This city of concrete has abundant plants lovers. And why not? Who does not miss a little greenery in this dust dune.
Shahadat Hossain – not his real name – a top corporate executive is a plant lover who decorated his apartment and rooftop with a myriad of plants.
If you want to know this man better, start a conversation with him about plants. Hossain – proud and over the moon about his plants – will tell you every little detail about any plant he ever had.
He said he buys plants from different sources in the city. But one particular seller, a yet-to-be famous young woman named Iftesa Aronee who sells through a Facebook page, particularly impressed him.
"One of the most important things about plants is media (soil or other materials that hold the roots). Aronee's media is carefully adjusted based on the requirements of a particular tree. Besides, her knowledge about the health of the plants and dedicated post-sale knowledge sharing impressed me," said Hossain.
Aronee, after graduating from the University of Dhaka, joined a top multinational company. After dedicating eight years in service, she built an excellent career and had the potential to rise to the top of the ladder.
But suddenly in 2020, the rhythm of her shiny corporate profession became stagnant with the Covid-19 pandemic. During work from home for around three months, she developed an unbreakable bond with the plants she had in her house. "I felt more alive," Aronee said.
So, when the office called everyone back from WFH, she could not connect with her job anymore; and gradually the discontentment kept growing. She had it in her heart that something needs to be done for her love for plants.
"When I decided to quit, my family strongly advised against it. My father is a traditional businessman. He found any business with plants a nonstarter while in the case of my husband - who is a freelance software engineer - it was important that I continue my stable, high-paying and promising corporate career," Aronee told The Business Standard.
Aronee, however, listened to her heart, supported by the understanding that she had of the plants market.
"My father said that people are too busy putting food on the plate during the pandemic. The idea of a plant business was unrealistic," Aronee added.
But she doubled down on her dream, quit her job last September, learned whatever she could from YouTube and other sources, and jumped into the business.
Within a few months, it turned out that her research and business plan were actually working.
"My husband and father expected that I would return to my job after getting disillusioned with plants. But guess what? Today my husband is my business partner!" she explained.
Aronee sells her products on Aroneer, a Facebook page she started. She set up her plant nursery at a five-katha family land in Amin Bazar.
On social media, Aronee used to give people suggestions about plants and how to care for them, which garnered a good following. Soon, she began to receive a substantial number of work orders, while still in the initial stages of her business. After a while, she was overwhelmed with work orders from various parts of the city.
This is when her husband, Shahed Ruhi, jumped in. He realised the prospects of the plant business and spent a fortune on Aroneer.
"I did not have that much money. By now, half of the investment is from my husband. He is now actively involved. I could not do it alone," explained Aronee.
From delivery management using their own pickup truck to managing the three people who work in the nursery, everything is taken care of by Ruhi while Aronee focuses more on the page and pre and post-sale plant health.
They deliver products worth Tk25,000 to Tk45,000 in each delivery three days a week. Aronee said they sell up to Tk80,000 a week. "I cannot say for sure how much I earned from the beginning. But ever since I took my trade license around three months ago, on average I earned around Tk3 lakh a month."
Why do people buy plants from you when there are so many established brands? We asked Aronee. Her answer resonated with what Shahadat Hossain told us: the media and health of the plants.
"The reason for getting such a big response is probably my commitment and knowledge of trees. I do not just sell trees, I save them. The media for each tree, its water and light requirement is different. I set a tree in the right media and then send the care details to the client before delivery. If the client confirms they can handle the care, only then do I send the trees," Aronee told us.
Most plants at Aroneer are ones that need low light and low maintenance. "This was my concept and my clients are the same. I work with shade-loving plants."
Within a year into the business, Aronee has proved herself to her family.
"I have to admit that it is not as comfortable as a day to day job. There are no work hours. I am indeed busy 24 hours. It requires a lot of attention and involvement. But if you talk about money I am earning more than my salary, and there is contentment too as I am following my passion. I envision Aroneer becoming the top plant brand of Bangladesh."
What about your father? Has he accepted the potential of your business venture, as your husband did? We asked Aronee.
Bursting out in laughter, she replied, "He admitted that making money from this business is possible. But he still believes it is just a fad," Aronee said.
"Please send me a copy of the printed paper, I want to show it to my father," she added.