Ecoflor’s strategy: save the environment and run a profitable business at the same time

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Maria Larsson and Karin, her sister, turned down the chance to run a flower shop in a major shopping centre. The very same evening, they received and accepted a unique business offer! Maria could hardly have guessed that this would bring her two prestigious accolades in just two and a half years. Winning the municipality’s environment prize and appearing in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) clip that has been shared over 25 million times have made Maria synonymous with Ecoflor. Maria, manager of this now famous enterprise, gives tips on how your business can work more sustainably.

Photo:Ecoflor

 

The unique offer was to start a shop in the ReTuna “reuse mall”. ReTuna is located next to a recycling centre where Eskilstuna residents can bring their waste. Shops in the mall upcycle and repair old things, transforming them into new objects that they then sell. The mall is unique of its type and has attracted great attention, both locally and internationally.

“We wanted to create a shop that mirrored us. We’ve always shopped second-hand and our new shop is just like our home. It’s cosy, creative and full of odd knick-knacks that you can rummage amongst without worrying about the climate. We wouldn’t have fitted into a traditional shopping centre,” comments Maria.

Today, the sisters run two shops. An early adopter of the sustainability concept, Karin Larsson started Decoflor 10 years ago. The shop was received well and soon acquired a loyal circle of customers. Ecoflor, the new shop, is in ReTuna. In addition to ecologically grown plants, it also sells pots, vases and garden furniture taken from the adjacent recycling centre. Sharing a brand identity, but offering somewhat different ranges, the two shops can leverage each other and swap customers.

Making a second-hand shop profitable

Making a second-hand shop profitable is a challenge. Maria and her ReTuna colleagues have to put a lot of time and effort into helping their customers spot what they want.
“We can’t set out hundreds of identical vases on a table. We have only one of each item. Instead, we have to find different ways of guiding the eye. This may be to group things by style or colour,” explains Maria.

She further explains the importance of shop owners not lowering the prices of their goods. In the beginning, customers expected jumble-sale prices. They could not understand why they should pay more than a few kronor for things that they felt the shops had acquired free from the recycling centre. Customers have now got used to the concept and it has been possible to raise prices. Nonetheless, it is still difficult for prices to reflect all the work involved. Maria thinks it will get easier with time. More people will realise that our throw-away society is not sustainable and that we must be prepared to pay for products that are not fresh off the production line.

“People think harder when they come here,” says Maria. “At major stores such as Åhléns or Ullared, customers will slip a SEK 129 candlestick into their baskets without much thought. Here, at ReTuna, customers have a different mindset. This is certainly a positive thing.”

Maria’s tips for a sustainable business

There are many ways of working sustainably and Maria is keen to inspire other businesspeople.

“Start small. When you’ve got into the swing of things, continuing is easier,” she advises.
Ecoflor offers five simple tips for getting started:

  1. Stop being wasteful – Cut down on wrapping paper, find more efficient fastening solutions, do not offer bags unnecessarily.
  2. Keep stocks in order – This reduces the risk of double ordering and breaking goods owing to incorrect storage.
  3. Do not buy in so many seasonal goods – They are soon impossible to sell.
  4. Impose requirements on suppliers – This takes time and commitment in the beginning, but suppliers soon learn to contact you when they have environment-friendly offerings rather than when they want to sell large volumes cheaply.
  5. Create local collaborations – This reduces transport and reinforces the market where you yourself live and work.

Daring to do away with the simple and cheap is also a step towards helping customers to consume fewer, but more “valuable”, goods.

“The world doesn’t need yet more white pots. Thus, we’d never buy those in for either of our shops. Instead, we select goods that will be loved for a long time. If you want to buy a special vase to keep forever, you can find it at Decoflor. If you are really after a cheap vase for everyday use, it’s better to come to ReTuna and buy something simple that’s already been in circulation,” states Maria.

She also emphasises the importance of thinking outside the box. Instead of trying to compete with the large chains’ “5 for SEK 100” offers when the pelargonium season begins, Maria works with a local supplier of unusual pelargoniums. Currently, she does not buy in more than two or three examples of each plant. Thus, customers take away something rather special. Besides making it possible to raise prices, it also leads to the best sort of marketing. Customers are proud of their unique pelargoniums and speak enthusiastically about them to their friends. This attracts new customers to Ecoflor.

Despite all the hard work, Maria is still very pleased that she and her sister chose to start Ecoflor.

“If, just over two and a half years ago, someone had said to me that I would be in a BBC clip viewed 25 million times, that I would win Eskilstuna’s environment prize and that I would feature in a TV documentary and various articles, I would never have believed them. I can really feel that I’ve made a difference and shown that it is possible to run a profitable business while also saving the environment,” concludes Maria.

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Responsible: Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth

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