Art Terrarium

Art Terrarium - Andrea Metzler

Art Terrarium came into existence as a pop-up art and plant store during the 2016 Des Moines Art Festival. Seeing its success and wanting to do more, owner Andrea Metzler established it as a permanent business in spring 2017. Since then, Art Terrarium has become a haven for plant lovers and learners alike, finding a following with those who aspire to brighten and beautify their spaces.

Photo by Lauren Matysik Photography

When did your interest in plants begin, and (pardon the pun) how has it subsequently grown?

I’m from Des Moines originally but spent some time traveling around and came back about six years ago. I was living in an apartment downtown, and a friend gifted me a house plant as a housewarming gift. It was a little Golden Pothos, and I just fell in love with it. Then every Saturday, I would go down to the farmer's market where there was a guy selling succulents, so I’d buy one each time to add to my collection, and I started really getting into it.

When I was doing some more traveling, I discovered some plant shops, especially in Chicago. There was one that I walked into that was the first boutique plant shop I had been in, and I was like, oh my gosh, look at all these cute plants and all these cute planters. I just loved it so much. Every time I went to Chicago, I'd go back there. I started seeking out other plant shops like that and fell in love with the whole plant shop vibe.

How did that morph into Art Terrarium?

I was living downtown in the Des Moines Building, so I was connected to the skywalk system. I would walk around, and one day I noticed Kaleidoscope at the Hub, which is pretty much an abandoned mall. I think in the 80s it was a hoppin’ place, but it was a bunch of little retail shops and most of them were empty. I always thought it would be such a cool spot to have a big art show and fill up all the empty retail spaces with art exhibits. I started doing some research, and I figured out that EMC Insurance Companies was the property manager of that space, so I got in contact with somebody there. I pitched them this idea of letting us use the space for a weekend pop-up art show, and they were on board, shockingly.

So, in 2016, my friend Shylah and I decided to organize this pop-up at the same time that the big Des Moines Art Festival was going on. We got a bunch of artists to do exhibits in all the empty spaces. There was this one particular spot in one of the skywalk bridges that was a retail space with all glass, so it's pretty cool. We decided that was going to be our spot where we had a little art shop. We also reached out to this really awesome greenhouse called Harvey’s Greenhouse, and they brought down a bunch of plants, so we sold plants and art.

We were like, man, this kind of feels like a terrarium. It's like an art terrarium. So we called it the Art Terrarium Skywalk, which is how our name began. It was a really fun weekend and it went really well. There’s a lot of empty retail spaces downtown, so we were looking at spots to do more pop-ups. The space that we're in now, actually, we found out that somebody was looking to rent it out, and the rent was really affordable. We thought, you know, why don't we try to actually make this a real retail shop and sell plants and art in downtown Des Moines.

I don’t know why, but it just feels right that you’d sell both plants and art. How do you think the two go hand in hand?

I think they work really well because they both add a lot of life and beauty to a space, and they just look so good together. Shylah and I both like supporting local artists, and we felt like there was really nowhere in Des Moines where you could find a lot of local art in one spot. The only way you could really find local artists was to go to a gallery or a show, so we were excited to have a spot where we could support local artists and help people bring life and beauty and fun into their homes.

Would you say that your customer base is a lot of returning or new customers? Or a mix?

Definitely a lot of returning customers. The whole COVID-19 shutdown is really interesting though, because we shut the store down and got stuff going online. We were doing a lot more posting on Instagram and were able to get a lot of our products online. We found that by doing more Instagram, we gained a lot more followers and new customers. Now that we're back open to the public, we've had a lot of people coming in the last couple of months that have been like, I found you during quarantine and ordered a bunch of plants from you online. So I feel like we've had a lot of new people who have been popping in for the first time in the last two months, which is pretty awesome.

How do you source your plants?

I worked at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden for maybe six months before we opened the shop, so I made some good contacts there because they order plants for their garden shop. There's a local wholesale greenhouse that we order from, and then we also order a lot from Florida. Most of the house plants that you see pretty much anywhere, whether it's Home Depot or other greenhouses, almost all of the tropical plants are grown in Florida. We'll put in a big order from there maybe once every other month or so, and it gets shipped up on a semi-truck and we get to restock our shop.

Photo by Lauren Matysik Photography

What would you say has been the most exotic plant that you've had in your shop?

Oh, man. We actually just got a really amazing shipment of some rare plants. We got a plant called the Pink Princess Philodendron, which is really, really hot on social media right now and super hard to find. We were able to get six of those in, which was really exciting to get this rare plant that everyone's looking for.

I’m someone who knows literally nothing about plants. I’m curious, were you self-taught in how you learned to care for all these different plants?

Yeah, pretty much totally self-taught. I don't have a background or education in it. I actually studied video production in school. I would buy a plant and then research it a little bit, and trial and error. There's definitely been a lot of plants that I've killed because I haven't taken care of them, but, you know, part of owning plants is learning what works for you and what works for your space. Even since opening the shop, I've learned so much about plant care. We've had different horticulturists come in, as well as some people from the Cactus and Succulent Society of America who came and did a workshop. So even through inviting other people like that into the shop to do workshops for our customers, I've learned a lot.

With all the different types of plants in your shop, do you have to have it at a certain temperature or climate or anything like that?

We do. All of our plants are tropical plants, so we have a couple humidifiers, especially through the winter since Iowa winters are so dry, so we keep it fairly humid in there. Usually in the summer, we don't need to do that. But tropical plants and succulents are correctible, as long as you keep the temperature between like 50 and 90 degrees, then they usually do OK. We always try to put the plants that need more light toward the big east-facing window, and the lower light plants are more toward the back of the shop.

What would you say has been your greatest challenge and success with Art Terrarium so far?

I think learning how to be a manager as we've grown has been a big challenge for me, learning how to manage and motivate people and get them to kind of do what needs to be done around the shop. I'm still learning how to be a good leader and a good manager. It's been an interesting challenge.

I think our biggest success has probably just been how Instagram has really built our business. Almost everybody who comes in for the first time will tell us, oh, yeah, I've been following you on Instagram for a while and finally made it in here. It's been really fun to learn how to use that tool, get some good photos on there and learn how to engage customers through that and build our business.

Looking to the future, what’s your biggest goal?

Right now, we're in an awesome space. It's called elevencherry, and we share it with a salon and an artist who’s in there as well. It's been really fun being in that collaborative space, but down the road, maybe in a few years, I would love to grow it and build out our own space and have more room. One of the things I love most about having a shop is being able to do workshops and host events. Having a bigger event space where we can do things like that and host more would let us really build it out in a way we love.

As an entrepreneur yourself, what would your advice be to someone who's trying to start their own thing?

I would say definitely learn how to use social media and make sure that you have an Instagram and Facebook and really curate the images that are on there and keep people engaged. I also think one of the other ways that we've built this business is through collaboration and working with other businesses to host events and kind of cross promote each other. And that, I think, has also been one of the biggest ways that we've grown. I think when people see that, see you collaborating with people and see you trying to build a community, I think that really helps your customers want to be a part of what you're building.

And, finally, what would your number one tip be for someone with plants in their home?

Find the plants that work the best for your lifestyle and your space. I have found that if I have a plant that is really needy and needs water all the time, it's probably not going to survive very long in my house. Don't feel bad if you kill something, you know, just learn what you did that killed it. Maybe if you have lower light, then focus on building your home with plants that like lower light, or if you have really intense windows, find those plants that love light. Just accept what plants you can keep alive and like the space that you're putting them in, and focus on filling your home with those.

106 11th St, Des Moines, IA