joni Mitchell, from George Gershwin to Duke Ellington. I guess you could call us a jazz ensemble.
“Since the pandemic hit, I kept making attempts to bring the gang back together and do an outside rehearsal or performance in Fitzgerald Park, something simple. It never worked out though.”
She also sings in the award-winning choir Madrigal 75 and sang in the chorus of the Cork Operatic Society’s production of the opera Pagliacci.
Nothing makes her happier than singing, she says, and she’s missed performing as an ensemble terribly.
But the young woman admits she’s found herself “101% at a crossroads between music and business”.
“But hey, I’m doing it now, who’s to say I can’t do it forever?”
That’s music to our ears.
Follow her on Instagram at prickly_plants_