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Murfreesboro boy starts online cactus business

April 25, 2021 GMT
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Hayden Thornell, 10, boxes up an Easter box to ship out to a customer through his business Classy Cactus Farm out of his Murfreesboro, Tenn., home on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Erma Siegel Elementary fourth-grader Thornell turned his idle time into income with a ship-to-order business selling succulents and cacti. (Helen Comer/The Daily News Journal via AP)
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Hayden Thornell, 10, boxes up an Easter box to ship out to a customer through his business Classy Cactus Farm out of his Murfreesboro, Tenn., home on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Erma Siegel Elementary fourth-grader Thornell turned his idle time into income with a ship-to-order business selling succulents and cacti. (Helen Comer/The Daily News Journal via AP)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — When COVID-19 sent schoolchildren to learn from home, a 10-year-old entrepreneur in Murfreesboro went to work.

Erma Siegel Elementary fourth-grader Hayden Thornell turned his idle time into income with Classy Cactus Farm, a ship-to-order business selling succulents and cacti.

“He wanted to do a lemonade stands and he was so disappointed when we told him, ‘You’re not selling lemonade during a pandemic,’” said Jill Thornell, Hayden’s business partner — and his mother.

But it was July and her son had been home from school since March. So by the time the new school year rolled around, Jill was looking for something productive her son could do that would keep him engaged outside of a virtual learning environment.

As she scrolled through the internet, a photograph of succulents boxed attractively caught her eyes.

“I thought we could mail those out,” Jill recalled. “I thought it would be a one- or two-month deal and we’d just sell to the neighborhood. But it’s just blown up … and taken on a life of its own.”

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BUSINESS IS BOOMING

Eventually their door-to-door, word-of-mouth plant sales turned into a booming online business.

In less than eight months, Classy Cactus Farm has shipped over 6,000 succulents and cacti to customers across the country. They’ve garnered over 1,520 Facebook followers and nearly 150 on Instagram, which they keep up with daily on a hanging message board.

The family’s dining room table is covered with gift boxes and containers of packing material. The corner of the dining room serves as a sort of greenhouse for all the plants as well as shelves of supplies for the boxes. The covered deck is the potting shed.

There are some hazards to the job. Hayden said he’s been poked “a million times” with cactus needles, although his dad’s work gloves help prevent the pain.

Although they order plants from suppliers across the country, Hayden mixes his own soil blend to mail to customers.

Hayden’s days are filled with distance learning, but his evenings are spent packing plant boxes to mail.

“We have to individually fill all of these,” said a grinning Hayden, waving his hand toward the mountain of materials he uses to fulfill orders, which number about 100 a week these days.

The children’s boxes are one of the most popular items. Each includes an unfinished ceramic container — a unicorn or dinosaur — with a brush and paint, a miniature shovel and bag of dirt Hayden mixed himself.

“I saw these unicorn planters and just thought it was cute for a kid. But we’ve had tons of adults buy them for each other. Some of them have had quarantine paint parties,” Jill said, “so they can have some little activity, especially because you can’t go out and do much.”

He also creates whimsical 3D-printed planters that can be accessorized, much like a Mr. Potato Head doll.

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“I have an app on my phone and I program it to make what I want,” Hayden said.

CREATIVE, CUSTOMIZABLE GIFTS

Dozens of buying options are available, from single plants to multiples. The types of plants depend on what shipments they receive. At any given time, there are over 20 varieties on hand.

There’s even a subscription for weekly or monthly deliveries. Most recently Classy Cactus Farm began offering cactus bloom-scented candles in some gift boxes.

Message cards are offered for every occasion — from graduation and holidays to get well and thinking of you.

“We can also make customized boxes for companies,” Jill said. “We’ve sold boxes to local hospitals for nurses and we’ve donated succulents to nursing homes. We even had a pharmacy company reach out to us and they had us send succulent boxes to participants in a (drug) trial.”

Hayden said he doesn’t mind the extra work, most of the time.

“I get to be around succulents all the time and it’s fun,” Hayden said.

He’s also learned a lot about business — and taxes, which he’s not too happy about.

“I learned we use a lot of my money to pay taxes,” Hayden said, rolling his eyes.

“It’s a hard concept when we tell him, ’Hey, you’ve got to hold back some money to taxes, but also to reinvest … so we can buy more product,” the mother said.

“But I need to keep all the money,” Hayden chimed in. “I have to save for college, a house, a car, all that stuff.”

Plans for the future don’t necessarily include a business in horticulture. But it is a career based in science, his favorite subject.

“I want to be a bionic vet,” said Hayden, explaining that he hopes to design robotic prosthetics for animals.

Until then, he’ll keep his plant business alive.

“We are creating smiles, one plant at a time,” Hayden said.

To order your plants, visit classycactusfarm.patternbyetsy.com or email Jill@classycactusfarm.com.

Follow Classy Cactus Farm on Instagram and Facebook, where Hayden regularly posts live videos and weekly specials on products. You can also join the Facebook group, Fans of Classy Cactus Farm, for more specials and discounts.