Success Stories: Grungy Roots

The owner of this Grand Detour, Ill., store not only sells unique house plants but she backs up her customers with service that includes ongoing support and education.

Ashley Ruch, owner of Grungy Roots in Grand Detour, Ill., provides customers with education and support so they can support the plants they buy at the store. Every purchase comes with a care card and a phone number for help. (Samantha Behling photos)

Ashley Ruch loves going to work. As the owner of Grungy Roots LLC, 8094 Ill. Rt. 2, in Grand Detour, Ill., her “office” is a tropical paradise that fuses her love of plants and her affinity for grunge music in one eclectic space.

The result is a plant store with a distinct vibe and an amazing variety of greenery. People can discover unique tropical flora and houseplants here, but that’s just the beginning.

The idea for opening a plant store grew out of Ruch’s determination to be her own boss and share her knowledge of plants with others.

“Being home during the height of the pandemic got me thinking about how cool it would be to open a store specializing in houseplants,” she says. “I wanted to do something other than a greenhouse. When I found this building for lease right on Route 2, I pitched my idea for Grungy Roots to the owner and five months later I opened for business. In April 2022, we celebrated our first anniversary.”

Ruch grew up helping her uncle with his garden center and discovered a passion for tropical plants.

“My dad landscaped our yard with perennials and annuals, but my interest wasn’t in that side of the horticulture industry,” she says. “I always favored working with tropicals, the hard-to-find plants – cacti and things like that. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and have those trial-and-error experiences. I firmly believe in living your business rather than learning about it from a book. I like to dive in and do it.”

This business philosophy serves Ruch well. Her hands-on approach and her unique selection of plants, such as philodendrons, cacti, anthuriums, exotics and tropicals, has helped to put Grungy Roots on the map.

“Our selection, services and atmosphere are like no other plant store in the area,” she says. “I try to order plants that are not common so that I can introduce my customers to species they’ve never seen before.”

People are amazed to find carnivorous, pitcher and sensitive plants among Grungy Roots’ stock. Each type of plant requires a certain kind of care.

“I get my carnivorous plants from the Killer Plant Company, which is out of Michigan. Every time I receive an order from them, I sell out very quickly,” Ruch says. “Carnivorous plants require special care, but they are super-fun plants to own. Venus fly traps and sundews are just some of the carnivorous plants I have, along with pitcher plants, which are also carnivorous.”

And yes, Venus fly traps really do digest bugs.

“It takes a special kind of care for carnivorous plants, so I make sure that I have supplies and a whole display on how to care for these plants properly,” Ruch says.

Sensitives are a kind of plant that resembles ferns. They’re anything but ordinary.

“Once you touch a sensitive, the leaves close, and then after a while they’ll open back up,” Ruch says. “They’re very cool and one of my favorite plants.”

Ruch believes anyone can care for one of these unique kinds of plants, and she backs that up with a customer service regimen that emphasizes education and ongoing support.

“If you purchase a plant at Grungy Roots, I include a personalized plant care card with specific instructions tailored to the care of your plant,” Ruch says. “The card includes all of my contact information so customers can always contact me with any questions or concerns about their plant.”

Ruch’s commitment to the customer continues long after they leave the store. Grungy Roots offers in-store and remote “immediate care” for plants that aren’t performing at their best.

“Many customers bring in plants, and I can usually ‘diagnose’ why a plant isn’t thriving,” she says. “I’ve had clients come in with a plant they received for a loved one’s funeral. It’s meaningful to them, but the plant is struggling. I love advising customers on what’s wrong with their plants and then hearing later that the plant is thriving.”

When bugs are a suspected culprit, Ruch invites customers to video chat or send photos of their ailing plants rather than risk spreading pests.

“I am very good at diagnosing plants through photos, so often my clients send me pictures on Facebook or Instagram,” says Ruch. “This allows me to help their plants and keep my plants safe. I love helping people restore the health of their plants. That’s why I do this job.”

Raising exotic plants should be fun, too. That’s perhaps a big reason why the pot-your-own plant station has been a big hit with kids and adults alike.

“I love watching younger kids get involved in the plant station because it makes them put their phones down and engage in something fresh and dynamic,” Ruch says. “They get to learn about plants, and they become enthusiastic about their creation. Customers can pick out any pot, a planter and the specific soil to support that plant.” 

The pot-your-own plant station invites customers to engage and learn about their plants while also having some fun. It’s a big hit with parties and special events inside the store.

This unique station has the added benefit of making things easier for the customer, who gets a pot, soil and plant all in one stop. And, it’s proven a popular attraction for special events, including the seasonal plant swaps that bring together fun and a horticultural education.

“I recently hosted a garden club at the potting station, and they used cut wine bottles as planters for succulents,” Ruch says. “I have had classes at the potting station on weekends. Everyone always has a fantastic time.”

The only thing rivaling the selection and customer service at Grungy Roots is the store’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

“My shop is a tribute to my love of ’90s Grunge Rock, punk rock and past rock legends. So, I have murals of the musicians who inspire me,” Ruch says. Celebrated rockers include Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Michael Graves of the Misfits, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

Grungy Roots combines the practicalities of a plant store with a fun rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic.

“Having these grunge, punk and rock legends around the store really makes Grungy Roots an experience like no other,” Ruch says. “The atmosphere gives my customers a cool, energetic vibe. People who aren’t even into plants will come in just for the experience; it’s that special.”

One of those legends helped to develop a promotional video for the store.

“Michael Graves has come to Grungy Roots twice, and he signed his mural on our wall, did a video for Facebook and gave me some guitars to put up at the store,” Ruch says. “I am so thrilled to have Michael as a close friend and part of the Grungy Roots family. It was beyond amazing and special to have him visit and promote my business.”

Currently, Grungy Roots has two social media sites where customers can interact with Ruch, check out the latest inventory and learn more about this special store. Find Grungry Roots LLC on Facebook and look for Grungry Roots 2021 on Instagram. Ruch encourages customers and the curious alike to learn more and reach out.

“I’m all about service and fostering a love of plants through the unique experience of Grungy Roots,” Ruch says.