Hotel Pilot Update

Our hotel pilot has been running for about two weeks now, and feedback has been incredibly positive. So positive in fact that I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and I think the hotel has been too. Unfortunately, not everything is good news.

Our State Circle hotel amenities

This week, I’ve also learned that our “champion” within the company that helped us get this pilot off the ground has resigned. Given the uncertainty in this COVID world, I really have no idea where that will leave us after the pilot is completed.

I have a meeting with her boss set for next week. So, fingers crossed that all is not lost with her leaving.

I’ve actually thought about what I might do if we can’t secure a long-term contract with them right now, and my instincts say to keep going with the this product line regardless. It may just be that I need to wait out this pandemic.

First Harvestcare Market

I did our first Harvestcare market this weekend with some help from friends. It was a tiny one with only 30 people allowed to go through at a time because of COVID.

First Harvestcare stall

Still, I said yes because I wanted the learning experience, and this was the first indoor market available since we started the brand back in April.

Overall it went pretty well, though I’m exhausted from also bottling and making products into the late hours each night. We only sold about 10% of it, but now I have inventory for the virtual Handmade Markets too which starts next weekend.

Lessons learned from our first Harvestcare market?

  • Know your demographics – everyone told me that we would do really well with a younger, more environmentally conscious buyer like at the Handmade Markets. This one was more of an older, suburban crowd.
  • Raise your prices for markets – Other stallholders said that our products looked so good that we really needed to charge more of a premium price especially if we were paying a stallholder fee at a market and the customer doesn’t have to pay for shipping as a result.
  • Samples work when they smell amazing – I was offering samples with a testing stick. Probably half the people that tried our Orange Hand Balm bought it, but we didn’t sell very many products in bottles because you can’t exactly trial the soap. This gives me the incentive to finish our product development of the normal body lotion.
  • Presentation matters – We had a lot of positive feedback on our presentation too, but I also know that we need to invest in something more if we do a physical Handmade Markets in the future.

Overall, we sold only about $800 in products which was way more than the stalls on either side of me. Still, it’s not enough to justify my time right now especially when I know the demographics are wrong. So, I’ve decline the offer to participate in another Christmas Market at the same location in December because I’m not convinced that we would do much better.

More to learn, but I’m glad that we finally have experience with our first Harvestcare market.

Should I start Business #2?

Call me crazy, but I think I’m going to have to set up Business #2 as my consulting work is getting bigger than I can do alone.

While I’ve been working well past midnight this week getting ready for our first Harvestcare market ever, its actually the consulting work that is taking the majority of my time.

Dozens of Harvestcare bottles waiting to be labelled.
Dozens of Harvestcare bottles waiting to be labelled.

Thankfully, I was able to get a little help from a friend to fill the bottles. However, I still have hundreds to still label and more shea butter products to make before I go to sleep on Friday night.

As for Business #2? I suddenly have a number of clients and potential clients that need help in moving their training programs from face to face to digital within this new Covid world. And while I wasn’t looking for this kind of work, I’m absolutely loving it because I can be strategic, technical and really creative all at once.

In fact, it’s the creative stuff that gets me the most excited. For how awesome would it be to turn a boring Zoom lecture into a fully interactive course online.

I’ve always wanted my own production team (something bigger and skilled than we had at my last job). And with enough contracts I could also help out actors that have been really hurt during Covid.

So, while it may be absolutely crazy to start Business #2 right now, it’s certainly helping from a cashflow perspective. Plus, I’m enjoying the work too. And during these strange historical times, I feel the need to say to yes to almost every opportunity that comes my way right now. For who knows what will actually work?

Funny. Though I’m crazy busy, I’m actually less stressed by having so many fires burning.

Hotel Pilot Starts Monday

It’s been a very busy week preparing for our non-plastic hotel pilot. As mentioned before, this was originally scheduled for April before Covid shut everything down. Apparently local occupancy is back up to 65% or so for this particular hotel. So, it seemed like a good time to try it again.

What this meant was that we had to pack 2500 individual aluminium tins by hand. While I had already packed about half the order previously, we are past the 6 month shelf-life of these all natural products. So, it’s no longer safe to use them.

Thousand of tin containers

I did try to see if I could reuse the tins from the previous batch, but the time it takes to do that (not to mention the difficulty of not scratching or bending them) proved to be too hard. So, at some point, I’ll empty them and put them in my growing “To Recycle” box.

Lessons Learned So Far

So, what did I learn from this experience so far?

  • Packing everything by hand way required us to handle each unit about 5 times each. We could reduce the handling to 3 times if I had the manufacturer separate the lids and bottoms, and we had them printed on both the top and bottom.
  • Putting the labels on the back took the most time. I was able to get the manufacturer to print on the front, but we didn’t have the ingredients list finalised when I put the order in back in February. So, we had to do the back label with stickers.
  • It took over a minute each to unscrew the tins, fill, screw the lids back on and put the label on the back.
  • I’m worried about the quality of the tins. By handling each one, we could notice if there were any dents or scratches, but this will be challenging if a machine was doing the filling.
  • I also now realise that I need to order about 20,000 units of each design i.e. shampoo, conditioner etc. to get even close to the per unit cost I need to make this work financially.

Post Pilot Decisions

From this information, I know that there is no way that we can profitably do the post-pilot packing by hand. We absolutely must invest in proper machines.

We also had a bottle-neck issue with some of the ingredients even though they were coming from Sydney. Why in the world did it take 3 weeks despite many phone calls?

The packaging itself is an issue too as it’s coming from China since there are no manufacturers currently in Australia that make these. Having said that, if we have enough volume, we may be able to change that and even use recycled aluminum which would be great.

If we can do that, I also want to redesign the tins so that we don’t need the plastic liner that sits in the lid. This seals the container to prevent leaks and is standard for most liquid products regardless of whether it’s in plastic or aluminium. However, I feel like there has to be a better way.

Basically this means that if the hotel pilot is successful, and we are able to turn this into a proper contract, I’m going to have to get a lot of capital (either through banks and or investors) to scale quickly. Fingers crossed that all goes well, and that we have this problem!

Surge in “Potions” Activities

As I’m feeling pretty frustrated with my recycled plastics side of the business, it’s been a good week on the other side with a surge in “Potions” activities.

“Potions” has always been my personal nickname for the various hair and bodycare products in the Business. Since it covers a few brands including Harvestcare and the various hotel labels that we have developed, it’s just easier to say that.

This week, we’ve had some great sales activities happen:

  • Received our first order from a business that we didn’t cold call first;
  • Received several restocks from existing customers;
  • Accepted into the Handmade Canberra virtual markets over Christmas; and
  • Confirmed the delivery dates for our hotel pilot to begin 12 October.

While business is picking up, the supply chain challenges related mostly to Covid are killing me. I’m still waiting on pumps for the bottles (month 3 and holding). Now, my other supplier for tins is out. And I can’t package the hotel pilot products because we’re waiting on some ingredients.

Needless to say, I’m crossing my fingers and toes that things will arrive soon as I’m nearly out of everything that I stockpiled months ago. Furthermore, it’s a crappy use of my time to bottle just one order at a go which is what I have to do at the moment to mitigate these shortages.

To finally have a lot more orders but shortages in my supply chain makes me want to swear – something I’ve been doing a lot of lately! Still, great to the surge in “Potions” activities this week.

10k Hours

Malcolm Gladwell made the 10k Hours Rule famous in his book Outliers. The Rule essentially says that it takes about 10k Hours of deliberate practice to obtain world class expertise. Personally, I find it frustrating in business.

I’ve accepted this Rule in sports (more than 10 years as a paddler) and even learning a language (currently in my 3rd year of Spanish classes). However, for some reason I feel like I should be going faster and better with my business – especially with the recycled plastic products.

Maybe it’s because I already have so much business experience, but the reality is that I only have about a year in the recycled plastics industry. I get incredibly frustrated that I’m not progressing with my ideas and experiments the way I want to do so. And I admit that I beat myself up for so many mistakes and failed projects.

Bucket of recycled plastic mistakes and shavings
Bucket of recycled plastic mistakes and shavings!

I have plenty of mentors and YouTube videos, but the latest set-backs have convinced that me that I need a “teacher.” Given the lack of such teachers in Canberra, I’ve decided to learn how to do more things with wood. Therefore, I joined the local Woodworking Guild. Just maybe by learning from masters in this area, I can translate that to my plastic experiments.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to remind myself that it will take years to achieve 10k hours to master these new skills. For my ambitions and networks alone will not allow me to move any faster on the learning curve.

Christmas is in the air

Christmas is in the air – at least for a product maker like me. I feel behind the curve already as I try to get both the Harvestcare and The Refoundry products ready for the Christmas buying season.

We already have a Christmas market scheduled for the end of October.

And if the Old Bus Depot Markets ever reopens, we’ll be there at least once a month.

Plus, I just found out that our hotel customer is ready to do the pilot next month as occupancy has being picking up. This is the trial of our non-plastic, single-use toiletries that was originally scheduled for April. I unfortunately had to throw away about $800 worth of products that I had already packed because the shelf-life isn’t long enough on some of our natural products.

Still, it will be good to see how this pilot goes, and whether we really can both change the amount of single-use plastics used in the hotel industry and make it work financially too.

As I try to balance all of these competing business needs with the consulting work I’m doing on the side, I think that the next few months are going to be a complete blur until after the holidays. After all, Christmas is in the air and it’s only September!

Highs and lows

Another interesting week with highs and lows. I really think that’s just what happens when you are a entrepreneur.

No go on grant

No go on the Icon Grant. I had some technical problems with the presentation last week which shortened my 3 minute preso to just 2.5 minutes. That means I didn’t finish. Regardless, their questions already convinced me that I didn’t get the funds this round.

While I haven’t received the feedback yet, I felt that the panel couldn’t see how my business would ever scale from a hobby shop. In reality, they’re right (at least at this moment in time).

I’m still struggling to create saleable products in quantities. Stupid issues like the band saw is bending when I try to cut things is prohibiting me from advancing.

So, I’ve joined the Woodworking Guild in town and hope to gain some new skills that will translate to plastic. I feel like I’ve exhausted my learnings from YouTube. So, time to get some hands on experience instead. I popped down on Saturday to check out the workshop, and I’m already convinced that I made the right decision to join.

For the love of work

I’m so blessed to have as much contractor work as I want right now. I was even offered more from another client. Still, I’m struggling on projects that don’t have hard deadlines even though I’m trying to create artificial ones.

Yesterday I sat in my space for six hours at the client’s site, but only manage to do 2.5 hours of billable time. The rest of those minutes were spent on other work I had – things I actually enjoy doing.

This is the balancing of act when the things I love are not bringing in enough income compared to work that I can competently do well for money, but don’t love. I suppose this is everyone person’s struggle when you have to make that decision.

It’s going to take every ounce of discipline I can muster to hit my financial goals while wanting to spend more and more time on my other ones.

Market Opportunities

While indoor markets are not yet open, Harvestcare has been selected as a stallholder for the Old Bus Depot Markets on the 4th Sunday of every month. This is a great opportunity given the number of people that visit that market every week.

Also, we have been accepted as a stallholder for the Merry & Bright Christmas Market in Pierce. If the Old Bus Depot Markets are reopened in October, we’ll have a conflict of dates, but at least we’ll definitely be doing one of these markets that weekend.

I plan to submit Recycled by The Refoundry to the Handmade Markets once I feel like I can make enough products for something that big. I’ll be working on more cufflinks tonight. I think I finally created something that will help me center the holes consistently.


Just another week of highs and lows, but it wouldn’t be a normal week otherwise.

DILO 9-9-2020

Another big week! With so many different things going on, sometimes it’s easier to write DILO (Day in the Life of) the Refoundry.

Abode Hotels A+ Magazine

This week, our Harvestcare brand made it into the Abode Hotel A+ magazine as a feature story: two pages of great content which I’m so grateful for. It will be in their guest rooms for the next two months.

Moved into new workspace

I also moved into our new workspace in Mitchell over the weekend. I have plenty of room for new machines. I just need to sell more Harvestcare and Refoundry products to fund the additional equipment I need.

The final grant pitch is also on Thursday. I’m asking for $30k to help me fund a much larger machine. In my practice run, I took me 9 minutes without any prior timing. I need to get it down to 3 mins. So, I have a lot of work to do today to make the cut.

Poor income week

Despite my busyness, I haven’t spend enough time on contractor work this week to bring in personal income as the grant prep has taken a lot of time. Given the grant’s potential value though, I really can’t stuff around.

It is proving to be a difficult challenge for me to do external work for income that has no hard deadlines when I’d rather be working on my own business. Next week, I think I’ll need to spend more time at the client’s office to try to create the discipline and balance that I need right now to keep things going financially.

I also need to find more time to make the recycled plastic jewelry. I’ve sold about half the ones I had available for sale already. I think having my new workshop space will make it easier to focus and not get distracted when I’m making those products which has been a challenge up to this point with lots of half done pieces.

Just another DILO of The Refoundry!

Shortlisted for a grant

I received some good news yesterday! We were shortlisted for the Icon grant. Now, I need to prepare for the 3 minute pitch for next Thursday. I lot to do between now and then including finishing these prototype projects!