Interview with Lauren A. Tuell, Owner of Orono’s New Downtown Addition, “Mainely Succulents”

I know that I was not alone in my excitement when students and surrounding individuals in the Orono area heard that there was a new succulent shop coming to Downtown Orono. I have been following her active Instagram account since I heard about it in hopes that she’d reveal her official opening date since the sign in the window displayed “opening October” hinting at an official opening at the end of the month. However, these last few weeks, I was fortunate enough to not only get a sneak peek of her shop but to also sit down and interview the owner, Lauren A. Tuell.

The shop itself is beautifully laid out, it’s inviting and simplistic with so many options. She goes beyond using pots or your normal everyday vase, she uses reusable objects, cinder blocks, hanging baskets, and more to display her plants. Some of these objects have even been items she’s purchased from the thrift shop, Found, that’s right nextdoor. Her next project is filling a bird cage she purchased there recently. The first thing I noticed upon walking in was the space, there were so many types of plants but there was also space to walk around, crouch down and look at the ones closer to the floor, and ones hanging that you’d pass while walking to others. The plants are both eye-catching and noticeable as the light through the windows highlights them and the art hanging in the space contrasts with them.

When I interviewed Lauren, I really only asked her a couple of questions. She was so open about her origins, her hopes for the shop, how motherhood plays a role in her business endeavours, her family’s impact, and so much more. I felt like I could have sat and talked about her life and her shop for hours, she was so passionate, inviting, and open about both herself and her plants.

The Interview

The first question I asked Lauren was the most obvious: How did Mainely Succulents come to be? She told me that it really started a couple of years ago. She is a University of Maine Alumni who majored in Childhood Development. She moved to Massachusetts where she worked with kids at the New England Center for Children, a residential school for children on the spectrum. However, she found herself wanting to focus on her own family. She moved in with her boyfriend shortly after and the seeds of starting her own business started to plant themselves. She had worked with a marketing business for some time, but it didn’t quite fit her lifestyle. Yet, what she did love and takeaway was the impact of social media in her job. She’s always loved speaking and she could use social media as a tool to not only broadcast herself but also her business.

She then became a stay at home mom as she raised two beautiful children. She grew and distributed succulents as wedding favors and had so many left over she started to propagate them and put them in displays at home. She had always loved growing plants but she wanted to learn more so she volunteered at greenhouses and became involved with Willie Wags, a cute shop in downtown Bangor, who began to feature her plants in their stores or allow her to host events that included her plants such as “Plant N Sips” or private parties. She has also been taking a Master’s Gardening class at the University of Maine which she said has done a lot in teaching her the art of her craft and was an easy, low cost and manageable way to become more educated and well versed in gardening her plants beyond the propagation and grow room at her own home.

As for the name, on a drive to Bar Harbor, she saw that other businesses were using Maine-ly in their names. “Mainely” was a staple in the title of other businesses so she thought of “Mainely Succulents”. That name would not only become the title of her shop, but it would be the official home of her plants. Three weeks after having her beautiful baby boy just a couple months ago, she signed the lease to the space downtown. Since then, she has been working hard to make the space her own but also keep her followers and supporters updated as she works to get closer and closer to her opening date this month!

The second question I asked was about Willie Wags, a store in downtown Bangor that sells Lauren's succulents. She mentioned how Willie Wags wanted to start selling her plants and that the women’s collective encouragement there both inspired and supported her in her endeavours to start her own shop. In addition to the events at Willie Wags, she has held kid workshops, one at Orono Highschool most recently, and she’s sold her plants at craft fairs prior to having her own shop so she’s been garnering a lot of support for her succulents and other plants. Her most lucrative “side hustle” as she called it has actually been succulents for weddings whether they were gifts, crowns, or favors, so she is excited to keep doing that but now from her shop.

The third question I asked was about what she’s hoping to promote with her shop. She said that she isn’t just trying to promote succulents and her other plants, some of these plants being ones that remove toxins from the air, but ultimately, she’d like to promote growing your own food. Her shop is huge on sustainability with her use of materials from Maine such as driftwood, twine, cinder blocks, salt lamps, and more items that are used to display her plants. As of right now, with her succulents and various other plants she’s offering at her shop, she would like to promote “art out of plants” and beyond that, be an example of how you can use your degree for something you’re passionate about even if it’s not directly the use that’s expected out of it. She’s excited to make people love plants and to help them grow beyond that. She believes succulents are a “gateway plant” because as soon as people become more comfortable with having the responsibility of their own plants, she’s hoping they keep returning and keep their collection growing. This is why she is really honing in on the fact that her shop is not just a “succulent shop” or “plant store”, it is a studio. It is a creative space where she can not only plant while her customers shop, but she can invite customers to be a part of the process and the experience in its entirety.

The fourth question I asked was what her future plans are in regards to her shop. She said she wants to keep growing and hopefully her current kid fairy garden workshops can become after school programs, or become a “plant camp” for children during the school year and summers. Her own kids play such a large role in her inspiration for her business and she loves that they get to watch her build her business, she means this literally since her kids come to the shop with her! She not only wants to share her dreams with her future customers and current supporters, but also her family as they not only watch her build her business but become an integral part in its beginning and its near future.

In addition, she wants to keep collaborating with local artists around the area. All around her shop are paintings from a local artist, prints from another local artist, and even side tables in the shape of the state of Maine. She hopes to keep being creative in what she sells, but also allow other artists to utilize her store as a creative space for their works as well. The list of artists she collaborated with her and their contacts will be at the bottom for this article if you are interested in looking into those individuals further.

The fifth and final question I asked was more for myself, but I asked her if she has some tips on caring for succulents or other plants for students like me who are too busy sometimes to give them the attention they need. She told me how for busy college students, house plants are an easier alternative to take care of. They are low light tolerant, drought resistant to the extent that they “get sad when they are thirsty” as she put it, and they are perfect for dorms and apartments since they are good for the air. In regards to succulents, she said the best thing to do is water them when they’re dry and the best way to test if they are is the “brownie method”. This is essentially placing a toothpick in the soil and if there is soil on the toothpick, the succulent doesn’t need to be watered. These two tips are ones that I am already putting into use with the recent house plant I purchased from her at her soft open and I know I’ll be going back soon to ask for more tips and tricks so that it’s as healthy and happy as it can be!

Concluding Thoughts

As I wrapped up my conversation with Lauren, she told me how she’s going to hang a sign at her door stating her hours and that she is also available “by chance or by appointment.” Because her family is her priority, there are only going to be certain times where her shop is open, but she does have an open door policy if you see her working there during her closed hours. As for the shop’s goal, she wants to cater to her many customers, as every week and every season will offer different plants. She wants the retail to constantly change and evolve as customers offer more and more insight into not just what is most popular among them but what they are hoping to see. She even asked me what I thought of her logo which only reiterated that she intends to cater to her customers as best as she can as her shop continues to grow and become a staple in downtown Orono.

Towards the end, I told her I appreciated her time and her openness. I also told her I’m excited for her shop even though I don’t have a green thumb. She stopped me and said that she wants her customers who come in and say that to let go of that thought. She wants to dispel this thinking because in her experience, you can grow a green thumb with more knowledge and experience which she hopes to teach myself and others like me. I, for one, am looking forward to her shop opening and I know that my plants and many others in the area are in better hands with Lauren teaching all of us how to care for them!

Contacts

Shop Owner: Lauren A. Tuell (207) 735-3706

Studio located at 3 Mill Street in Orono, Maine Instagram: @mainelysucculents Facebook: Mainely Succulents

Local Artists

Paintings: Christina Thwaites, Christinathwaites.net

Prints: Kate Boyington, available for custom orders

Side Tables: Kim Veillux in Brewer Maine