Her business, The Zen Succulent, all started with a passion for plants, and her success story began at UNC Greensboro.
“I grew up in a house that had over a hundred plants. When I moved to UNCG, I brought plants along with me because that’s something that reminded me of home and comfort. After all, you’re caring for something other than yourself, which is what my parents taught me.”
While a student at UNCG, Cain was very involved on campus as a senator on the Student Government Association, an alumni ambassador, and a tour guide.
“Being able to multitask is something that you need to learn as a business owner. I was able to learn that skill at UNCG through my involvement in so many different things.”
But it was her marketing courses in the Bryan School of Business and Economics that made her the business-savvy CEO she is today.
Cain didn’t always envision herself as a business owner – she instead saw herself working for a successful company. After graduating in 2011, while between jobs, she decided to build her marketing portfolio by creating an Etsy shop and selling terrariums. Using what she learned from her marketing courses, she built an online presence for her business from the ground up.
On the very first day of a new corporate job, she made her first sale. One sale turned into ten sales. Within two years, she was making a thousand sales a month.
When she was offered a book deal to author “Modern Terrarium Studio: Design + Build Custom Landscapes with Succulents, Air Plants + More,” she left her day job to make her side hustle her full-time job and her dream a reality.
With the success of her two stores in the Triangle area, that dream has come true.
And the valuable lessons she learned as a Bryan School student were behind many of her business decisions, even down to the location of her stores.
“In one of my classes, we looked at a case study that taught me to really hone in on where your target market and your target customer base are. That’s why both of our store locations are super successful right now, even in this pandemic. I picked locations that were downtown, so people looking for smaller, more unique, thoughtful pieces would find The Zen Succulent.”
Although her business has been successful during the pandemic, the last year and a half wasn’t without its challenges.
Cain stopped ordering inventory as soon as she saw the pandemic’s effects in China, and instead made a push for online business. She began delivering DIY terrarium kits to customers in the area to provide families with something they could do at home while quarantining.
“People during the pandemic were wanting to find comfort in caring about something other than themselves and wondering what they could do to keep themselves busy and sane. Many people decided to spruce up their homes with plants and greenery, so that’s why our terrarium kits were so well received.”
What’s next for The Zen Succulent?
Her short-term goal is to sell her terrarium kits at major retailers. In the future, she wants to pass the business on to her son.
Her advice to future Spartan business owners?
“Start small. There are tons of possibilities when it comes to starting a business, but it’s important to find what makes your business idea unique and different from what already exists.”
And she credits her success to UNCG.
“I really couldn’t have been able to make my mark in the business world without the guidance and help of the Bryan School. Even beyond my coursework, I gained lifelong friends and memorable experiences. You can’t help but be a better person when you graduate from UNCG.”
Story by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications
Photography by Allie Mullin, Allie Mullin Photography