The final startup we catch up with for Earth Day is offigo, discussing sustainability and the high street.
Tell us about your start up, and why you started
I started offigo due to my background in working for local newspapers where my role was to help high street businesses promote themselves. After 6 successful years I then went to open numerous high street businesses where during this time I saw a steady decline in pubs and shops becoming a worrying trend.
It was always on my mind that as pubs and shops around me closed they were not re-opening, this was affecting my business too, it was not making me busier it was making me quieter. In simple terms more pubs had meant more customers who had more choice and as a business I made more money. With the underlining belief my experience could be put to better use to help the pub industry, I became determined to find a solution to why customers were stopping going to pubs. It was my belief with my advertising experience that businesses as a whole were not doing enough to promote themselves, simply there was nowhere for customers to find daily information on where to visit for shopping eating and drinking out.
My research showed the issue was bigger than just pubs, it involved the whole high street as pubs benefited from people popping in for a quick drink or pub lunch whilst shopping, and shops benefited from people who were going the pub bought new clothes etc to look good on a night out. I realised that the whole high street is connected and no-one seemed to see it how I did, if one part of it fails then there is a knock on effect that can take other businesses down too. This is why I created offigo – to connect the high street together per location with information shared from businesses, so customers have plenty of choice available to encourage them to eat, drink and shop locally.
What are the biggest environmental challenges facing businesses today?
From a high street point of view the biggest current challenge is Covid-19 and the disruption from the resulting lock down, where shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and places to visit have had to close. By restricting movement there are less deliveries on our roads and with a huge reduction in people travelling to the high street in car, it may improve the environment with less carbon emissions, but this situation is severely impacting businesses, the local economy and communities. Prior to lock down the main focus for the high street was reducing the amount of plastic used in packaging, with supermarkets being a main user. Recently I watched fly on the wall programmes about Sainsbury and Iceland, it was re-assuring to see they are taking the problem seriously and are making huge changes to how they package their food products.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing a startup who wants to positively impact the environment?
The landscape on the high street is forever changing and I would like to say it is evolving and not dying. In the current climate there will be winners and losers over the next few years as businesses adapt, but we are seeing people rising to the challenge. We are seeing more and more artisan bakers opening, making fresh breads from organic natural ingredients. New independent food shops with no packaging, where the customer can take their own tubs and refill with as much or little as they require. The rise in demand for meat free products has seen new restaurants opening and we continue to see the growth in local food markets.
However the success of all these new businesses will be down to how they get their message out there to continually inform the consumer they are open and sharing reasons why they should visit. Nothing frustrates me more than only hearing about a business when they are closing down, I want to hear about them opening and then reminding me each week why I should visit, and this must be done by having a proper digital presence. Social media is a must have in this day and age but if the business is serious, it has to have a website offering the customer the opportunity to order online or view its menu or latest events etc.
What are the biggest environmental challenges facing businesses today?
I think the biggest environmental challenge facing businesses today is sustainability; being sustainable from an economic perspective as well as in terms of environmentally sustainable. Economically speaking, the uncertainty caused by climate change or significant weather events, uncertainty relating to supply of resources needed by businesses and their products, the uncertainty of supply chains and costs, as well as inflation, demographic displacement and energy security, make for uncertain times.
Economic uncertainty often results in a short term view … a ‘just get through it’ approach, usually by looking at keeping costs down and making decisions led by balancing spreadsheets in the here and now. Unfortunately, this approach can make it difficult for a business to achieve environmental sustainability as ‘green’ alternatives usually come at a premium or require a significant amount of time before they bring a return on the initial investment, which makes them unattractive, especially during times of economic uncertainty. The large markets, or customer demand, needed to make green alternatives financially viable to all, therefore, rarely materialise, making greener, sustainable, choices and practices luxuries that many businesses cannot afford or sustain.
How can data help businesses develop better environmental practices?
Data simplified is good, but too much or wrongly presented data and the people it is designed to support, cannot process it, not that they are not clever enough but it can be an overload of information. I also see data being used to collate footfall figures for the high street and it isn’t helping it in fact it is killing it. The high street has too many variables to be creating helpful data for it currently, such as weather, events, new openings, closures, traffic issues and parking restrictions and individual shops own marketing activity. The variables increase when you add into the personal circumstances of the shopper, ie losing a job means less money to spend, pay rise allows more money to be spent, buying big ticket items, holidays, cars will effect their spend on the high street. So here counting people and using the data to say footfall is down without the variables being taken into account is misleading and having a detrimental effect on consumer confidence and the sustainability of the high street environment.
What’s your top tip for any new business who wants to develop a culture of sustainability as they grow?
At the start of the year I posted an article stating that the high street must adapt to embrace digital as part of their business. Consumers search information on their digital device every day and if businesses cannot be found they will be ignored and a competitor chosen.
I truly believe the next generation of shop keepers will be people who started by selling products through the like of Amazon and Ebay and can use this experience to go on and build their brand from a high street location. These omni-channel operators will be better placed to succeed than shops who open their doors and hope customers just arrive. Of course its not to late for businesses to adapt and include digital to help their business grow.
Find out more about offigo and how they can help bring your town together online.