At the start of 2009, I had planned to go away on a charity expedition to Borneo for 7 weeks. So during the busiest time of year in the gardening calendar, I was in the jungle thousands of miles away. I can remember listening to the radio in the Jungle (we set up a radio each night after trekking) and hearing about the Worldwide Financial Crisis. It was scary stuff.
When I got back I found we had some interest from larger gardening stores and my parents had been doing a phenomenal job of keeping things going. Some garden centre chains and supermarkets wanted to talk and it made me realise that although coffee was a great product, it was very impractical when it came to getting hold of it. I was driving around 6-7 coffee shops on a weekly basis picking up the used grounds which to me was defeating the object of my eco-venture as I was driving miles just to bring it in.
We (my parents became more involved as EcoCharlie got busy) decided to switch the product to a recycled granite chipping as it was just as effective as the coffee grounds and could be supplied in bulk. It was old kitchen worktops collected and specially chipped into shards just for us!
In the Summer I had to make a choice. Do I go to University after my gap year or forget that completely and at that time Uni was not the way for me so I put all my eggs into the EcoCharlie basket.
The next thing was to increase the range of products EcoCharlie sell. As I had learned from speaking to big companies that one off products are hard to sell as it makes everything easier when you have a 'range' to offer a garden centre.
We invested in bringing out an Eco-Friendly Cat Deterrent and many other off the wall ideas. Eventually we ended up with a range of 5 products that all met our core eco-credentials. We decided to spend a chunk of money on going to the largest trade show in the UK to promote the EcoCharlie name and find new customers.
When we got back from the trade show we had a real shock. The company who was supplying us with the recycled granite work-surfaces had gone bust which was a major financial shock for us. It also meant that the orders from new customers that we had just gained on the back of the trade show, could no longer be fulfilled. I had also just turned down my Plymouth Uni place so dropping EcoCharlie for Uni was not an option. Things were looking pretty bad.
We didn't want to close up shop but our slug deterrent was our major product and the other 4 just didn't seem as exciting without it. We spent weeks trying to find a company that did the same thing but there was no-one in the UK.
We eventually found a supplier doing something even better. They had a supply of old earthenware ceramic (Natural ceramic) and they were keen to try working with us to produce a great deterrent. We tested and tested the ceramic to get a good product as it could not be cut as sharp as the granite.
During testing the product we noticed it was out-performing the granite but we couldn't figure out why. After looking into the facts it became clear that the ceramic worked in more ways than just as a sharp material, difficult to climb over. It was also porous so it meant that the Slugs/Snails mucus would be absorbed into the ceramic and cause it to stick to the mollusc. It also (after more adjustments) was sharp enough to stop them.
We had a product to sell again.
We spoke to all our customers and made them aware of the change and they were all happy to still take the product the following spring!
By the end of 2009 we had two agents selling in specific areas around the UK which was really great. We were starting to look like a lot more than just a young guy selling slug deterrent from a shed now.