Martin Wylie, chief executive of North Shore based cleaning products company Will&Able, talks about the benefits of hiring staff with disabilities, engaging the corporate market and why government should practice what it preaches.
What does your business do?
Will&Able creates environmentally-friendly cleaning products and started about 18 months ago. The purpose of the business is to create employment for people with intellectual disabilities and/or mild mental health issues, who wouldn't otherwise necessarily be able to get mainstream employment.
People with physical or sensory disabilities can get mainstream employment if they want it, but people with intellectual disabilities are one of the more challenging groups where technology isn't necessarily going to enable them to get mainstream employment, and employment is such a critical piece of people's wellbeing and mental health - it's one thing to say people have a right to a job, it's another thing to actually find one, so we've taken the view that we want to create jobs that wouldn't otherwise exist.
What was the motivation for starting it?
The whole drive was to create employment and the whole focus ended up being on cleaning products as I saw an opportunity in the market for cleaning products. The idea was if we could make an eco product that was better than anything available in the market and take the bottles back and reuse them was a unique point of difference. We wanted to give people a reason to buy and every time they buy they create a job; a business with a social purpose, environmental purpose and a great product.
How big is the team?
At the moment just a small number, we have half a dozen is Auckland and three or four in Christchurch, but we're currently recruiting for another 12 people at the moment.
Our staff do things such as packing, labelling, dispatching, filling, and have a range of disabilities such as autism, down syndrome and people who suffer from moderate anxiety and depression. The benefits of hiring these people are legion; they make great employees; they are focused, dedicated to the job and very loyal. Once they are in the job they become incredibly committed employees.
You recently signed a partnership deal with insurance company Aon, talk me through that?
Ion has entered into a sponsorship agreement with us over the next few years where they are funding a local advertising campaign to promote our products. We're also holding an event and we've invited 100 leading corporate CEOs to a breakfast launch - that's being jointly hosted with Aon - to encourage companies to get involved in our social and environmental initiative.
What corporate customers do you have so far?
Fletchers, Spark, Simpson Grierson, Russel McVeagh, KiwiRail, a whole range of businesses, but not very many government departments which is surprising. Government talks about supporting these ventures but their buying practices don't reflect that. The same goes for local authorities.
What are your long term plans?
Long term, we want to keep growing and add other products to our portfolio. At the moment there are five or six products, but once we've got those well-established in the market we will look to develop and add more cleaning products. There is also scope for purely eco personal care products.
What are you focused on for the next three months?
We are focused on a scaling up of the business. In particular recruiting extra employees which is closely linked to the launch of the full range of eco products into more supermarkets nationwide, and is coupled with the Corporate CEO breakfast launch with Aon. We also need more member-type repeat domestic and business customers online to really make the business fly in the next three months.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
If you're starting an organisation for charitable causes, doesn't mean you need anything other than standard business skills and disciplines. Anybody who has a business background could tick something like this off - I see it as a future model for creating employment.