Turn acquaintances into mentors

‘I went travelling around the world after I finished at P&G. I went to Barcelona, London and Berlin and spoke to people who owned zero-waste stores. At that time I wasn’t speaking about building a store because I hadn’t imagined opening one; I just wanted to know more about the movement. It meant I already had the contacts – I wrote to them and was like, “Hey, remember me?”. Some people ignored me but some people answered. They said it would be difficult and a lot of work, but you have to be patient.’

The benefits of bootstrapping

‘I’m happy I didn’t take on investment at the start. It’s meant I don’t have that stress of showing them the numbers – I’m an engineer, I had no knowledge about business. I had a really small budget so I reduced my spending, and did everything myself and with friends who were very supportive. It took me one year and two months to recover my initial investment. It was scary because as I was growing I was reinvesting and I thought, “Oh my god, this is all my money”. But it worked out.‘

Practise the art of the soft sell

‘I had no idea whether they [the local community] would be receptive to the idea. It had been hard to explain to my family, too. But as soon as it opened it was well received by the community. A lot of people didn’t know the movement – you have to teach them and show them, without being aggressive. Every time I receive a new customer I tell them how we operate and explain the practicalities of it – now more than 50% of the customers bring their own containers and that’s great.’

Grow slow and steady with suppliers

‘I had to start small and then grow, starting with a few products of high quality. I started with less than 100 products and now we have more than 600. Sometimes things aren’t easily fixable; at the beginning, my suppliers were bringing their products in a sack – when I tried to give it back to them they said, “No, you can throw it away.” It was frustrating, but you need to be patient. They’re now refilling my sacks and changing their practices with other customers too. They’re growing with me. But patience is key – it will be more than a day; it took me more like 6-8 months.’

Go out and put it in front of people

‘There are two ways word has spread. One is going to events and hitting the streets. We sell in bulk at markets which is quite weird, and we talk about the movement. We tell people, “We have a store, you can buy in bulk,” and they recognise and understand the concept. People also started talking about us on social media – a girl who had visited the store early on set up a Facebook group a year later, all about zero waste, and she started talking about us. Of course, there’s a lot of greenwashing from other stores here – people will know when you don’t do it right.’

You might like these, too