Libby Hockenberry, Founder of The Victorian Atlanta Discusses the Power of Perseverance for Entrepreneurs

Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories, offer real-world tips, and advice to help you grow professionally and personally.

Today’s guest is Libby Hockenberry, founder of The Victorian Atlanta, a specialty plant shop with green thumb consulting and a large variety of unique and hard-to-find house plants.

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Libby, thank you so much for joining us today.

Libby Hockenberry:
Thank you for having me, yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
For those that aren’t familiar with the Victorian Atlanta, can you talk to us about your business?

Libby Hockenberry:
Sure. So I opened the Victorian Atlanta alongside my husband, Cary, about four years ago. We really opened in the shop just because we are big plant people. And during that time, there weren’t a lot of specialty house plant shops. So we decided to create our own because we wanted to find cool plants and bring interesting things to the people of Atlanta and our customers. But yeah, we wanted to curate a selection of harder to find plants and kind of show people who are interested in plants that there’s so much more than just what you find at a big box store. The variety out there can be so interesting and provide us some really awesome feelings inside.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
The plants look beautiful.

Libby Hockenberry:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
And I can’t wait to come check them out. So what advice would you have for other women thinking about starting a business?

Libby Hockenberry:
I would say not necessarily just for women, but for anyone you have to have courage. I know for us, it was really my husband’s idea at first. And I was in the wedding industry, I did floral and event design and I was really loving my job. And he was like, “I really think we should open up a plant shop because Atlanta doesn’t really have a cool one.” And I kept saying, “Oh maybe. Maybe one day.” And then something happened with my job and it kind of forced me into this realm of self discovery. So we kind of bit the bullet and kind of just took the plunge. And I think that’s sometimes the hardest part is just putting yourself out there and making it happen. But if you believe in your idea and you’re passionate about it and you are willing to work hard, I think that’s the most important thing for any female wanting to start a business.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great advice. For sure. Now what’s been your biggest challenge since starting your and how did you overcome it?

Libby Hockenberry:
Not alone when I say this, but I would say COVID. COVID was interesting for the plant industry though. It started off very unknown. Nobody really knew. I think within a few days of finding out that Ponce City Market was going to close down, which is where our only shop at the time was, we kind of went home, recollected ourselves, pivoted our entire business to all online and Instagram within a week. And so adapting and figuring out to keep our business going and keep it thriving during that time, was terrifying, but also so much work. It ended up working out really well because we very soon after that found out that plants and COVID were very good friends. The plant industry boomed because everybody wanted to put plants inside. They were in their houses. But yeah, that was definitely a big challenge, but just, I don’t know. I think again, just got to navigate and persevere and we problem solve together. So yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great. Now you mentioned you have a store at Ponce City. Do you have other locations?

Libby Hockenberry:
Yeah, we just opened our second one last summer, last June in East Atlanta Village. We partnered up with Bellwood Coffee, another local business in Atlanta. They roast their own beans. Great coffee, delicious.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh, nice. Well, congrats on that, that’s great. Now you run a business alongside your husband, Cary, as you mentioned. How do you balance that work life and marriage combo?

Libby Hockenberry:
It can be tricky sometimes. I think for us, what’s the most important is the fact that both of us have very different things we do for our business. Cary has his responsibilities. I have my responsibilities and they overlap when they need to. And obviously we consult each other and communicate on all the things we need to talk about. But the only thing I would say is we are around each other a lot. So that can be tricky, but we make it work. Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I work with my husband too. It’s not for everyone.

Libby Hockenberry:
No, its not.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
But, when it works, it’s fantastic. And we kind of, like you, we stay in our lanes. We know his strengths are not the same as my strengths and weakness is the same. It works well when you aren’t exactly the same and don’t have the exact same strengths-

Libby Hockenberry:
Cary’s the levelheaded one and I’m like, “Ah,” he keeps me kind of sane. But also, we both have our different talents and our different strengths and I think that’s important really playing up what he’s really good at and what I’m really good at. It helps keep it balanced.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great that you figured it out. That’s great. So in your opinion, what are the qualities of a good entrepreneur?

Libby Hockenberry:
I would say the first one that I’ve kind of learned is courage, got to be courageous. Also, vulnerability. Putting yourself out there in front of people can be really scary and daunting and people can be critical. So being able to kind of persevere through that is important. Also, I would say humility is important, as a leader. You never want to come across… I’ve worked for people in the past that haven’t been great leaders and I’ve learned a lot from them on what not to do. And I hope I relay a message of fairness and humility and empathy towards my employees and towards our customers. But yeah, I think courage number one.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Those are all great. I think vulnerability too, I’ve been in the business for 10 years, been an entrepreneur for 10 years, and I think that’s something I still struggle with and have to work on every day. I’m glad you mentioned that, for sure. When things get challenging, how do you stay positive and motivated?

Libby Hockenberry:
I think for us, I like to just kind of look back and see how far we’ve come and see all of the challenges we’ve faced in the last, over four years of being in business. We’ve definitely had some hiccups along the road and there’s been a lot of hard work that’s gone into building our business. I think a lot of people look on the outside and they’re like, “Oh my God, you own your own business, that’s so wonderful. You have to do whatever you want.” I’m like, “Yeah.” But it took us a long time to get to the place we are today. And I look back and see how we’ve overcome those challenges. And honestly, it’s just kind of persevering through it and navigating a way to figure out how to get through it. I don’t know that doesn’t really answer your question.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It totally does just saying that when you are challenged at times and you think you just, “Oh, I just want to-”

Libby Hockenberry:
It’s going to work out. Trust your gut. We follow our gut

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Look how far you’ve come, right?

Libby Hockenberry:
And work through it. And sometimes that brings on another chapter of really hard work. Sometimes it is us looking to someone else who may specialize in that field that we have questions about. I think also hiring the right people has gotten us through challenges, in terms of finances, employee situations, anything, so that’s important.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Very important. Now, who was your mentor and how did they encourage you?

Libby Hockenberry:
I don’t know that I have any one particular mentor. I will say Cary and I have a pretty good network of friends who own small businesses and we tend to look to each other for advice and help. I know they call us when they have questions and vice versa. A lot of support system inside Ponce City Market with the small business community there. But also a couple in particular, I would say Allison Fandel. She is our interior designer. She’s been a big mentor to me and Cary, just opening up a store, designing a store, thinking through all the things and also Alisa Casado, she’s also been really, really helpful. She’s been great too.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice, awesome. I think it’s great to have a support system, like you mentioned too, so that’s great. So what’s next for the Victorian Atlanta?

Libby Hockenberry:
Well, like we just talked about, we just opened our second location, so that was a big one coming. And I think for us, we do have some exciting things coming down the pipeline. I can’t really talk about them yet.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay, stay tuned for that.

Libby Hockenberry:
Stay tuned. But this year we’re going to be putting out a lot of fun events, more workshops and classes at our east Atlanta location and also some fun vintage popup markets over in the village. So we’re kind of working to bring our community together there. We really want to get involved and support other local brands and other makers and just build up our community of small businesses, because we are important.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Absolutely.

Libby Hockenberry:
Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Well, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been great talking with you-

Libby Hockenberry:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I look forward to having you on again soon.

Libby Hockenberry:
Thanks so much.


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