A Small Good Thing, a community greengrocers with a focus on seasonal, organic produce and waste reduction, is the product of a long term friendship originally forged 11 years ago in a pub in Bolton, where Lisa and Emily, founders of the business, were brought together by a shared love of Joni Mitchell…
Of course the story isn’t quite as simple as that. After a stint busking together, the pair decided to do the whole adult thing; get jobs, have kids and carve out their own careers before coming back together just a couple of years ago to launch their own business.
Both were becoming increasingly frustrated with the food system and consumer society. In her other job, Lisa was working with a lot of food growing sites and saw the benefit of direct engagement with the food growing process. “I had become very frustrated with trying to do my weekly shop without large amounts of waste filling my bins. I read, travelled around other small shops with a similar ethos, asked lots of questions, went on training at Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton, and read some more.”
Coming together with Emily, the pair then attended a 1 week Pop-Up business school, which on reflection would prove to be a game changer. Given the kick they needed, they then approached their local pub to trial their idea of providing the public with fresh local produce. The pub were definitely receptive, letting them have the space free of charge every Saturday. “We picked up the produce direct from the farm on the Friday, sold on the Saturday and with any excess, we made soup and did deliveries.”
In November 2017, a shop unit became available, the time was ripe (pardon the well-placed pun), and what had started as a pop-up market stall in their local pub in July 2017, soon transformed into a shop, literally minutes from their front doors. Today, Emily and Lisa are paving the way for fellow small business owners, taking steps to reduce their environmental impact and running an sustainable enterprise with passion and bounds of enthusiasm.
We caught up with Emily from Our Small Good Thing to learn more about the principles that underpin the brand and what it takes to set up your own business with your best friend.
Jenna: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
ASGT: It’s so hard to pick! Having much more control about the amount of waste we create, and passing that opportunity onto our customers, is great. Although, one of the most rewarding parts is also the simplest; the face to face chats with the customers.There have been times in the shop when various different customers have all been chatting about their favourite recipes, how to cook different ingredients and debating on the best use of a celeriac. My favourite kind of chat! Being my own boss and working with my best mate is pretty awesome too. We were worried initially about the effect on our friendship, but so far, no-one has killed anyone. I’ve learnt to live with Lisa’s very straight-talking manner and she has learned to live with my ability to lose all the pens.
Jenna: Any advice for women wanting to start their own business?
ASGT: I feel a little inexperienced to offer up advice, but what I do know is that a supportive network was key for us. Whether that be online, or family and friends helping out in some way, find your tribe and call on it. People want to help. As a small business owner, you suddenly have to become accountant, designer, operations manager, advertising manager etc, but you will undoubtedly know someone who does one of those things better than you. Ask them to help! Maybe there is a skill you can offer in return.
Also, and this is just my personal opinion, be ever so slightly wary of social media. It can be a great asset when getting your business off the ground, but it shouldn’t be a blockage to you getting started in the first place. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by people seemingly doing things better than you. There may well be a few people with similar ideas to yours, but no-one else will do it quite like you will. Trust your idea, commit to it and research, research, research.
Jenna: Do you have a strong support system of people who were willing to help you out?
ASGT: Absolutely. For which we are eternally grateful. On a personal level, it just wouldn’t have been doable without our friends and families cheering us on and helping out with our kids. We were also humbled by the kindness of people within similar sectors. I was very cheeky and turned up to a few different shops asking them lots of questions about their business, and people were very happy to share their expertise. We hope to be able to pass this goodwill on and support other small businesses like ours. We started with a “pop-up” in someone else’s business, and next month a new business will have a “pop-up” in our shop for the first time.
Jenna: What were the challenges of setting this up?
ASGT: The hardest things were (and are) the age old ones – money and time. We initially set up the shop at the end of November to open Thurs, Fri and Sat as both Lisa and I worked other jobs Monday-Wednesday. Getting the shop ready within a month was tricky and we used up all our energy reserves. Lisa still has a breast-feeding child who likes to wake up many times in the night, so it was especially hard for her!
Money wise, we managed to start the shop on a shoestring budget. We made the decision to start with less stock than we wanted and gradually add to our stock over time, rather than wait until we had all the right money to fully kit out the shop. Naturally, this approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but it felt right to us.
Jenna: What are your plans for the future?
ASGT: Oh so many, but our immediate plans are to expand our bulk dried-goods section to include more staples such as beans, pasta, cereals etc and to offer a re-fillable household cleaning section. One element we particularly enjoy is the adult evening workshops so we would like to look at ways of running more of these and running some music/poetry nights with tasty food.
Jenna: Can you sum up Our Small Thing in three words:
ASGT: Food, community, happiness.
Jenna: When you take a break from work, what do you both get up to?
ASGT: For me it’s playing/watching music or going for a walk. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when setting something up, but I’ve realised that it’s very worthwhile investing some time in time-out. It feels counter-intuitive, and there’s an element of guilt for me still (there’s always something i could be doing at the shop!). But, I know myself well these days, and music/nature help me re-set.
A Small Good Thing is a community greengrocers with a focus on seasonal, organic produce and waste reduction. We are always making small steps to reduce our environmental impact. We started as a pop-up market stall in our local pub in July 2017, and transformed into a shop within our local area in November 2017.
O U R A I M S
Help to reduce excess plastic and packaging // encourage people to re-fill their own containers // support farmers who support a stronger eco-system // reduce food waste // create a space for conversation in our community
W E S E L L
Organic fruit and veg // Bulk kitchen cupboard staples // Innovative, waste saving products // Hot soup within the shop and to other businesses
W E R U N
Events and workshops that bring people together and promote sustainable living practices