Students examine various cacti available at Campus Cactus' first sale event on Sept. 4 on the upper patio of the Mayer Campus Center. (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily)

Bringing life into campus housing, one cactus at a time

Although junior Avery Spratt started off her summer interning with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), she ended it selling cacti on the upper patio of the Mayer Campus Center over Labor Day weekend. This sale was the first for Campus Cactus, an event company Spratt developed after stumbling upon a new summer job opportunity after walking into a store this June.

That store was Loyal Supply Co., located in Somerville’s Union Square, which sells “thoughtfully designed” gifts and goods that are meant to last and improve consumers’ wellbeing, according to the company’s websiteWhile there, Spratt struck up a conversation with Ryan Habbyshaw, a Cambridge resident who co-runs it with his wife. Spratt said she and Habbyshaw quickly bonded, discussing Spratt’s studies at Tufts and her postgraduate interests.

After talking to Habbyshaw at the store, the two met for coffee later in the week. Spratt said he offered her a summer internship at Loyal Supply Co., which she accepted even though it meant giving up her internship with the USDOT.

“I would’ve finished [at USDOT] and been happy and created some great connections, but when I met Ryan, that kind of smacked me in the face a little bit,” she said. “I knew it was an important opportunity for me. I had no idea to what degree, but I had a feeling about it.”

One day, she and Habbyshaw went to the Boston Flower Exchange to buy plants to sell at the store, and it was there that she developed the idea for an independent project as part of her internship: she would sell cacti to Tufts students as they moved into their dorms.

Habbyshaw, whose professional background is in marketing and design, said he immediately felt excited about Spratt’s idea to sell cacti to college students, starting with those at Tufts. He was particularly impressed by Spratt’s interest in improving student wellness.

“We found all these articles together about how plants can improve your life in general … and make rooms more aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “Campus Cactus, in the end, is an effort to bring plants into students’ dorms and make those places a little more fun and enjoyable, because they’re empty when you move into them.”

Campus Cactus was partly inspired by Spratt‘s own experiences when she was a first-year seeking to make her dorm room feel homier, she said.

“I had spent my freshman and sophomore years walking … super far or taking the T to get plants and spending quite a bit of money on cacti,” she explained. “I knew firsthand the transformative properties of a plant. I thought, as somebody who was very far from home freshman year — I’m from Florida — the one thing that really helped me make my dorm room less of a concrete box and more like a home was cacti.”

While Spratt had also tried to decorate her room with other plants, she said cacti were the easiest to maintain.

“I’m particularly bad at caring for plants, and cacti were the only kind of plant I could successfully keep alive,” she said.

The duo came up with a slogan aligned with the theme of making dorm rooms homier for college students: “Home is where your plants are.”

“Plants are not the first thing you think about putting in your apartment or living space, but it helps to make it look like you’ve moved in,” Habbyshaw added.

Spratt said that during Campus Cactus’ first sale, hundreds of students came to purchase cacti, each of which sold for $6 to $12. Now that the initial kickoff sale is over, Spratt said she wants to continue working for Campus Cactus in order to build connections among students, the university itself and local businesses and community members. In the future, she envisions existing student organizations, or even Tufts or other universities, sponsoring cactus giveaways for college students.

“I remember, [during] freshman year, Tufts handing me things like T-shirts, water bottles and stickers,” she said. “While all that was really exciting, I could only imagine how awesome it would be if Tufts said, ‘Here, have a cactus. We hope it makes you feel at home here.’ I think that would have been really special to me, and a lot of other people would find that special as well. So that’s the whole goal.”

Spratt’s boyfriend, Tufts junior William Mairs, also played a role in the development of Campus CactusMairs said he met Habbyshaw a few weeks before Spratt when he wandered into Loyal Supply Co. and, like Spratt, struck up a conversation with him.

Though not an official intern at Loyal Supply Co.Mairs helped with Campus Cactus’ website and was involved with the photo shoot to promote the sale at Tufts this past weekend.

“I was there for the initial conversation surrounding how people might be interested in buying cacti on campus or receiving them from the university, and Avery ran with it and turned it into this crazy thing with Ryan,” he said.

In addition to benefiting students, Campus Cactus aims to benefit the local economy by connecting students to businesses near Tufts like Loyal Supply Co. and by purchasing the cacti from a greenhouse in the Boston area, according to Habbyshaw.

“We wanted to make sure that this was a fairly local initiative,” he said. “Universities are gigantic businesses that exist in these communities, and for them to be able to impact the local economy … is really powerful.”

Habbyshaw also hopes to expand the potential of Campus Cactus by partnering with other students next year, either from Tufts or from another college.

“What’s cool is that … we now have a way to work with students, which I think is so much fun,” he said.

As an engineering psychology and computer science double major with a minor in studio art, Spratt said that both her internship and the Campus Cactus project allowed her to combine all three of her academic foci. Prior to learning about Loyal Supply Co.’s business model, she did not know if she would be able to find a job after graduation that fully incorporated her wide array of interests.

“I’ve always imagined that human-centered design is where all three of those [fields] kind of overlap,” Spratt said. “But I never really knew it was a feasible, possible job until I met Ryan. After I met him, I realized that what I’ve been trying to explain to my mom for years actually exists.”

Habbyshaw said that this was the first time Loyal Supply Co. took on an intern, a decision primarily influenced by Spratt’s excitement for their work. From the start of the internship, he said he was intentional about giving Spratt guidance and mentorship as well as the creative freedom to essentially start her own initiative within his business.

“This was a risk on my end, but I wanted to learn to work with students,” he said.

He also expressed pride that Tufts was the first school to work with Loyal Supply Co.

“We could have easily gotten an intern from Harvard, but it’s really cool that our business is in Somerville and Tufts resides somewhat in Somerville as well,” he said.

He added that the money raised from the sale this past weekend will be split among Loyal Supply Co., Spratt and others involved in making the sale happen, but he emphasized that making a large profit was not the goal.

“I feel like you see a business and you think, ‘Oh man, they must be making a lot of money,’ but the reality is that you have to work really hard to make a ton of money,” he said. “So we’ve talked about the money and … how we could split it up, and everyone’s happy about it, but it’s barely enough money to go on a shopping spree at the mall. It’s nothing crazy; it’s more of just a fun experiment.”

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