Meet Katie of Without Waste NI, Championing Reuse for a Greener Tomorrow

Katie is spearheading zero-waste retail, and advocating reuse for a greener future. ๐ŸŒŽ

Katie Elliott cares deeply about our planet's well-being and its future. Through her venture, Without Waste, a refill shop based in Holywood, Northern Ireland, Katie wants to give people the opportunity to help make sure our planet stays healthy and happy for a long time.

She does this by helping everyone cut down on things like plastic that's used only once, and by reducing the pollution that comes from carbon emissions.

You can make a difference, and Katie is here to support you in taking steps to protect our environment. ๐ŸŒŽ

At Without Waste, the simple act of bringing your own containers to stock up on high-quality food and household items can make a massive difference. This approach allows everyone to acquire just the amount they require, minimising waste and making a meaningful environmental impact.

Here's Katie's journey, in her own words.

Can you tell us about your journey as a founder? What inspired you to start your own business?

I went travelling through SE Asia about 7 years ago.

I witnessed here first an amount of pollution that was unignorable. The image stuck in my head and I decided I needed to do something about it. Returning home I enrolled myself with The Open University and began a four-year course studying Environmental Sciences.

I volunteered with local environmental charities on my days off and then when lockdown hit it gave me time to think what my next move was going to be. I then decided to take the leap and open Without Waste Refill Shop, the journey then continued with Without Waste Corporate.

What challenges did you face in the early stages of your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?

It was my first business ever so everything has been a complete learning curve.

As most startups experience, it was all about managing finances, the beginning of any business is all about putting the time money and effort in. It does pay off so much when you start to see your business thrive and grow.

The shop concept is very unfamiliar for a lot of people and unfamiliar things can be unsettling, I had people saying my business wouldn't last the year and it won't work, its now been over a year, has a steady community of supportive customers and branched out into the corporate world helping companies reduce their waste and carbon emissions and encourage staff to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

How did you identify the target market for your product/service? What made you confident that it would resonate with customers?

I have been lucky enough to have grown up and worked in the town where my shop is located so I know the area and demography very well. I did however consider other locations which involved days sitting in the car taking foot counts.

I also completed an OCN in Business Development with Belfast MET which gave me the tools for identifying my target market. I created surveys and sent them out to be completed by everyone and anyone which helped my gather info on what customers want, what they would like to see, what would put them off refill shopping.

This gave me a better understanding of who my customer was and what I can do to ensure a positive experience when in-store to help repeat custom.

What were some of the major obstacles you encountered while building your business? How did you navigate through those hurdles?

Tracking down suppliers was a big one, as there are not many other businesses the same as mine in Northern Ireland it was hard to gather info and some of the other companies I reached out for for advice didn't exactly offer much help.

Some others did however which was extremely helpful for me as it was a whole career change for me so any help offered was happily accepted. We were still in the aftermath of Brexit and Northern Ireland was getting the worst end of the deal with many suppliers not delivering here anymore or charging massive shipping fees.

This is still the case to be honest. This has however lead to an increase of local suppliers developing which is wonderful to see.

Could you share a specific moment of doubt or failure you experienced along the way? How did you bounce back from it?

After my first quarter I was analysing my numbers and the money coming in was not as much as I had expected. This meant I had to let my staff member go. This was a horrible decision to have to make as my member of staff was great. I felt like I had messed up and not done well enough.

It was a hard pill to swallow. I then gave myself a shake and threw myself into work, exploring more ways the shop can develop, more products that could be introduced, and after a very short time there was a massive increase in sales and repeat customers.

This was the moment I learnt that no one on Earth will sell your business as well as you.

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How did you approach scaling and expanding your business? What strategies did you employ to ensure sustainable growth?

In store I interacted with customers, made notes on what they would like to see, monitoring what sold well and what sat there.

I looked forward to what season was going to be coming up so I can tailor my stock to sell well. I expanded into the corporate industry by chance, I had a local marketing office approach me for advice and this lead to the development of Without Waste Corporate.

I was able to trial everything with this first company, making it easier for future accounts.

Did you face any scepticism or resistance from others when pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams? How did you handle it?

In store you always get people who are sceptical, who always compare it to supermarkets and don't understand the benefits and the necessity to refill shopping and low waste living.

I try to explain to them how it isn't a break the bank way of shopping and the importance for the environment. Some get converted and others just have none of it.

It gets frustrating at times but I have worked in a customer facing roll my whole life so I am used to it and how to handle customers.

Can you describe a key decision you made that significantly impacted the trajectory of your business? What were the factors you considered?

I can't really pinpoint one key decision as I am still in the early stages of business so there are constantly many decisions currently being made.

What advice would you give to aspiring founders who are just starting their entrepreneurial journey?

Ask for advice from anyone and everyone. Ask for help and allow people to help. Be prepared for set backs and failures but remember they are bumps in the road and you will learn from them.

Remember to take time for yourself, your business will not thrive if you hit burnout. No one will sell your business like you will, so show up and rock it every day.

What role has mentorship played in your entrepreneurial success? Were there any specific mentors who made a significant impact on your journey?

Mentoring has been massive for me. I went through go for it NI and was set up with a business mentor, I didn't feel I got a massive amount out of this. The business course through Belfast MET was amazing, Rosemary Morrison lead this and she was amazing. So knowledgeable and helpful I learnt a lot from her. My biggest mentors have been my parents. They both have a massive amount of business experience and I have been so lucky to have them by my side.

To find out more about Without Waste NI, you can visit withoutwasteni-corporate.co.uk

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