Thursday, 09 July 2020

Sales of plastic-free homeware soaring

Sales of plastic-free homeware soaring

A COUPLE who run a business selling plastic-free homeware say they enjoyed a record month for sales to the public during the coronavirus lockdown.

Gareth and Nicola Dean launched Non Plastic Beach, which is based at the Church Farm business park off Reading Road, Woodcote, in 2018.

It sells toiletries and kitchen goods including toothbrushes and toothpaste, soaps, cleaning products and food wrapping.

The couple were aiming to increase trade with the retail sector this year but had to quickly change tack when the Government ordered “non-essential” shops to close on March 23.

Instead they redesigned and expanded their online shop, adding several new products to their range.

As a result, online sales in April were slightly higher than last year while May’s figure was about double. This was despite sales to other retailers dropping by 88 per cent.

This success has enabled the couple to take their operations manager Louise Taylor off furlough and start rebuilding the business-to-business side.

The Deans say their venture was rapidly growing before the crisis hit and it should still be a success with increasing demand for environmentally friendly goods. The business supports various causes to improve marine life and habitats.

Mr and Mrs Dean, who live in South Stoke with their children, Isla, two, and seven-month-old Jamie, have always cared for the environment as they are keen divers and noticed plastic pollution in the seas wherever they went.

They tried to reduce their own plastic consumption following a trip to Mauritius two years ago but didn’t like many of the alternatives.

Mr Dean, 38, who grew up in Kent and previously worked in PR for the electric car sector, said: “You’d order something and it would come in a plastic packet or in bubble wrap, which defeats the purpose, and we thought we could do better.

“Whenever we would dive, we’d get well away from the beaches and there’d still be a plastic bag wrapped around a bit of coral or a flip-flop resting there. It’s sad to realise that we’re even trashing the parts of the world where most of us don’t go. The issue has become more mainstream, especially after being highlighted on Blue Planet II last year, but we’re not preaching that people should get rid of everything at once. We’re making it easier to make gradual changes.”

The couple, who were married in 2013, began with a small product line then took on more over time. They were initially based at home and moved to Church Farm as the business grew.

Earlier this year, clothing store Urban Outfitters agreed to sell their goods in selected branches and others were set to follow, including the National Trust of Scotland, until the lockdown.

When this was imposed, the Deans discovered they didn’t qualify for Government relief as they are a new business so only have a brief tax history.

However, they were able to secure one of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s interest-free “bounce back” loans.

Now they are resuming talks with potential sellers and expect to pick up where they left off. They are also exporting goods to Europe.

Mr Dean said: “Retailers had approached us previously asking to sell our stuff but this year we decided we would actively seek them out.

“The lockdown was a real ‘what do we do now?’ moment and it was a real panic when we found we couldn’t get a relief grant.

“However, we were lucky to have a business that we could keep going online, which we appreciate wasn’t an option for everyone.

“The public were sitting tight in the early days but were fairly quick to pick up as they were looking for soaps that wouldn’t damage their hands with all the extra washing.

“We had to adapt pretty quickly and it was hard work but it has actually been a good opportunity and we expect our online shop to remain permanently strong as the trade side also grows.

“It was hard to balance this with childcare and we missed out on a lot of sleep as we had to take it in turns when Jamie wasn’t sleeping at night but we managed it.”

Mr Dean and his wife, 39, an accountant and professional trainer who grew up in Scotland, believe protecting the environment will continue to grow in importance.

He said: “People definitely care about it much more and companies have demonstrated a range of responses from very good to rather cynical.

“Some products still use or create new plastic so we have to beware of ‘greenwashing’, where they look friendlier than they actually are, but there’s demand for something better.

“It was seen as a fringe issue 20 or 30 years ago, so it’s very positive that the average person is increasingly aware and wanting to reduce their impact.”

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