Got green fingers? Head down to a vending machine and pick a plant
Aspiring gardeners can now skip a run to the nurseries and instead pick out a potted plant of their choice by tapping on a vending machine at a nearby mall.
Plant shops keen to cut operating costs and adopt greener methods are turning to vending-machine sales in recent years.
For instance, local nursery Little Botany started selling plants in vending machines while testing out a new potting system in May.
The retailer, which opened in 2018, now has vending machines in Waterway Point Mall in Punggol, Suntec City, and North Bridge Road.
The potting system used by Little Botany, called a semi-hydroponic set up, is believed to be more sustainable, and allows plants in the vending machines to last about a week without fresh water.
The nursery has three brick-and-mortar outlets at Punggol, Jalan Lekar in Tengah, and Simei, but Little Botany owner Fendi Sani, 34, said vending machines are the “most sustainable approach” to expanding the business.
He said: “When we open a shop, we use a lot more man power and electricity.”
Vending machines, however, need only electricity to power light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for the plants and so, use significantly less energy, he added.
Mr Sani said: “It’s more sustainable as a business and also sustainable for the environment.”
He added that he bought each of his three vending machines for at least $2000.
About 640 plants have been sold from the three machines since June, he added. Each plant costs between $18 and $148.
The selection of plants available on the machines include Australian bottle trees and tropical pitcher plants, and are among a total of 18 species in each machine. Each one comes with care instructions and a fertiliser bottle.
Mr Sani said two of the vending machines are located in the premises of another business, which are Times bookstore in Waterway Point and Wong Fu Fu restaurant in North Bridge Road. He added that he has plans to tie up with a cafe when he puts up his next vending machine.
Such tie ups, Mr Sani said, give a fillip to Little Botany’s brand exposure and also help people pick up gardening.
Another plant shop, Green Thumb X, sells its potted beauties solely through its vending machines since rolling out its first one in 2019. It has six machines located in malls such as Junction 8 in Bishan and Hillion Mall in Bukit Panjang.
Owner Kwek Seow Yang said the machines provide customers with a “selection of plants near to their door step at affordable pricings”. Green Thumb X mainly sells succulents and preserved flowers, with prices ranging from $8 to $55.
Mr Kwek, 50, said he bought each machine for between $8,000 and $10,000. He sells about 250 to 300 plants a month on average.
He said he has no plans to open a brick-and-mortar store because the vending machines “allow for wider distribution points and lower operating costs”, which translate into maintaining lower prices for customers.
He added: “Although we do not have a store, we share information about plants and have a blog where our fans can find care information. We also provide support to our consumers through Whatsapp or e-mail.”
Both shops restock their machines once a week. Little Botany stocks each machine with about five to eight plants, while Green Thumb X stocks up about 100 plants across all its machines.
A customer, who wanted to be known only as Mr Normizan, bought a Dorstenia plant in July from a Little Botany vending machine in Suntec City for about $38.
He said: “My family was in Suntec for an event and passed by the vending machine. So, we had a moment to look at it and I got one from there since I’ve also been wanting to try semi-hydroponics”.
He added that the plant is growing well and has started flowering.