Two new sister stores are coming to the developing Historic West Fourth District in downtown Cincinnati: Koko, a sustainable shop, and Forage, an "interior plant shop and community for plant lovers."
Helmed by best friends Adria Hall and Jamie Fairman (Hall is the co-owner of Koko and the Brand Experience Director at Forage, and Fairman is the co-owner of Koko and owner of Forage), this will be the duo's fourth Forage location — they have stores in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky and Denver, Colorado — and their second full Koko shop and refillery; the flagship storefront is in Columbus, with Koko hubs in all existing Forage locations.
We emailed with Hall and Fairman about their forthcoming expansion, including why and how they decided to continue to grow their businesses during the pandemic and why into the Queen City?
Full disclosure: I know both women personally from their work as floral designers and wedding planners for my wedding.
CityBeat: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of both of your brands — Forage and Koko? I know you guys personally as wedding/event planners, so how did both a plant shop and sustainability/refill shop grow out of that?
Adria Hall: Forage is an interior plant shop and community for plant lovers that started with a small house turned into a storefront and a love of houseplants. Incorporating sustainability has always been important to Forage — from sourcing to reusing shipping packaging to the selection of makers and vendors. Koko grew out of that! It was initially an idea for a small product expansion inside of Forage — sustainable living tools we loved, but had a hard time finding locally. We decided pretty quickly that Koko should be its own brand.
CB: Can you outline what both shops offer? And then what sets them apart from similar stores that might carry the same thing?
AH: (At Forage) we sell houseplants both big and small, and unique ceramics and planters, as well as home decor and gifts for plant lovers. What sets us apart from other plant shops is our commitment to education and community — really giving customers the confidence to be good plant parents, and a place to connect with other plant lovers. Additionally, we work really hard to source unique planters from small makers around the world that you can't find in other plant shops.
Switching to Koko, the heart of the brand is the refillery — a bar of toiletries and cleaning supplies in bulk that you can "fill up" from over and over again, giving customers the opportunity to reduce their plastic waste. We'll offer a bottle bar of glass and metal bottles, pumps and jars, as well as allow customers to bring their own containers to be filled. In addition to the refillery, we have a wide selection of sustainable living goods that help reduce waste in our customers' homes and routines, everything from wood dish brushes to reusable silicone food storage bags.
CB: How would you describe your shops' vibes or do you have a motto or mission statement behind your operations?
AH: For Forage, our mission is to create spaces where plants and the people who take care of them can thrive. For Koko, our mission is to create less waste and more fun. We believe wholeheartedly that sustainability is for EVERYONE, sustainability shouldn't be boring, sustainability isn't one-size-fits-all, and sustainability should be approachable.
CB: Tell me why you decided to open an additional shop in Cincinnati? Why the Historic West Fourth Street District?
AH: Cincinnati makes a lot of sense for us — geographically, it's right in the middle of our other markets — so it's been on our radar for awhile now. But when Andrew Naab (director of commercial development) with Historic West Fourth reached out to let us know there were two storefronts side-by-side, we knew we had to look closer. We fell in love on our very first visit; the history of the district, the commitment to highlighting women and minority business owners, the excitement for what's to come to the area — it hooked us! We are so, so excited for these storefronts.
CB: Many businesses have been struggling during the pandemic. How has the coronavirus impacted your existing business model and how has it also allowed you guys to grow into these new opportunities?
AH: For Koko, the pandemic hit shortly after our launch, and a few weeks before we planned to open our first locations. We quickly shifted and launched e-commerce. We put that quarantine time to good use, building our community and really connecting with them. We took time to make the Columbus storefront the special place it is today, and put in place the safety measures to keep our staff and customers healthy.
It was a similar story with Forage — we ramped up our e-commerce site and Jamie worked as a one-woman shipping operation. We know that plants have been providing comfort and joy to people during this pandemic, and we knew we had to figure out a way.
CB: Both of you are located outside of the city, so will you be hiring local shop managers (obviously)? Projected staff count?
AH: Correct: We are in Columbus (Adria), and Louisville (Jamie), although we will both be spending a lot of time in Cincinnati over the next few months. We'll be hiring a store manager and two to three part-timers for each shop.
CB: What's the actual address for the storefronts? Do you know what they'll look like yet? Any special features? Design ideas?
AH: Koko will be at 318 W. Fourth St. and Forage will be at 320 W. Fourth St. They will be connected through a large opening on the adjoining wall. Both spaces are beautiful, historic properties with lovely brick walls and big storefront windows. We'll be putting in some cool feature walls, unique fixtures, and hand-painted murals.
CB: I know the Historic West Fourth area is going to be home to a very cool mix of veteran and female-owned shops. Were there grants and other economic opportunities to help small business owners set up shop there?
AH: There were not, although the amazing people from Historic West Fourth have offered to connect us with those resources in Cincinnati. They have been so helpful in giving us every opportunity to succeed in these crazy times.
CB: What are you most excited about with the expansion? Or most looking forward to?
AH: We have received such an amazing response from Cincinnatians! Their excitement and kind words are the fuel for us right now — we're really just looking forward to meeting them and forming our communities there. And we're really jazzed to see the district come together, too. It's a great group of businesses and we're so happy to be a part of it.