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No stopping Nuno’s plant business growth

Tuesday, 27 November 2018  
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CDI member Sue Kingma has truly epitomised the tenacious spirit of creative entrepreneurs across her experience as a businesswoman over the past few decades, and today runs an indoor plant business that’s thriving. We caught up with the green-fingered creative this month to find out more about her journey, her eye for spotting an opportunity, and how the CDI has helped her achieve success with her endeavours.


Nuno curates a range of indoor plants for urban homes and work spaces. Relaunched by Sue in 2014, Nuno now specialises in designer plant products, including kokedama (mossballs), mounted plants, and unusual and hard to find plants. Indigenous and exotic plants include staghorn ferns, cool climate orchids, hoyas, trending indoor and caudex plants.


The range includes hand crafted plant accessories - tillandsia baskets, ceramic plant pot holders, plant baskets, macrame hangers, metal plant pot stands and handmade hypertufa pots for succulents and bonsai. Sue’s plant designs are supplied to local decor stores, nurseries and consumers at expo's such as Decorex, Homemakers, Constantia Gift Fair, and the Rare Plant Fair. Nuno also supplies decor stores such as Present Space and NAP.


Tell us more about your business and your journey?


At school, I knew I was a creative and wanted to become an interior decorator – but it wasn’t a viable choice, due to the lack of opportunities. So, I went to university and I gained research skills! I became a teacher and then converted to HR Management. In the late 80s, I realised that my writing and basic computer skills could produce CVs and Training Manuals – my first business was born, and I started on my path as a Serial Entrepreneur!


On the side I started making and selling mustards, pickles, sauces and spice blends at a craft market – an agent saw my goods, and soon I was supplying 14 outlets. When he dropped my product, I took over marketing and grew into a small factory, exporting containers to Sweden and California. On the side I then started on making handmade felt.


When I sold the mustard business when my daughter was two, I moved the felting business home, and grew it to exporting worldwide –  until the 2009 recession, when 60% of our business, the export portion, disappeared overnight. I focussed on growing the Southern African portion of the business, but it was not enough…when I was playing around on the internet one day in 2011, I came across vertical gardening and mossballs, and I started combining felt and plants.


In 2012 and 2013, I collaborated on installations at Homemakers Expo, and in 2013, our felt wall planter was selected for The CDI Handmade Collection. By 2013, I was converting to Mossball making, and relaunched Nuno as Nuno Plants, specialising in Mossballs. I had to start all over again, with new staff and research and develop new skills – for the 4th time! Each time I have been lucky enough to identify a niche and go with it!


In 2014, Nuno exhibited for the first time as part of the green industry at the Cape Green Trade Day. And Nuno had a stand at Decorex 2014, and spent the entire show selling mossballs as they were strung by our team on the stand – a customer commented on seeing the workers: ‘this is how a SA business should operate!’ They did not know that we had got the stand two days before the show! In 2013 and 2014 we learnt the hard way that fynbos did not survive in mossballs, and bromeliads did not sell.


Nuno Plants started making money at the end of 2015 – roughly 1000 days since I had converted to plants! We ran our first Kokedama Workshop in 2015 – teaching 26 people to make a mossball in the space of 2 hours! These were then used to decorate their workspace.


Collaborations have been an important growth factor – collaboration led to our display at Homemakers 2012 and 2013. And our being able to exhibit at Decorex 2016 with The Makers.


Through the CDI, we were invited to provide plants for the Inspire Trade Show in 2016…which led to being noticed by the artistic director of Decorex; which in turn led to being invited to provide plant décor for Decorex 2017 and 2018, and exhibiting at both events.


In 2017, in line with plant trends, we moved away from being only kokedama makers and seriously expanded our Indoor Plant Range – and we were the star of the show at the Rare Plant Fair in Stellenbosch, barely coping with sales! Amazingly, we repeated this at RPF 2018! And we did superbly at The Constantia Gift Fair 2017 and 2018.


So, Nuno has morphed into Nuno Indoor Plants, a wholesaler supplying trade and popping up at events. We supply décor stores, undertake commissions for homes & offices, run workshops, and recently, planted up a mall!


How has the CDI helped you over the years? 

I was one of the most unbusiness-skilled entrepreneurs he had come across when the CDI team first met me!



And perhaps the biggest personal growth came when I attended a three-month mentorship and product development programme with the CDI, when I developed my felt fashion accessories range – that developed my understanding of market research and range development, which has stood me in good stead ever since.   


The value of being mentored and subsidised onto expos in Cape Town and Johannesburg cannot be overlooked – it grew my skills in stand design, selling, promotion and order taking – and was the sole reason for my felt business’s major success in export.


And of course, supplying plants free of charge to Inspire Trade Show in 2016 has paid off no end, with exposure at Decorex two years running!


What are the latest developments in your business?


Working with an Industrial Designer led to our first Shadehouse being installed, and our own plant pot mould in 2016. And this year we finally launched our own handmade cement and hypertufa pots – the result of more than a year’s experimenting. And we launched our range of plant pot stands – a hit at Decorex 2018! Both products are definitely on trend. And we have created new crochet plant pot covers made from T-shirt yarn!


And in 2018, we were invited to collaborate on SABC3’s WinaHome Show – which led to TV exposure! Our Kokedama helped create Jungle bathrooms!


We are honoured to have been able to plant up Centrepoint Mall in Milnerton last month – it just goes to show that specialising is worthwhile!


What inspires you?

Colour. Natural fibres. Moss. Lichen. Green leaves. Textures. Trading – I love wheeling and dealing, love selling. Love creating new products. Love the smile on the face of a new plant owner…or plant admirer. Plants make people happy – it is so wonderful to work with plants!


What’s next for your business in the coming months?


Recently, we have been invited to participate in The Design Hub Showcases at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, and this has brought exposure to both new and old customers. We are there again from 25 November to 1 December, exhibiting at The Bello Art Studio, upstairs!


And we are expanding into the Boland – last week I supplied new florists in Paarl area, this week a new florist customer in Franschhoek. And one of my Paarl customers has already requested more!


What lessons can you share with other creative entrepreneurs?

If something isn’t working there comes a point when you have to stop…I have more than once quit a business venture, for different reasons.

It pays to learn about basic financial management of a small business.

Collaboration works – and grows markets.

A multi-craft background is invaluable – I can combine skills from different crafts to create unique products. These products are not so easy for others to copy!

Specialisation pays off – especially when you read and research into your area and constantly learn everything you can. The best way to describe this is having a ‘passion’ for what you do.


Constantly experimenting is worthwhile! It keeps the creativity going. Oh! And don’t give up when it doesn’t work – our cement pots took more than a year of on and off experimenting!



Instagram: nuno_indoorplants

Sue Kingma:


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