When we shop at the supermarket, many of us are all too conscious of the amount of waste that is created by unnecessary packaging. Instead of moaning about it, Catherine Conway (pictured) decided to act by setting up Unpackaged. The principle of Unpackaged is beautiful in its simplicity. When you go to the Islington shop, you take your own containers and buy your groceries by weight, cutting out excess packaging at a stroke. Containers may include, but are not limited to, glass jars, tupperware, old takeaway cartons and paper or plastic bags.
Previously, Catherine worked for a charity organising volunteers in the Paddington area. But the strength of her views about the environmental damage caused by excessive retail packaging problem gave her the impetus to set up her own business in 2006.
She started her operation by trying out the business as a market stall trading on Portobello Road and at Essex Market. After a successful year which proved the potential of the business model, Catherine opened her shop in Islington in November 2007. It’s set in a listed property which was formerly the Lloyd & Son Dairy and retains many of its original period features.
‘I first went to the Business Centre in early 2006 with my idea – I knew about them because of my previous work in Paddington. My business adviser was very encouraging – her attitude was that I had a strong idea and that I should get on with making firm plans then launch it. She really helped to motivate me.
‘Even although I’d say I’m quite an organised person, there was tons of stuff I didn’t know about like cashflow planning. I took the short course on how to write a business plan and that was very helpful.
‘Now we have three part=time members of staff and we’re meeting our trading targets. I’m now working on plans to replicate the business in other areas – we currently get customers from all over London so it seems that the potential is there to open branches elsewhere. We’re looking at the possibility of some kind of franchising but we have more research to do.’
‘Ultimately, we’d like to be the small village shop in every neighbourhood – and I’ll be hoping for more advice from the Business Centre on how to achieve that.’