Interview with Annie and Jemma Charman, founders of Green Rooms

Annie and Jemma Charman are twin sisters, business partners, mothers and founders of Green Rooms, a pop-up botanical market and now a brand new online marketplace for plant lovers.

Green Rooms was first formed while the twin sisters were on maternity leave from their day jobs in London, Jemma was a homeware buyer and Annie was a Project Manager for an online ad tech company. Juggling childcare the sisters set about launching the UK’s first pop-up houseplant market.

Since 2018 the sisters have been bringing together some of the country’s best indie brands and delighting customers with unique urban jungle shopping experiences. Now their newly launched online marketplace brings these joyful shopping experiences online, allowing customers to shop from a wide range of indie brands for plants, pots and plant care all from one lovely website.

What’s your career background?

Jemma: I have had a career as a homeware buyer, for large and small companies. As a buyer you are so involved with all aspects of the business from design, sourcing, marketing, merchandising, accounting to ecommerce and operations that it gave me a good grounding for running my own retail business. 

Annie: I have worked in online advertising for the last 12 years, focussing on Account Management and Project Management, latterly being involved with customer experience and operational efficiency. I’ve spent most of those 12 years working at a start-up that grew with investment and most recently to IPO – this has provided many valuable learning curves, and of course the account management and project management skills are hugely transferable to almost any working situation. 

Neither of us had had any experience with event management so in terms of organising the in-person markets we really were just learning on the job. 

How did your career change after having children?

We were both on maternity leave at the same time with our first children and this was the time that our business was formed. Perhaps it was having the head-space out of our ‘day jobs’ that allowed for business ideas to form, and having had fast-paced careers, the need for our minds to have something other than the babies to focus on definitely pushed us to creating a business of our own. 

We both returned to our day jobs part-time after maternity leave and worked on the side-hustle one day a week, plus evenings and weekends. We didn’t make life easy for ourselves to say the least, but having grown up in a family where being self-employed and working non-traditional hours was the norm, it felt like a natural way of life for us. I (Jemma) now work on the business full-time while Annie continues to work part-time in her day job. 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

We grew up in the countryside to self-employed garden designer parents, so we were always surrounded by plants. From a very young age we were very aware of the positive benefits that living and working with plants can bring. 

Having then lived in London for 10 years with fast-paced screen-led careers, in 2018 we were both craving more plants in our lives but with little ones in tow we just didn’t have the ability to get around to all the plant shops and garden centres we wanted to. We had also always loved shopping from independents and visiting markets, so decided that the time was right to bring all these things together in the form of a contemporary houseplant market. There wasn’t anything else quite like it at the time.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

We floated the market idea to several plant shops around us and they were all keen to be involved. We then set about contacting local venues to see if any would be keen to host us. Our first location was a bar in Peckham’s railway arches that wanted to grow their events calendar. We were given the space for free if the bar spend on the day exceeded £2,000.

We quickly recruited sellers and the money they paid in advance for their stall allowed us to pay for flyers and posters. We worked hard to gain a following on Instagram and contacted local press to help promote the inaugural market. The market was a huge success, so we booked a second one a couple of months later. Soon we were contacted by other venues wanting us to host markets elsewhere, and we had lots of businesses applying to be stall holders at our markets. 

We would do all this with babies in-tow, working whilst they napped, or bringing them along to meetings. A particularly memorable moment was when we went for a meeting at a rather distinguished venue. It has lovely floor to ceiling windows and to keep the kids entertained we gave them some snacks, however they proceeded to smear soft cheese all over the glass! It turned out ok in the end as we held very successful markets at that venue. 

We held markets every month or so until the pandemic hit and put a stop to that. That is when we turned our attention online and researched and developed our online marketplace. We did this on a real shoestring budget. Using a white-label marketplace development company and funding the development from money raised by the in-person markets so far. 

What’s your USP?

We are a contemporary plant market popping-up around the country, most plant markets are married to a certain venue however, we drove about bringing our markets to different places around the country. We bring together some of the country’s best indie brands and delight customers with unique urban jungle shopping experiences.

Now our newly launched online marketplace brings these joyful shopping experiences online. Unlike other popular plant shopping websites where you are buying only from one seller, our unique website will enable customers to shop from small independent botanical brands, high street plant shops, UK growers and botanical designer-makers all from one good-looking, user-friendly website.

Customers in pursuit of plants, pots, planting tools, accessories and plant advice will no longer have to hop from one website to another.

Who’s your target audience?

Our target audience is made up of plant lovers, interior lovers, experienced plant owners and brand new plant parents. We are also really passionate about getting children and young people into growing plants. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media is our go-to as that is where our business has been built, there is a thriving plant-loving community online. However we also work hard to create relationships with key figures in the industry to help spread the word of our events and online marketplace.

Our community of small businesses that we support, be them stall holders at our markets, the venues, other market organisers and our online marketplace sellers are also really key for us in terms of spreading the word. We have always valued the ethos of ‘community over competition’.

We are members of PR Dispatch and have found that a great source of information and motivation. We schedule 90 mins each week to reach out to press contacts regarding our brand profile, products or our events.  

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Our blog content is really important to us. We find that drives a lot of awareness of our brand and leads to great engagement on our website. We have worked hard to provide trusted and informative content. This is an area of growth for us, as social media reach is harder to come by, we will be focusing a lot of our attention on our blogs and growing our mailing list. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Time, or the lack of it. The business has always been a side-hustle whilst working other jobs and bringing up a young family. We haven’t ‘overcome’ it, it is still an issue, if not more so.

As we have launched the online marketplace and now two of our four children between us are of school age, the school day just flies by in what feels like a couple of hours, not to mention the stress that school holidays adds. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed and swamped from time to time we really have to step-back and assess what we have to prioritise and what we have to hold-off. We have become a lot stricter with ourselves, not saying yes to everything. 

And your proudest moment so far?

We were honoured to be nominated for Holly Tucker’s Independent Awards in 2021. She is someone that we have admired for a long time so to have that recognition was incredible.

We didn’t win, which was no surprise to us, but a proud moment nonetheless. We also feel proud when we finish a market day having seen the small businesses that we bring together having had a very successful day of sales, and seeing customers enjoying themselves. 

Who inspires you?

Holly Tucker is someone who definitely inspires us. She also founded an online marketplace Not On The Highstreet and tirelessly champions shopping from independent businesses. The community she has built is powerful and vital to many businesses. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

This is a daily struggle. We have very supportive partners that understand the need for us to work outside of the usual 9-5, often evenings, weekends, during our youngests’ nap-times and whenever we can snatch some time.

I’m not sure we have the balance nailed. We are both learning to try and be more ‘present’ when we are with the family and not have half an eye on the emails. It works best for us when we just accept that a certain time is for the kids, and not for working, if we try to do both it ends up in a stressful situation for everyone. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Build a community around yourself. It can be isolating running your own business so having others that you champion, and they champion you is a real asset. 
  2. Take a risk, you won’t truly know if something can be a success unless you give it a go.
  3. Give yourself time away from the screen. Running your own business is so all-consuming. Having something that helps your mind relax is so important, for us it is tending to the plants, or a short walk in the fresh air.

Find out more about Green Rooms.