Aiming for zero plastic bottles
Angus Grahame is the man behind Splosh, a Welsh company on a mission to reduce the use of plastic bottles following a bolt of inspiration in a supermarket car park.
Angus had an unusual route to an entrepreneurial career. He lived in East Anglia and had a private pilot’s license and learned to fly in a Cessna. However, his local club also started offering trial flights in a tiger moth. Angus told me that he knew that for him the moment he got in the tiger moth. With the tiger moth, it was the ultimate flying experience. Angus loved the open air, the flying jackets, the goggles, though he does admit that he never quite got the hang of landing.
Having acquired his own tiger moth, Angus started selling flights in it. That expanded and became the hugely successful company, Activity Superstore, which scaled rapidly up to between £5 and 10m turnover in a short space of time. At one point, their growth was nearly 100% per annum.
Activity Superstore officially launched in Essex in 1997, and Angus agreed on a management buyout less than ten years later in 2006. The company re-branded to become Days of Your Life Ltd. but retaining the original operating name.
Meanwhile, living in East Anglia, Angus developed an increasing unease as he watched the vast farms with their extensive and intensive farming, drenching the land with chemicals and leaving the toxic containers lying next to the fields. He vowed to himself that any second business he would have would be dedicated to protecting the environment.
In 2001, Angus and his wife moved to Hay on Wye in Wales, where his wife was from originally. One day, at his local supermarket, Angus was disposing of his plastic bottles in the recycling bin while at the same time watching a young mum leave the supermarket laden down with full plastic bottles. It suddenly struck him that our cycle of single-use plastic bottles in everyday household items, both buying and then dumping them, was simply ridiculous.
He thought there had to be a better solution. However ridiculous it was, Angus also realized that all the supermarkets and big brands were still selling all their household products in these single-use plastic bottles. Nothing was changing. The Fast-Moving Consumer Goods markets were unchanged.
Angus set up Splosh with the simple aim of eliminating this use of single-use plastic bottle waste. He started off thinking that he would deliver refillable products locally but realized this was never going to be scalable and started to consider the possibility of taking the water out of the items we use around our houses every day, from washing to cleaning. Without the water, plastic bottles wouldn’t be needed, and the delivery could be by post.
No water would mean no plastic bottles:
The formulations were the biggest challenges. Angus admits he is not a chemist, and they spent a few challenging years starting from what he describes as ground zero, testing out ideas. They got going when they brought the right chemist on board who reformulated all their products. Each one can take 18 months to 2 years to develop, with the washing up liquid proving the most challenging.
The second big problem was how to deliver refills. Initially, they were selling water-soluble sachets, but these proved not good enough, so they changed to pouches. The pouches needed to be designed to a letterbox side for easy and safe delivery. This added to R and D time but meant that not only were these better in quality, but now their pouches can be returned and recycled, not just eliminating plastic bottles, but bringing the footprint down to zero waste.
Now, the consumer buys the original bottles and then orders refillable pouches, supplied without the water element. They tip these into their bottles and then add water. The pouches can be returned for free and are then recycled. Every time the customer buys a refill, their Splosh Bottle-omter tells them how many bottles they have stopped going to waste, achieving zero waste. Every customer knows how much impact their lack of plastic bottles is having.
Splosh’s range includes laundry detergent, fabric conditioner, dishwasher tablets, kitchen cleaners, handwashes, and gels. The products are environmentally friendly that are gentle on the earth and the skin too. All their products are sold online.
As early as 2013, Splosh, based in Newtown, had already won the Green Apple Award at the House of Commons, an award for environmental best practice Europe wide. Angus aims to save 1 billion plastic bottles from our rubbish bins. As I write, they are racing through the 700,000’s. A bottle that is re-used 20 times means an incredible 95% less waste.
Splosh has now branched out to reach customers that don’t buy their bottles. It is now possible for people to use their previous brand’s empty bottles and buy the refills alone. Angus is determined to do whatever it takes to reduce our plastic waste.
One of the many amazing things about Splosh is that they have created their success to date almost entirely by word of mouth. Angus explained to me that because everything they produce, that have traditionally been supplied in plastic bottles, are things that people use all the time, be it washing the dishes, in the shower, or cleaning the bath, so the products get talked about a lot.
“Recommend a friend” campaigns have worked exceptionally well for them, where both the referrer and new customer are incentivized. Angus points out that a friend telling you a product is great will always have more effect than some stranger on social media recommending you use something.
Angus was so determined to take the idea forward; he has funded the company from his Activity Superstore sale, but the company is in the process of growing rapidly now, so they will be looking for Angel support and then in time to VC’s after that. Of course, Angus has experience but advises anyone going into raising funds to get a proper, professional advisor.
With some serious growth planned, they will be doing some advertising. They are also improving their web site and calling on Angus’s activity superstore experience to stat a voucher scheme where their products can be gifted, for example, to a son or daughter off to university. They also intend to move into the health and beauty market, but these plans are still under wraps.
Plastic bottles will soon become a thing of the past, and that is something I am sure we can all support.
I had asked Angus for his five best pieces of advice to benefit other entrepreneurs. He said it is simple – and it is the five words he has on his screen saver and looks at every day. He apologized that these words aren’t his initially but come from the late great Steve Jobs.
“Just think about the customer.”
Angus says that everything his company does right is when they follow this, and everything they do wrong is when we don’t.
You may also like to read about another entrepreneur who is working on plastic waste, Cathy Earle