Small business trends on the rise: Ghost kitchens, plant

More people are starting their own businesses. In fact, during the pandemic, business applications increased close to 60%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and have remained higher than the seasonal average ever since.

Better remote tech and a growing gig economy laid the foundation for this increase. But many small business owners cite the pandemic’s uncertainty and a dissatisfaction with Corporate America — along with a desire to pursue their own passions — as inspiring the leap into business ownership.

Many people have even turned their pandemic hobby into a business.

Owner of Etsy shop Desiderata Clay Co, Laura Rosche, started making handmade polymer clay earrings in the summer of 2020.

“Looking for a creative outlet amidst the overwhelming stress of the early-pandemic life, I found a lot of comfort just fooling around with clay,” she says. “All of the colors and cutters and textures were so fun to play with!”

Client enthusiasm motivated her to open an Etsy shop. According to Etsy, handmade jewelry has become one of the most buzzworthy trends on the platform. Personalized jewelry searches have increased 393% based on search data from the last three months.

And this is just one trending small business category on the rise. Read on for the five categories of small businesses seeing a major increase this year.

Ghost kitchens

Person cooking in a kitchen.

The food delivery boom isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Credit: Rene Asmussen / Pexels

While the pandemic certainly spurred rapid growth in food delivery businesses, experts had already predicted the industry would see massive gains. Ghost kitchens, also called virtual kitchens, are the next iteration of food delivery looking to profit from the growing love of food brought to our doors. Unlike Door Dash and other third-party delivery apps, ghost kitchens have both their own delivery drivers and kitchens for food intended for delivery only.

Indianapolis-based ClusterTruck(opens in a new tab) is just one of many on this growing list.

“There are so many moving pieces in most third-party food delivery — drivers, restaurants, and customers, and none of them are happy with the current system,” say co-founder Chris Baggot. ClusterTruck approaches food delivery from a software standpoint instead, with virtually integrated solution at every step of the process.

“If the driver is 20 min from the kitchen, but it takes 6 min to make the item, the food won’t start being made until the driver is close enough to picking it up,” Chris says. Not only that, but driver drop-offs are optimized in the ClusterTruck system, making it possible for drivers to drop off food at multiple stops grouped geographically.

“We can get our drivers 4 to 6 jobs at once.” This means happier drivers, customers, and restaurants — who, by the way, don’t have to pay fees. “Restaurants are at full capacity again, but delivery hasn’t skipped a beat — it isn’t a flash in the pan.”

Houseplant delivery

Person looking over plants.

Who needs a garden when you can have houseplants?
Credit: Juanita’s Plants

Katherine Hernandez, founder of Juanita’s Plants(opens in a new tab), first started her New York-based business on social media in 2020 and then expanded to include a dedicated website. “I was excited to learn that so many more people were getting into plants and caring for them,” she says.

Interest in houseplants has seen a huge spike since the pandemic, though houseplants have been on the rise for the last couple years. One of the major driving factors? Millennials generally haven’t afforded the housing market and opted for houseplants over lawns.

Handmade jewelry

Clay earrings on a brown background.

Fun, bold, handmade jewelry is a great way to show a little personality on your Zoom screen.
Credit: desiderataclayco

Possibly in preparation for the coming wedding boom, Etsy searches for bridesmaid gifts, specifically personalized handmade jewelry, have seen an uptick. Another reason for the popularity in handmade jewelry could be the vibe they offer. After reeling from Zoom fatigue, it only makes sense people will want to show a little more personality with colorful earrings on screen, says Laura, alluding to recent trends of dopamine dressing.

“There’s a sort of joyful aesthetic that a lot of people are working to cultivate by wearing this kind of jewelry,” says Desiderata Clay Co owner Laura Rosche.  “A lot of the polymer clay earrings you’ll see, for example, are big and bright and bold; they’re fun to look at, comfy to wear, and inspire conversations.”  

Interior design

A modern room with a couch, table, and kitchen.

Since you’re stuck at home, why not make it pretty?
Credit: Vecislavas Popa / Pexels

Despite the delays in construction we keep hearing about, home remodeling as a business category is booming. Likewise, small businesses oriented around décor and interior design have seen an increase, especially those that do not rely on inventory from abroad.

Mary Patton of Houston-based Mary Patton Design(opens in a new tab) has started to offer clients curated collections of vintage pieces. And the investment has paid off.

“With so many people being forced to work from home, our business actually exploded during the pandemic,” she says. “We had executives who had never spent much time at home, hire us to make their home beautiful.”

Digital content creators

Person taking photos/videos with their phone and ring light.

Grab your ring light and get creating.
Credit: Ivan Samkov / Pexels

Although digital content creation isn’t novel, as more people are online at home, the industry is projected to see continuous growth. In fact, the amount of digital content currently being created is staggering at some 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day

Eric James Stephens, PhD, created Educators.Network as he was pivoting away from academic work during the great resignation seen in higher education. The digital content that Stephens makes provides searchable, vetted resources for educators making career transitions.

“Our service is that we point others to quality services,” he says. But making content for the organization’s site, Linkedin, Twitter, and other socials is part of the work too. And through this work, Stephens motivates people to act. “They leave feeling better about themselves, their situation, and they have an idea about what to do next. That’s powerful when someone feels stuck.”