Am I reducing plastic waste?

I was able to get into two new retailers this past week with the Harvestcare line. However, my brain keeps asking the question, “Am I really making a difference in reducing plastic waste with this brand?”

When I started working on a body care line, it was to replace the single-use plastic in hotels. Of course, most hotels are still in hibernation. And so the Harvestcare brand is a consumer pivot during Covid. While I know that it’s good for the consumer and the environment, I don’t really feel like I’m making that big of a difference on the plastic side.

In the meantime, while I was doing sales calls this week, I actually found a retailer that preferred my recycled plastic jewellery products over the body care line. It was just my words in passing as I could see that her interest was not there. So, I showed her some pictures of some things I did with recycled plastic. She said that she wanted the products right away in prep for Father’s Day.

So, on top of selling and fulfilling Harvestcare orders, I’ve been melting plastic again. I quit doing this a few months ago because I was so frustrated with the results, but now I realise that I need to push through the learning curve to really demonstrate recycled plastic’s value – that it can be used for far more than just outside furniture and bollards.

Plus, if I can pull this off, I can sell products that cost me little more than time to make – unlike my Harvestcare like where I have a lot of cash in inventory.

So far, I’ve made a lot of mistakes – again! But things are looking better as I experiment with a retailer customer and deadline in mind. I hope to have access to a friend’s shed while they are away on school holidays so that I can try out some of my bigger project ideas. I just need a place where I can make a mess first.

Cufflinks from recycled bottle lids
Newest recycled plastics experiments

So, back to melting plastic. If I only use these to show people that used plastic is a great resource, then maybe I can make a small difference in reducing plastic waste now that leads to bigger things later.

First active hospitality order

This has been a big week already. Not only did I get my first products that I have ever made from scratch to a customer, I also had my first active hospitality order.

I say “active” as I already had the hotel pilot scheduled for back in April, but that was is still on hold until their occupancy returns to normal. What I have found is that the smaller venues like at bed and breakfasts locations are already full again.

And so, I just received my first “active” hospitality order from my friends at Tallagandra Hill Winery. They have three stand-alone cabins on their site.

Tallagandra Hill Winery
Tallagandra Hill Winery

And while, I really want to eventually sell the single use, aluminium tins in the longer term, it’s not profitable yet until I can really get significant scale. So, I am glad they choose the big bottle option instead for the moment.

Here’s to more business as the Covid-19 restrictions lift and people start travelling again to boost the hospitality industry.

More mistakes

How many mistakes can I possibly make on the same products? Let me count the ways.

As this is the first product that I have ever made from scratch myself to resell (the others were designed by a contractor), I don’t think I could possibly stuffed up in more ways.

Some of the lessons this week:

1) If I’m going to use unrefined (raw) ingredients, I have to be able to expect variations.

If you can see the whiter bits in this block of unrefined shea butter below, you’ll know that I had to change my recipe to accommodate it. This also means I didn’t know that I had to adjust for this until AFTER I made a batch because it takes a while for the product to settle.

Long story short, more money, lost time, and lost ingredients, but this unrefined version is still better for you.

Unrefined shea butter
Unrefined shea butter

2) Not all boxes of the same size, are actually the same.

Below shows to bamboo boxes side by side. I bought them from two different retailers to act as display boxes for my new hand balm products. However, you can see the box on the left can easily hold six tins, while the other one can only hold five because of how they are made.

Two boxes of the same size cannot hold the same number of tins
Two boxes of the same size cannot hold the same number of tins

3) Yellow orange to you is not yellow orange to me

I have been struggling with getting the colour right for our peach flavoured lip gloss as it looks too much like the watermelon colour that I’m using. I hope that the third order is the charm as I reckon that their formulator must be coloured blind as they all look almost the same.

Can you see the difference below? I struggle to do so.

two lip gloss containers that are supposed to be different colours but are not.
Which is peach? Which is watermelon?

4) More mistakes with labels

The labels have finally come in, but the backs of the lip gloss are hard to read. This is my fault as I was in a hurry to redo them, and I squeezed the lines to make it fit with a 6 pt font when I had to reduce the label size to fit the smaller sized tins.

Unfortunately, it’s just going to have to be good enough. Luckily I only ordered 100 units, and I’m hoping that the new blank labels and laser printer will allow me to become less dependent on suppliers for these in the future.

New product labels are hard to read

Despite all of these issues, I managed to get my first order to a retail customer on Monday. It wasn’t without other mistakes, but it was pretty good for my first go as a product maker.

Mistake with product labels

I was really hoping to launch our new products last week. In fact I had a meeting already scheduled with a retail customer on Friday with the anticipation that everything would be ready by then. Unfortunately, I can’t because I’m waiting on labels – again!

When I’m dependent on third parties for my supplies, it really makes it hard to hit schedule especially when I made another mistake. Well, technically I made one mistake and a supplier made the other one. Either way, I had to reprint labels.

And so, I am still waiting on the revised labels even though I ordered them on Friday last week. I’ve tried to switch to a faster supplier, but I’ve found that many others can’t print the sizes that I need.

I’m so sick of the label issues – the time it takes to get them made, the lack of flexibility when I need to make changes or what to trial a product, as well as the expense. So, I bought a laser printer this week hoping that I have more options with water-resistant labels that I can print myself.

It took me a half day to get the printer set-up and for the labels to print properly, as the Avery templates never seem to be correct. Results? It worked out okay.

Pic on left is from my new printer. Pic on right is from a professional label company.

The only challenge is that I can’t buy blank labels in water-resistant materials in all of the sizes that I need. So, I’m still reliant on external suppliers for some of the circular tin sizes. However, I might just resize my labels for other products to fit the blanks that are available. That way, I can have that flexibility until I have a reason to order in larger quantities.

This investment into the new printer will hopefully result in less wasted time, money and plastic for future labels!

Postscript: I just realised that I could order these heavy duty labels from Avery directly in just about any size I want. Damn! Lesson learned again!

Lessons from Supply Chain Challenges

Going from a larger organisation executive to a small business owner is challenging in so many ways, but especially because you can’t really delegate many things. You just have to figure things out as you go.

As an example, in business school, you learn a lot about supply chain challenges. One of the most critical components is timing – making sure you order everything just in time to ensure that you aren’t carrying too much inventory, but also enough so that you don’t hold up the manufacturing process. However, it’s a lot easier to do on paper than in reality.

Most of my career has been in service based businesses or organisations. I did own a physical products business about 5 years ago called The Great Australian Tea Company. I can’t say that I learned enough from that business though as we were only market testing 2 SKUs, and I outsourced the product making.

Now with Harvestcare, and my hotel line, Notions – I’m learning a lot about supply chain challenges.

As I write this, I have plenty of inventory, but not necessarily the right things. And as I add more product SKUs, this seems to be a constant challenge too. I try not to order too much when I’m testing ideas, but sometimes I can’t get enough of what I need, when I need it especially for anything requiring to be imported during the Covid-19 crisis.

In the restaurant industry where I grew up, they tend to rely on just a couple of suppliers to provide most of their ingredients. And because most of it is perishable, they have to be an efficient supply chain. Furthermore, they can often substitute things like vegetables to make a certain dish.

I’m in the middle of creating my supply chain now, and it is NOT efficient yet. While my ingredients are perishable, generally I have at least a 12 month shelf-life or more. So, while I won’t often lose ingredients due to spoilage, it is still a waste of money if it’s just sitting around, and especially if I never use it. In addition, I can’t just change the ingredients without ordering new labels.

Challenge with Product Labels

Product labels in particular are proving to be a nightmare for my supply chain, but I can’t figure out a better, cost-effective solution at the moment. I’d love to get some recommendations for how to do this better.

It often takes more than a week to get them made even though I do the print-ready design work myself. If I don’t use all the stickers I ordered, like in the case where I change the ingredients in a product, the individual cost per label goes up significantly.

This has happened when I had to change the ingredients in my hand sanitiser products three times. Then the demand dried up as supply became more available. So, a label went from 30 cents each to over $1 each because I didn’t use them all.

I’ve found that paper labels with an inkjet printer won’t work because the ink becomes runny with water – obviously an issue for products used in the bathroom. There are more options with a typical laser jet (which I’ll need to buy – ugh!), but they don’t make blanks at the right sizes for some of my products like the 15ml round tins for lipgloss.

Also, I have found it difficult to line up the labels properly so that they print on the stickers correctly even when I use the Avery template.

I’ve already tried a Brother’s label maker which also costs about $1/label to use. However, I’m also limited in sizes and right now they are not printing with the right colour tone i.e. orange instead of yellow. The Brother’s support person was useless.

In the long-term I think I’ll either print directly on the aluminium packaging or buy a professional labelling machine. For now, I just need a more flexible, cost efficient yet good quality option. Any ideas to help me for now?

Bottlenecks

Speaking of lip gloss, I have a bottleneck with the tins right now. The tins are stuck with the carrier as it hasn’t moved since it was first picked up over a week ago in Melbourne. Normally, it only takes a day or two. I’ve been bugging the supplier to push the carrier as there’s no obvious reason why it hasn’t moved.

So, for the moment I’m reusing my current tins for trials and testing. It can be time consuming to clean them. My main reason for doing this is because I don’t want to recycle them when there still is good life for them. Still, I can’t reuse them for the purpose of selling which means I can’t launch the product as I had intended this week.

Reusing tins for trials and tests
Reusing tins for trials and tests

My lessons learned about supply chain challenges so far?

I’m still new to a products-based business, and the therefore I’m learning a lot as I build out the supply chain for these brands. Here are some of my lessons learned so far.

  • When you’re experimenting, order as little of an ingredient as possible until you’re sure that you’ll use it in a product – even if the per unit cost is expensive this way.
  • Don’t order ingredients unless you have a clear formula in mind where it could be used. I don’t have the budget for “nice to have” ingredients on the shelf right now.
  • Proper storage is critical to extend shelf-life – i.e. avoid sun and oxygen.
  • Shop around for prices. It might be easier to order from one supplier, but there can be significant differences in prices as you go up in bulk quantities.
  • For me, the origin of the product is also important. If it doesn’t say Australian made, it’s probably imported.
  • Beware of shipping costs which can significantly increase per unit costs especially in smaller orders.
  • Larger quantities doesn’t always reduce unit cost that much. Do the math first to decide as it might make more sense to order smaller quantities to minimise inventory costs.
  • Keep track of typical delivery times for each supplier. I know that I can get products within 24 hours from one company because they use Toll as a carrier and they always ship fast. Others are less consistent.
  • Give yourself an extra week minimum for a product launch knowing that supplies will come in later than expected.
  • A product in country is more valuable than a promise of a cheaper product coming from overseas.
  • Prepare to buy extra products (especially for non-perishable items) during end of year sales as the prices can be significantly discounted.
  • Don’t feel the need to remain loyal to one supplier if they are not meeting your needs – such as with delivery times in my case.
  • Sitting inventory is like cash stuck in a safe that can’t be spent. Use it, sell it or find another purpose like promotions as soon as possible.

What other lessons learned from supply chain challenges lesson do you have to share for a new business? I know that I have a lot to learn.

Canberra Weekly Article: Plastic not Fantastic

I’m grateful for this article in Canberra Weekly this week. Some of the information is a little off in terms of what The Refoundry is doing right now, but that’s okay. It’s actually inspiring me to keep going with the recycled plastic projects while I’m really focussed on Harvestcare right now.

New Products to Launch

It took a total of 29 different trials for me to be happy with the formulas, but I finally have new products for the Harvestcare line that I actually made myself. And now, I’ll be launching them next week.

Evidence of product trials
Product trials – tins to be reused in future trials

Just a few weeks ago, I was telling a friend that I didn’t want to be a skincare maker. Instead, I wanted to run a business and have experts make the product. While I still prefer to do this, I have to admit that it’s incredibly satisfying to go through this process – from research to trials to production of some products that I’m very proud of to put on the shelf.

Even more so satisfying is the feedback I’ve had from friends who have tested my products. The real test will be when strangers give me unbiased feedback.

I just ordered the labels that I designed myself too.

New Harvestcare products launching next week
New Harvestcare products launching next week

My timing for finalising these products was quite important too as yesterday the Old Bus Depot Markets finally responded to my application. They had more questions about my products and how they are made. Fortunately, I could finally say that I made some of them myself which has been a stumbling block for other markets.

I have much bigger plans than weekly markets, but I need to start somewhere to get customer feedback and to frankly, just to pay the bills. So hopefully they will say yes.

I applied to be a part of their markets a few years ago with my tea company, but they told me then that they already had enough tea companies. So, hopefully they won’t say that my new skin and body care products are too much like other stallholders they already have.

In the meantime, with these new products and more reasonable margins, I feel that I have something valuable to offer retailers especially with more of them opening back up in Canberra.

Now, I’ll be spending this long weekend getting ready for the launch of these new products!

New Product Samples

Body lotion and beeswax products

This week has been all about finishing products I started last week for my sample testing event on Sunday. I set up a test group I call the “Harvesters” about a month ago – mostly with friends, but I opened it up to anyone living in the ACT.

My hope was not only that this group would give me important feedback prior to going to market with my ideas, but they would also act as future ambassadors for the new products as they had input into them coming alive.

The first six samples I’ll give them to try are our new body lotion with 6 different potential scents and 3 different consistency. Ideally, I would have tweaked the products at least once myself before getting feedback from third-parties, but I just received them on Friday from my soap maker, and so we didn’t have time to make any adjustments.



Of the six, there are three scents that I definitely like, but think the consistency of all of them needed some work.

I’ve also created some samples of a hand butter salve and lip balm for them to try that I made myself using Canberra beeswax. It sounds easy enough, but I made 14 different samples, and still am not completely happy with the texture. It feels like I’m baking a cake and just tweaking the recipe constantly to find that perfect fit.

Hand salve and lip balm test samples
Hand salve and lip balm test samples

It will be interesting to see what my test group says about these samples. I won’t tell them which ones I like as I don’t want to skew the results. Still, I am quietly cheering on my favourites.

DILO Entrepreneur – 21-5-20

I feel like my DILO or Day in the Life of an entrepreneur is such a learning process, something that I really am enjoying at the moment. Of course, I’d enjoy it more if I didn’t have to think about the financial implications of not learning fast enough.

This week I started testing some new products.

Testing new Harvestcare products
Skin and lip balm tests made with “rescued” beeswax from Canberra

I’m not naturally interested or gifted as a “maker.” And it’s another reason why I have an expert soap maker for a number of products in the Harvestcare line.

Double boiling skin care product ingredients
Melting raw ingredients for new product ideas

However, I realise that I can’t outsource all the making at this point for three main reasons:

  • First, it’s obviously more expensive to do this even though my soap maker has been very generous with prices knowing that we are still trying to secure hotel contracts down the road.
  • Two, because my soap maker is so busy with other customers, it takes a while to get new products made.
  • Finally, I’m finding it hard to get into local markets unless I can say that I’m making or designing the products myself. Therefore, it’s imperative that I do so for the ones that I can do.

What I really would love to do is spend more time coming up with concepts and collaborations, and to have someone else do all the making. In fact, I have ambitions to even grow some of our own ingredients that we can use in our products. How amazing would that be to go from farm to skin?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Harvestcare brand lately, and I really want it to be a relatable product line for the customer. So much so that I’ll probably share how we make some of the products online so that people can see how natural all the ingredients really are.

While it could decrease the potential number of paying customers, I reckon that most people really don’t want to take the time to do it. In fact, I think it would be nice to know that our products are so simple, they can make it themselves.

The most interesting thing coming from customer feedback right now is that a lot of people are looking for something that will work with sensitive skin – including on children. And so far, people have said that the products are working fine for them. So, it’s a new market segment that I hadn’t really thought about until now.

So much more work to do and things to learn before my test group, the “Harvesters” try out some of these new products on Sunday. Just another DILO of an entrepreneur trying to figure out market fit!

New Harvestcare displays

The realities of starting a business

Every business begins small. I started this blog over a year ago because I wanted to show the realities of starting a business. It’s rarely a direct path, and the chances of failing are extremely high.

Few entrepreneurs have publicly shown their journeys while they are going through it – probably because there are always a lot of failures and unpleasant things that you have to experience. The realities aren’t sexy, and most the world would rather only see the successes. But once you get there, what do you really remember?

This video below is focussed on my new consumer brand, Harvestcare which is a pivot from our hotel-line that’s currently in hibernation. Both are designed to reduce plastic packaging waste.

This is still my attempt to document the good, bad and ugly of being an entrepreneur. I truly miss having a team especially when I have to do things like this that I’m not naturally good at. Yet, these are the types of things you have to do when you are starting something new.

So, I finally just set up a public Facebook page after some urging so that I can more easily share the day to day. It definitely takes me more time to capture everything in video rather than just using photos and words, but hopefully the preservation of this journey (however it ends) will be worth it to help someone else one day.

The realities of starting a business? You might decide not to start one after watching these videos and reading my blog.