Jo Plumbly: 'The Make a Plan tool's to-do list has been a great way to get organised.'

Jo Plumbly: 'The Make a Plan tool's to-do list has been a great way to get organised.'

Posted: Thu 12th Oct 2023

Enterprise Nation partnered with Mastercard and Strive to deliver an online 'One Stop Shop' for entrepreneurs.

An initiative of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Strive will give 650,000 British micro and small enterprises the support they need to thrive in the digital economy over the next three years and beyond.

We're catching up with some of the business owners who have been using the initiative's Make a Plan discovery tool to find out about how it's benefited them so far.

Here, we talk to Jo Plumbly of Refillability, a Devon-based refill and zero-waste shop that helps environmentally conscious consumers reduce their plastic consumption and live more sustainably.

When and how did you make the move into owning a business?

I live in South Brent, a Dartmoor village surrounded by nature and in tune with the environment.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, I became interested in doing what I could at home to switch to eco-friendly alternatives to traditional household, cleaning and personal-care products. But I had doubts about whether they would be effective and I found that I couldn't find everything I needed from a single shop.

I realised that other people wanting to live a sustainable lifestyle would have the same issues. So I decided to set up an online shop to sell a range of products sourced from several suppliers I've used myself and found to have worked as effectively as chemical-based products.

As we came out of lockdown, I set up a market stall selling my product range. That proved very successful and also allowed me to meet my customers face-to-face and network with other retailers.

After doing markets for a year, I decided to make the leap into setting up a high-street shop. That helped me focus more on refillable products, as I could provide resources I hadn't been able to offer on a market stall, such as dedicated zero-waste scales, wall dispensers and scoop bins.

Did you know where to go for support?

No. Initially, I researched things online and, with the help of templates, was able to put together a business plan.

What help did you seek when setting up your new business?

The business plan attracted an award from the BIPC, which gave me funded access to a design agency I could use to develop my brand, and an accountant who could help me manage my finances.

In the early weeks and months, what went well? What didn't? How did you overcome any problems?

The location of my shop was the first issue. Because it's slightly off the main street, customers didn't know I was there.

Marketing and promotion became a focus, but with little budget I was restricted. Leafletting, using local news websites, presenting at local events and building a local eco-friendly community have all helped to spread the word.

You used the Make a Plan tool. What specifically has it helped with?

The Make a Plan tool's "To-do list" has been a great way to get organised. "Founder wellbeing" has been especially useful, as there have been times when I've felt overwhelmed. And "Grants" is another area which I'm hoping will bear fruit.

On the management side, I discovered Trello, which has proven to be an amazing tool for managing tasks and time.

What do you see as the next steps for your business?

Looking at competitors and the industry in general, there seems to be a saturation level of dried-food products available from zero-waste shops, which makes it difficult to compete and retain margins.

There's also been a shift in people's attitudes towards their eco-cleaning products. They want to know more about what's in them. The same applies to skincare and beauty products.

So I'm currently looking to move away from the food side and into a new approach to skincare which we hope will revolutionise the way our customers think about their skin and beauty products.

What are your more longer-term plans?

I'm planning to turn the company into a community interest company (CIC). Having other people in the business will help with the loneliness and being the "single point of everything". It will also open the doors to other grants and funding.

What are the most important lessons you've learned from going into business for yourself?

Learning to try things out without fear of failure is fundamental to growing. Lessons learned about what doesn't work are as valuable as discovering the things that do and then focusing on them.

And it's OK to reach out for help. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place filled with self-doubt, but there are resources out there which can help – you just have to ask. 

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About Strive Make a Plan

Create an account, answer some quick questions about your business, get personalised feedback, then build an action plan that will help accelerate your business's growth. Take the Make a Plan tool today

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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