Students win funding for start up
Greig Allan is the latest student to receive funding from the Ayrshire College Foundation Enterprising Students Fund. Here, he gives us an insight into his business, Soft Olive, and plans for the future.
Our business idea
I opened our natural cosmetics store, based in Troon, during September 2018, with my partner Magdalena, also an Ayrshire College student, after we visited her parents and their family run store in Krakow. While on holiday, we decided we wanted to be self-employed and believed we could start our own family run store back in Scotland.
Although I had no experience of the natural cosmetics industry, I loved the idea of it, and with Magdalena already having a wealth of experience in natural cosmetics and having studied Business at the University of Economics in Krakow, we were in a good position to launch our own business. Magdalena’s passion for natural cosmetics comes from growing up working in her family’s cosmetic business. She started selling products from a stall with her parents at a young age and over time helped build the company to become what it is today.
Gin Inspired Cosmetics
I also have business experience having been a self-employed driving instructor and a senior manager with Buzzworks Holdings. My background is in bartending, having managed various cocktail bars and competed in many competitions. I am passionate about the history of gin and how it is made, and realised the process for making gin is very similar to the process for making cosmetics. When we started researching and comparing the ingredients, we learned there are numerous health benefits to juniper berry, the key ingredient in gin, and the other botanicals often found in gin. Juniper berry is very effective in the treatment of hair and skin. By combining both our backgrounds we came up with the concept for our own line of natural and organic gin inspired cosmetics.
Our passion for the environment
We share a passion for doing our part to help save the environment and strongly disagree with many of the practices used by most of the well-known cosmetic companies. These large companies have packed their products full of toxic chemicals, metals and plastic particles for many years. Moreover, they test on animals. We made a conscious decision that we would only sell the very best of naturally and ethically sourced products in our store. Our products would also be free from animal cruelty, vegan friendly, biodegradable and marine life friendly, free from non-recyclable plastic packaging and suitable for people with skin conditions. We also try to sell products that contain organic ingredients whenever possible.
The Ayrshire College Foundation Enterprising Students Fund has given us a wonderful opportunity to secure £5000 of funding for Soft Olive. This funding will allow us to develop our own brand of natural cosmetics called Bathtub Gincare, based on using gin inspired botanicals. Without this funding we would not be able to realise our project. It is also a huge boost to our confidence that a panel of independent business people believed in us and wanted to invest in our business.
Magdalena and I are high achievers and always push ourselves to be the best. We put in the hard work and share a can do attitude. Having both worked in the hospitality industry means we are used to long hours, so we are managing to study and run a business, and I continue to work part time in a bar. Magdalena also gave birth to our daughter during our first year of business.
The most challenging aspect of launching our business has been getting people into the shop – especially in the winter months. Customers nowadays often shop out of town in places such as Silverburn or Braehead, and of course, there is competition online.
We have started developing some of our products and are delighted with how they perform. We are now working on how they look as we are up against competition from companies such as Lush.
I am driven to be successful and good old-fashioned pride and a desire to be the best spurs me on. To achieve excellence in anything you need to continuously know your weaknesses and improve. The knowledge and skills I am learning on my engineering course help me understand how things work and how to solve problems and so on. This will help me in our manufacturing side of the business. I am inspired by role models such as Magdalena’s parents, people I have met through Buzzworks and people I read about on-line. I enjoy reading self-improvement books and autobiographies of successful people.
We are developing a luxurious range of products that will be sold to local hotels. We envision our Bathtub Gincare range being offered as complimentary gifts for guests when staying in the hotels. Our range will be displayed in the luxurious bathrooms, for guests to help themselves to as part of the hotel experience. This would be much more than just a nice touch offered by the hotels. In doing so, both the hotels and guests would be joining us in reducing the amount of plastic being thrown away and harmful cosmetics being washed down the drains. We will also offer the products with or without packaging in our store at 44 Church Street, Troon.
We can’t thank the panel enough for investing in us and setting us up on our path to success. I would encourage any student with a business idea, however small, to apply. In addition to the grant, there are invaluable resources included such as workshops and networking events. Look out for us and our Bathtub Gincare Brand there.