Tauranga-based Stine Smith, co-founder of an eco-friendly cleaning products company, talks setting up shop with her friend Kristy Hunter and taking their sponge global.
What does your business do?
We source an eco-friendly dish cloth from Germany and we work with a designer to put our own designs on them. They are designed for people who are conscious of the environment but also want something that is convenient and look nice. Our products are sold primarily in New World supermarkets in the North and South Islands and various local organic stores and bulk goods stores.
I do have another business on the side, a merino business, with the same sustainable ethos of choosing natural over synthetic, but this is turning into a full-time job because it is growing really quickly. We launched in August.
What was the motivation for starting it?
We were looking at alternatives to plastic, and we were walking the aisles of the supermarkets looking at the cloths thinking about everything being wrapped in plastic and made from plastic, wondering why there were no eco alternatives. I'm from Denmark, and I knew a cloth product that was invented by a Swedish inventor back in the day, and I thought "Well, I know this cloth from back home", so Kris and I had a bit of a look around and decided to bring this cloth out to New Zealand and into the supermarkets.
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We found a similar cloth in a few gifts shops around New Zealand for between $12-$15, it would be wrapped in plastic and we thought that kind of defied the whole purpose of it actually being compostable and a natural product, so we wanted to create something that didn't leave a footprint in terms of the packaging, but also a product that was affordable for everyone to buy.
How big is your team?
It's Kristy and I, then we have a girl who helps us with all of our administration work. We were aware we would be very time-restricted so we put some pretty hefty goals in front of us of what we want to achieve, so we've set up from the beginning quite a lot of systems and processes to automate the business and optimise few hands.
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How are sales being impacted by Covid-19?
We're definitely seeing a lot more orders coming through - last week we experienced a dramatic increase. We have new stock arriving and we have plenty of stock, but already sales have exceeded our forecasts. We put it down to people being more conscious of germs and bacteria - they're possibly more on top of their cleaning at the moment, wiping down surfaces and disinfecting, throwing out dishcloths quicker than even just last month.
We weren't sure how much of an increase in sales we'd see as our eco cloths are a few dollars more expensive than the cheaper synthetic solutions and also, we weren't sure how many would prioritise eco-solutions in a time of crisis. We're happy that even in crisis times we can cater to a need of remaining bacteria-free at home and still being kind to the environment.
What are you focused on this year?
We're launching two new products this year, based on what people have told us from all the demos we've held. They told us they wanted bigger cloths so that's what we're coming out with, and also a roll of bamboo cloths that you can tear off. Those will hit the market at the end of April. We do want to stay in the cleaning cloth category so we're just looking at what people need and making sure we can deliver something that has a better impact on the environment. There's so much in terms of washing powders and bench sprays already, so we feel there's already a whole lot of companies doing good things out there so there is no need for us to enter that at the moment.
Do you have a background in business?
I've got a background in business. I started my career in sales at IBM back in the day, went through the IBM Sales School, and then moved on to management consulting for a British company. I did management consulting in London and throughout the Middle East; Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and then I met my husband while I was in the Middle East. He's a Kiwi, and I ended up moving to New Zealand where I worked for Fonterra for a stint up in Auckland, and then moved down to Tauranga where my husband is based.
What challenges has running Good Change presented?
Once you start a business, all you see is new opportunities and ideas, so one thing is being able to limit yourself and stay focused. There are more areas we'd like to go into, to make a difference, but we also need to remain focused on one aspect.
Another challenge we often meet with customers is the whole natural versus synthetic mindset - a lot of people are used to the perfect look of a synthetic product, that doesn't have the stains on it and washes well whereas when you're using natural products it just doesn't look as good over time, so we're always teaching people that synthetic is made to look synthetic, natural is designed to fall apart over time and go back to nature.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Know your target market and stay focused. Systems and processes are very important, put these in place from day one and invest in that, and know your numbers. Finally, there's no need to invent a company or a product that doesn't make a difference or do anything better.
We're always open to partnerships and seeing if we can work with someone else to achieve the same goal, we don't necessarily want to be alone crossing the finishing line.