Urban Plant Growers is growing its Qantas Points balance along the way, thanks to a business Card that’s helping to take the fledgling venture global.
Dilhan Wickremanayake and Peter Cole were still at university when they first met on a camping trip at Frazer Beach on New South Wales’ Central Coast in 2017. Surrounded by coastal heath and surf beaches, they bonded over a shared love of nature – but a month into their friendship, the pair discovered they had something else in common.
Wickremanayake, a mechanical engineer, was experimenting with growing hydroponic vegetables in his backyard, while Cole was exploring opportunities for a business utilising similar technology. With their combined passion and expertise, it was a simple decision to work together.
“We tried to find out if there was a consumer hydroponic product on the market,” recalls Wickremanayake, “and we couldn't really find anything that was good. There was nothing that a regular person could pick up off the shelf, put in their kitchen and have basil or other herbs growing six weeks later.”
Together they launched Urban Plant Growers and a simple-to-use hydroponic kit that allows people to grow fresh greens in the kitchen and keeps house plants healthy, even in apartments with no natural light. Convenience is the main draw for most customers but all of Wickremanayake and Cole’s business decisions are underpinned by a strong ethos of sustainability. “By empowering people to grow their own food, we’re minimising their carbon footprint,” says Cole. “As we keep scaling up and develop products that can grow more food, eventually we can make a really big impact on food mileage.”
Before Urban Plant Growers launched in June 2018, importing a compact hydroponic set-up with a grow light equivalent to their Indoor Smart Garden could cost about $200. By customising the units to remove unnecessary features and ordering in bulk they were able to halve that figure and currently ship 900 orders a month, from integrated grow kits to component parts and seed packets. With the business now moving beyond ecommerce and into the wholesale market, they’re projecting future growth of 300 per cent each year.
Such rapid growth meant they needed access to funds quickly and their American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card has been essential to scaling up the business – and allows the business to earn 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 on payments settled with their Card¹. “I use American Express AccessLine² with my manufacturers and link that to the Card, which gives me up to 51 days to pay for purchases,” explains Cole. “The Card’s dynamic spending capacity has been helpful when I’ve needed to make a larger payment. For example, there was one time where I had to put a US$35,000 payment through for stock, so I connected with American Express who quickly assessed my financials and confirmed they were happy to increase my spending capacity. I was very, very impressed with the customer service."
The next step is looking beyond Australia. “Our plan is to expand into the UK by the end of 2021 and have our own warehouse there,” says Cole, who will use the Card to further reduce costs by doubling his order sizes then splitting that stock between the UK and Australia. He is also planning to visit China once restrictions are lifted, so he can work with manufacturers on new products. And with 600,000 Qantas Points accrued in the past year, “we’re hoping to do all of our travel using those Points”.
But Wickremanayake’s next trip will be a bit closer to home, indulging in the passion that first brought the pair together. “I’m looking forward to going to the Northern Territory for the first time and enjoying the great outdoors there.”
Urban Plant Growers’ top business tips
Grow at your own pace: Urban Plant Growers began as a side project when Cole and Wickremanayake were at university. “That meant we could gradually invest more time and resources into the business as it grew,” says Cole. The slow and steady approach has helped them keep their core values front and centre, ensuring they both remained passionate about the business.
Use credit wisely: Cole pays up-front when he places an order with his suppliers but it can take months for the product to arrive from China. The American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card offers up to 51 days to pay for purchases5, which helps to bridge that gap. “It means that sometimes, I’m about to receive the product in Sydney by the time I have to pay for it, which has really helped with cash flow for the business.”
Find a good partner: Developing productive partnerships is vital for any business and the first one can be the most important. For Wickremanayake, “having someone to bounce ideas off and split the load has been the biggest thing for me”. Shared values are important, he says, “but you also want someone who’s different enough that you complement each other”.