Hi, I’m Matthew from Your Straw Guy and I’m starting an eco-friendly straws business with $500. I’ve decided to document the whole process, share it with you, and learn something along the way.
- Popular movements like #saynotoplastic, #stopsucking, etc, are gaining traction.
- As you may have heard, Single-Use Plastics are becoming unpopular, especially in the US/UK.
- Starbucks, McDonald's, The Queen of England & Wales, American Airlines, etc. have taken a positive stance against those.
- Budget : $500
- Capitalise on this hot topic and set up a business offering advice for businesses, restaurants, bars, cafés, individuals.
- Set up an online store through Shopify, Run Ads through different media and generate a positive ROI.
- Establish the brand as a Straw-related Expert/Advice-giver rather than a Straw Seller.
- Pick 5 main types of Eco-Friendly Straws, Find suppliers in China and Figure out Logistics.
- Pick a Country/State/City currently talking about Plastic Straws or considering banning them.
- Design and Publish basic and functional Online Store.
- Test different kinds of sources of traffic - Organic (Writing Content, Backlinks), Paid (Facebook, Instagram, AdWords).
- Find out Responsive Audiences from tests.
- Multiply Paid Advertising if ad with positive ROI is found.
Week 1 (Day 1 to Day 3)
So, I've been listening to marketing podcasts for close to a year now.
[If you're interested, it's called The Marketing Book Podcast hosted by Douglas Burdett, it's really good in my opinion - stays fresh with new interviewees every week, and the host keeps it pretty lighthearted.]
And, one of the recurring topics seems to be - if you want to get noticed, FIND A NICHE.
Being everything to everyone, is like being nothing to everyone
So, I looked for one in which I thought there'd be potential for growth further down the line. I wanted something related to the environment, climate change and that sort of stuff, since - Firstly, I actually believe that it's a real issue that needs to be addressed. Secondly, it's a field that is gaining traction worldwide, and where there will be potential to make some money from it.
So, I just started googling stuff, reading the 'Environment' section of BBC News and the single-use plastic straw thing came up. And it seemed like a good fit. So I started doing some more research about how this became a thing, gathering some facts and figures about plastic pollution from straws, and how 'new' is this industry.
- Estimated 500 million single-use plastic straws used by Americans daily.
- 8 million tons of plastic trash flow into the world's oceans per year, 0.025% of which comes from plastic straws.
- Estimated 7.5 million plastic straws lying around America's shorelines.
- England uses and estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws per year.
Note : Plastic straws only account for 0.025% of all the plastic trash that goes into the sea.
Argument 1 : We've got much bigger fish to fry, how about the other sources of big plastic pollution?
My Opinion : Yes, even if we succeed in replacing or eliminating all single-use plastic straws from our every day life, it doesn't change much. But, we've been knowing about plastic pollution for ages, all kinds of campaigns didn't work. This one, somehow is getting traction, and we should be embracing it. I think it's a start, because change can happen at home, without relying on governments, countries, big businesses to make a first move. And it works! Businesses are changing the way their approach - for profit maybe, but who cares? IT'S WORKING! Gotta start somewhere.
Plastic Pollution CoalitionCEO, Dianna Cohen : "[The plastic straws ban is]...one of the gateway issues to help people start thinking about the global plastic pollution problem"
TIMELINE OF BIG ADVOCATES in 2018
- February - The Queen (Ban on Royal Estates & Move to "cut back on plastic at all levels")
- May - European Commission
- June - India (Vow to ban all single-use plastics by 2022)
- July - Seattle (First Major City to ban plastic straws & utensils), San Francisco (Starting July 2019), American Airlines, Starbucks(by 2020), McDonald's (UK & Ireland), Bon Appétit (1000 Food Stores in the US), Alaska Airlines, Aramark (Serves 2 billion meals in 19 countries - "to significantly reduce...by 2022)
- September - California (First State to ban plastic straws from restaurant tables. Starting 2019, customers will have to ask for a straw)
- October - UK Government Consultation, UK Plan (To start to ban distribution & sales between Oct 2019 and Oct 2020)
As it turned out, all the big firms/celebrities only really started advocating for replacing/ending single-use plastic straws in 2018, most of them in mid-2018. So, it's new, I've got a chance, not much competition, I hope.
So, now that I had decided that alternatives to single-use plastic straws might be good business, time to test it out - do the people really want those alternatives? How can I provide them with value? Why would they buy my straws instead of my competitors'? Who is my target market? Are those alternatives better than ditching straws altogether?
STEP ONE : Products, Suppliers & Logistics.
Potential Straw Materials : Undyed Paper, Dyed Paper, Bamboo, Stainless Steel, ~~Titanium~~ , Silicone, Glass, ~~Straw~~ , ~~Hay~~ , ~~corn-based PLA Plastic~~ , ~~Stainless Steel + Silicone mouthpiece~~.
Titanium : Too expensive
Straw : Too Brittle, Low potential margin, Tough competition from US locals
Corn-based PLA Plastic : Compostable but non-biodegradable - as bad as plastic if conditions for compostic aren't met (which most people don't know of)
Stainless Steel + Silicone : Couldn't find a good supplier
- Researched all potential eco-friendly materials for straws. Eliminated those which I think are just inferior, or from which I cannot sustain a decent margin from by sourcing from China.
- I then searched for those specific categories on Taobao.com(in Chinese).
- Found the most reviewed ones. Chose the most and least expensive well-reviewed bamboo straws, for example, and one that just appealed to me.
- Compared the current prices on Amazon, could I make a decent margin to cover my costs? If yes, then good. If not, then next.
- Did that for all 5 materials I chose : Paper, Stainless Steel, Bamboo, Silicone, Glass.
Now that I have about 15 potential suppliers, time to order some samples, and check the quality of the packaging, straws, and test the straws.
Cost of Samples: 250CNY ($36)
Logistics : Postponed - I actually have no idea how to get any package shipped from China to the US. I tried contacting the manufacturers directly and using a US address, but they just won't/don't know how to do it. I've decided to think about that later, and possibly ask a Chinese friend who works in logistics to help me with that.
In the meantime, we wait for the samples, and figure out the next step.
STEP TWO : Targeting
Since my budget is limited, I have to choose a specific region to target my ads, where I think I have a greater chance at succeeding.
So, since I'm going to have to do/write everything from content to ad copy, I figured that I'd go with the language I'm most comfortable with. English. Also, since my main sources of news/information are Reddit (mostly US) and BBC (UK or international?) my target would have to be a country with English as its main language, and with which I've got some good understanding of their culture - for better ad copy. (To compare with India, Singapore where people speak English as a second language, but where I'm guaranteed to fail since I'm not really familiar with their culture/norms). It also has to be a country with people with enough disposable income to spend on straws, which are non-essentials.
Options : United States, ~~Canada~~ , England, ~~UK without England~~ , ~~Australia~~ , ~~New Zealand~~.
Canada : I actually don't know much about Canada, except for the maple syrup, nice people and Justin Trudeau. They are quite left-leaning and positively supportive of environment-related issues so to be considered later.
UK without England : I studied in England for 3 years, but don't know much about Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.
Australia & New Zealand : Again, I'm not confident with picking those.
Both the US and England have, from the above, expressed some interest with banning single-use plastic straws, but the US seems a bit more proactive with it. If a ban happens in England, it's only going to be in October 2019 at earliest. So, the US it is.
I just googled something like "plastic straw ban in the US", and stumbled upon Portland, Oregon. It was newly announced, early December, that Portland-based restaurant clients would have to ask for straws if they needed them. I thought that'd be enough to make the local news and at least make my marketing a bit easier.
BUDGET LEFT : $500 - $36(samples) = $464.
TIME SPENT : 3 x 8 hours = 24 man hours.
TL;DR - Guy wants to start business. Chooses Eco-Friendly Straws. Found Products and Suppliers from China. Bought Samples. Wants to target Portland, US.
Next : Step Three : Setting up a functional Shopify online store
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back for more updates!
- Mattthew Tsang Mang Kin, Founder of Your Straw Guy
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