Expanding the Harvestcare line

There’s a natural sunscreen brand that I know about in Australia. Despite being around for a few years now, they still only have one product. I find this unusual as I’m always asked by customers about expanding the Harvestcare line, and I find it hard to say no. That is until I made up some clear rules to help decide.

As an example, a friend asked me this weekend about adding an all natural cologne/perfume line especially since the industry mark-ups were known to be high. Most people do not realise that Body Shop actually started this way in the UK with their first store. However, I said no.

Today I made some candles from essential oil and beeswax as a Christmas gift for a friend. Someone asked if I plan to sell these on Harvestcare too. I said no.

Making candles
Making some all natural candles as a gift for a friend

Other friends have asked me to make household cleaning products like furniture polish and floor cleaner. While I admit that I still sell the alcohol spray that I made in response to Covid before I developed the criteria, my answer is no for future cleaning products. And I’ll only sell the alcohol spray until I run out of the very expensive ingredients I bought months ago.

Criteria for Expanding the Harvestcare line

So, what’s my criteria for expanding? It goes back to the mission of reducing plastic waste. The reality is that most cleaning products come in recyclable containers. Furthermore, candles are not found in plastic since the packaging could melt. And as for scents, most of the times they come in glass bottles.

No, I think that if I were to expand the line in any direction I need to move towards cosmetics. This hard-to-change industry has only recently started to really offer “no animal testing” offerings. The mark-ups are also known the be high with branding built even more on the packaging as what’s inside. Right now, I’m not aware of any brand that has recyclable packaging.

So here lies both an opportunity and a challenge. If I do make such products, where will I sell them as my current stockists will be unlikely carriers? This is probably where I need to have the retail space and body bar on the factory before I can really make this work. Still, by have our mission up front, at least I know where to expand the line next despite all the other requests.

Pivoting again

With my office full of hand and body care inventory, I’ve decided to pivot again. This time, I’m pivoting from a Business to Business model (B2B) to a Business to Consumer model (B2C).

The reality is that I really don’t have a choice as the travel industry has come to a screaming halt without an end date and hair salons are also struggling to stay open. I’m not even sure if my few retail customers will honour their original orders at this stage.

Introducing Harvestcare

So, I’m pivoting and I finally have everything I need to do so except for my website which I’m still working on and will be located here when ready. Doing a B2C model will require a lot more work for selling and shipping, but right now my time isn’t worth anything. Therefore, I might as well give it a go.

After all, that back-up plan I had about finding a job if I couldn’t make it work as an entrepreneur isn’t looking very good right now either. So, I pretty much have no choice now. It’s either pivot and try to do something regardless of this crazy world or risk losing everything.

Business soft plastics recycling

I’m pitching tonight for a business soft plastics recycling program in Canberra. This is for the CIT Trade Waste Hackathon that’s been going for a few weeks.

I was originally part of a random team that was looking at solutions for excess new tiles from kitchen and bathroom installations. However, I realised that I would be of more value if I proposed something in my own area of interest – plastic waste! Fortunately, the organisers agree to let me pursue that project on my own.

So, I’ve chatted with two manufacturers that I know that make these types of things from recycled soft plastic, and will be pitching an idea to create a soft plastic stewardship program where the plastic is turned into bollards that the ACT Government buys back.

Soft plastic to bollards

I feel like the business case is pretty solid, but whether or not the ACT Government is serious about such changes and is willing to accept a buy-back scheme, I have no idea. So, for the moment I suggested a pilot with 1 tonne worth of plastic which will cost them about $5k.

We’ll see how things go tonight! Fingers crossed. With any luck, we could start the pilot pretty quickly for a business soft plastics recycling program in Canberra.

plastic hotel toiletries

The price of non-plastic toiletries

I have another meeting with a hotel on Monday. This one is to discuss a pilot with some of my non-plastic toiletries with all natural ingredients. When I originally did the numbers, I thought that packaging cost was less than the ingredients inside of it. Now I know better.

I have actual bids now with exchange rates, transportation costs, duties, etc. It’s clear that the packaging will be just as expensive as the natural ingredients going into it, especially on smaller volumes. I would need to win an actual hotel contract with guaranteed volumes to be able to achieve any profit even if I sell it at twice or more of their current buying price.

I suppose the good thing is that I don’t think that’s an unreasonable suggestion for them to charge each guest an extra $2 per night to offset the non-plastic toiletry option. In discussion with hotels, some of them seem to agree with my theory.

I also have found a local manufacturing partner. They too would need to scale up to service a contract. Fortunately, they are a young company which makes it more doable than with one more experienced but unwilling to work on margins or try new ideas.

Everyone I tried to outsource the work to so far said that it was impossible to service the hotel industry from Australia with all natural ingredients at a reasonable price. In fact, one business said they could only do it for $2.50 an unit to me which is ridiculous when the average price online seems to be about 32 cents each to hotels now.

I believe it can be done, but I need to pretty much build out the supply chain myself and offer something special that can’t be easily copied by bigger players.

So, here I go trying something new with non-plastic hotel toiletries and all natural ingredients that people in the industry are saying is impossible to do for a reasonable price. If I’m wrong, I could either fail at the sales call or fail in the implementation. If I’m right, there will be a lot less virgin plastic in hotels in Canberra and elsewhere in the future.

It’s worth the effort to know.

Reducing plastic waste in hotels

I’ve been working on another project for nearly two months. This one is purposely designed for reducing plastic waste in hotels. As a natural wanderer, I usually take two to three overseas trips a year. I love exploring new places and food and staying in nice hotels.

So, when some of the major hotels made public commitments to reduce their plastic waste, I wondered what they would do. Many have opted to use dispensers or larger bottles.

However, I’ve never been a fan of these myself. For one, it’s too easy for people to tamper with the refillable bottles when they are staying in private rooms. Can you imagine the temptation for pranksters to put bodily fluids or something worse into those bottles?

It also doesn’t support the higher end brands who have worked so hard to build a certain feel. To me, a dispenser on the wall feels more like a locker room shower rather than a four or five-star luxury hotel no matter how fancy the bottles are.

Furthermore, many travellers like to take home the little hotel amenities as souvenirs from their holidays and perhaps to use them at the gym or while camping later. I personally stockpiled them for my own guests when I had a bigger home. It made their stay feel a little more luxurious then my normal guest bedroom.

So, what to do? I’ve already presented some alternative packaging ideas to a few hotels in Canberra, and they’ve been very receptive. If all goes well, I hope to get a commitment to run a pilot soon.

The main challenge for me right now is not the packaging, it’s the cost of all natural ingredients for the products themselves. While many hotels are not as concerned about what’s on the inside of the container, I am. I cannot with good conscious offer a product to reduce plastic waste and put something in it that’s not just as eco-friendly.

If I can overcome these cost barriers by doing more of the work myself or perhaps partnering with a local business (discussions still in progress), then I feel like we can have something ready to go as early as next month.

Fingers crossed! I need a few more things to line up first, but this idea to reduce plastic waste in hotels seems to have a solid customer demand.

Plastic water bottles

Recycled polyester product line research

Since the day I knew that the pet barrier wasn’t going to meet the crowdfunding goal, I have been trying to coming up with another product line that didn’t require the heavy upfront capital costs of a steel mould. It’s not that I’ve given up on the “Stray No More” line. It’s just that I desperately feel the need to get some runs on the board with less investment.

As I recalled many conversations both on my podcast and in other places, it seemed like I should look at textiles – specifically recycled polyester from PET water bottles.

The product? I won’t give away too much yet, but let’s just say that I’ll give Sara Blakley, the founder of Spanx credit for this idea if successful.

How to find a recycled polyester manufacturer?

Trying to identify a manufacturer to get the sample material hasn’t been that easy. There are no companies in Australia that make this material, but at least it would still be made from recycled bottles if I can find a certified version elsewhere.

I found a list of potential manufacturers from Bluesign – a global certification company for textiles, but there were hundreds of companies on there. Where to start? I asked a contact in Paris for advice. She has a business where she provides coaching to would be fashion designers that are clueless about running an actual business.

She suggested that I consider some of the Taiwanese companies due to all of the dramas in China and Hong Kong right now. I do remember Stephanie Stubbe from Anipal saying in the podcast interview that the Taiwanese English was also typically better than in China too. Their websites provided proof of this.

So, earlier in this week, I started leaving messages with any company that appeared to carry a line of recycled materials on their website. My screening question was: do you have a washable, breathable, waterproof recycled polyester material.

I went through 73 websites and contacted 13 companies in Taiwan, S. Korea and the US. Three of these companies responded (all from Taiwan) – two said yes, one said no. Those two companies asked me to send them more specific requirements. Crickets sang in my ears. I had no idea what else I needed, and still don’t.

As I did more research, I stumbled upon a company in Taiwan that also showed a Melbourne office number. Fortunately, a guy named Michael answered, and it turns out that he’s an agent for a bunch of material manufacturers in Asia. He was a wealth of knowledge as a former manufacturer itself, and if all goes well I could have some samples shortly to test my newest product line idea.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’m cautiously optimistic, but hopefully I found my teacher for recycled polyester and textile manufacturing in general! Time will soon tell.

The launch is over, now the work begins

The big launch night has come and gone, and I am so thankful for the many people and businesses that made it possible to get to that point including friends that provided moral support. And now the real work begins.

Dogs from the Launch Party
Dogs from the Launch Party

The toughest thing about making a new product is to know if the market is happy to buy it. Using a crowdfunding campaign to market-test the concept before significant investment was a good way to see if people would truly put their money where their mouth is.

When doing market research, it’s one thing for people to say that they have a problem and will spend $X on the product. It’s another thing – the only real thing that matters is whether or not they are willing to actually pay for the product when it comes time.

So far, the results are less then stellar for the pet barrier. Enough people have seen the product now with plenty of shares and publicity. And yet, we’re nowhere near where we should be in terms of pledges at this point. Plus the surveys were pretty average meaning that only a handful of the people at the launch really loved the product. Others were sitting on an ‘okay.’

I still have a couple of major media things happening over the next week or so. So, we’ll see if it gains anymore traction then.

In the meantime, I had so many people asking about the digging prevention product for pets at the launch that I contacted my manufacturer to ask that we go back to the design work for that product. I’ll go ahead and push the button to get the prototype made now to see how the market responds to that. It will unlikely be through a crowd-funding campaign though.

Such is life as an entrepreneur. I have to pivot until I find the sweet spot now. It happens all the time for other businesses like in tech. So, I shouldn’t be too surprise for this to happen with my business too. Now the real work begins – first with the right mental attitude, and then to make this pivot happen if the first product is not selling to the first target market.

When women in business make us all look bad

Went to a women’s “green” conference in Sydney over the weekend. I was hoping to see what other products were being made that were good for the environment. Unfortunately, it was really hard to see anything with the large crowd and the way the booths were set up. I tried to buy something at one booth, but found they couldn’t break a $50, nor did they have EFTPOS options. They told me to come back later and maybe they could make change. It’s a wonder that they’re even in business.

Pitch to business accelerator

Gave a business pitch to a bunch of mentors and investors at a local business accelerator. It was a really good experience, and it validated my business concept. The question now – what support do I need from them? Honestly, I’m not sure yet, though I know that I will eventually need some investor support.

Market research for products

Met with a friend who gave me some new product ideas to research. Chatted with another friend on the phone about Product #1 – he had some ideas for how to design it better and also told me about some external variables that I wasn’t aware of at all that could impact the product. I admit that it’s complicated.