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Pot and Box: Small seeds for a bigger future

Lisa Waud at Pot and Box

Katherine Yates at Pot and Box

Lisa Waud at Pot and Box Ann Arbor

Katherine Yates at Pot and Box

Lisa Waud at Pot and Box

Katherine Yates at Pot and Box

Decorations at Pot and Box

Lisa Waud at Pot and Box

Lisa Waud is aiming to expand her business by paring it back.

Waud is the owner of Pot and Box, a floral design business that started in Ann Arbor in 2007. Pot and Box has since experienced occasionally tumultuous growth, reaching a particularly wild high last summer when Waud added a Detroit location in D:hive's Pilot pop-up business space.

"I had nine people on staff," Waud says. "It's really fun to tell people that. It's fun to say, ‘I have nine people that work for me!' But it's also really stressful. So I'm finding joy in being smaller again."

Now with a small work studio in Hamtramck and a brand-new main location in Ann Arbor, Pot and Box has still come a long way. Waud began doing freelance gardening work in Ann Arbor in the mid-‘00s while working as a waitress at Jerusalem Garden. She says the city was a fortunate place to be when she decided to set up a physical storefront.

"Because of the university, it was a little bit more of a bubble than other places in Michigan in 2007 when I started my business," she says. "I really think it allowed me to start a business when I shouldn't have."

Waud established her shop on Felch St., just northwest of downtown Ann Arbor's main drag. She says the number-one challenge she found doing business in the city was "hands down, the expense of retail."

"Luckily, I wasn't hoping to be downtown in a really expensive location," she says. "Being a little kind of hidden was fine for me, and really ideal."

Although Pot and Box welcomed walk-in customers, its business didn't depend on the kind of foot traffic a Main St. or State St. stalwart might value. Although Waud and many other local independent retailers are priced out of those prime locations, she doesn't bemoan that fact. She says businesses like hers are building hot spots of their own around the city–as RoosRoast Coffeeworks, eat and Morgan and York have done on the south side of town.

"They're popping up, probably out of necessity," she says. "But I think that makes it feel more like a city when you have those little spots that you know about where there's little groups of businesses."

Pot and Box started to develop a mini-business district of its own on Felch along with its neighbor, fabrication studio Metal. Waud says she "loved" the location, and her relationship with Metal's owners, but both businesses recently moved off of Felch. Waud says her decision to move was due to the inevitable rise of rent costs. 

"We actually had to decide whether I was going to bring on a full-time manager or stay there," she says. "I really love my manager, so I obviously picked her. It was just a cost thing."

Waud briefly considered moving the business across Felch, but an even more appealing option opened up when Waud had lunch with Zingerman's cofounder Paul Saginaw earlier this year. Saginaw offered to rent space to Waud in the same south-side industrial complex that houses Zingerman's Creamery and Waud jumped at the opportunity, moving in this February.

"We're kind of like Zingerman's unofficial, in-house florist," she says. "We do so much work with them. It's just been really wonderful."

Waud put her full-time manager, Katherine Yates, in charge of the new Ann Arbor location while Waud moved to Hamtramck to begin developing her business in Detroit. She says her small home studio is already "very busy" with weddings and other gigs. But she's also busy networking, keeping her eye out for an ideal building for a new Detroit storefront and taking her time to grow.

"I am on the bottom of the totem pole," Waud says. "I've got to learn all the new venues and their styles and that kind of stuff. It's really enjoyable that it's absolutely starting over in a new city."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and lead writer for Metromode and Concentrate.

All photos by Doug Coombe

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