Emma Tapper, The Friendly Chemical Company
Finding a way to reduce the amount of single use plastic thrown away was the inspiration for creating their eco-friendly cleaning products business The Friendly Chemical Company, says co-founder Emma Tapper.
- What does your business do?
We manufacture eco-friendly cleaning products on a closed loop system, which means that any containers we sell our products in can be returned to us to be refilled again and again, so it is a completely zero waste process.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
I co-founded the business with Scott Rudd – we met at university and used to talk about the amount of single use plastic that is wasted. We have always been interested in the closed loop and zero waste movement and used to buy our washing up liquid and household cleaning products from our local refill shop. The products would be dispensed from big containers and we started asking the shop owners what happened to these bigger containers once it was empty. They told us they would be thrown away, so we decided to try and create a business which supplied zero waste shops and then collected all the empty containers and refilled them.
We started blending our products in our garage in Leeds using a 200 litre drum that we found on Facebook marketplace. My parents used to work in chemical manufacturing so they put us in touch with a chemist who helped us with the formulas. Our products are now stocked in over 1500 zero waste shops and farm shops across the country and we also sell online. We have a free returns systems so customers can send back their empty containers with a freepost label in return for 10% off their next purchase.
We have 14 products in our Miniml cleaning product range, including washing up liquid, and laundry liquid, and next year we will be launching our first skincare range, Good Human.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
We borrowed £10,000 from our parents at the very beginning and we also managed to get around £50,000 of local grants, which helped us buy second hand manufacturing equipment and take out a mortgage on a 10,000 sq ft manufacturing unit in Keighley. Since then the business has grown organically at 280% a year and funded itself. We’re now in a position where we’re ready to take on some investment from the right partner to fuel that growth even further.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
Starting out with very little knowledge of how to make cleaning products, then finding warehousing space, sourcing equipment and materials, and building a team of the right people was challenging. We are both only 25 and we have got a team of 16 people, all of whom are older than us. Getting the right team around us has been a huge step forward for the business.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
We have learnt that we will make mistakes so we should not get bogged down by small errors along the way. We should take lessons from those mistakes and move forward.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
We actually achieved our best trading year in 2020 because the pandemic caused a boom in people shopping locally and wanting to support businesses in their local communities. As a lot of our stockists are zero waste and farm shops based in small towns and villages, we saw an uptick in demand. We’re now using the growth of last year to build even further, as people continue to embrace more sustainable lifestyles.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
We started out wanting to be just a manufacturing business, making products for other businesses to sell under their own brand, but as time as gone on, our Miniml range has grown so much that we have understood how valuable having our own brand actually is. We get contacted all the time by companies asking if we can make them eco-friendly cleaning products, but we’re not as focused on private label supply now because we know it doesn’t necessarily benefit the business in the long term - because ultimately they could always suddenly decide to find a new supplier. Our focus is on building our existing brands and developing new ones, because no-one can take that away from you.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
As we are a couple that own a business, we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. We are each other’s biggest supporters and when things go wrong we are constantly trying to encourage each other to keep pushing forward. I would say our tenacity and drive as a couple have been a massive contributor to our success.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
It is not going to be remotely glamorous at the start – you have to get involved in every single aspect of the business. But as soon as you get a bit of momentum, you can grow your team, find people who are experts in what they do and delegate accordingly.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?