Zero Waste Shop: How to Set Up Your Own

Harbour the dream of setting up a bricks and mortar retail store to sell zero waste and other sustainable products to likeminded consumers? You're not alone - we love to hear from people like you that want to make a difference and set their own businesses up.

However, we are here to not only encourage you (setting up your own business in an ethical arena is great) but also demonstrate the realistic, bad and the ugly side of running a business, especially a business with high fixed costs such as a bricks and mortar retail premises.

The concept of zero waste retail is not new. The first zero waste shop that we know of, Unpackaged, opened in London in 2007. Since then, its a trend that has continued to grow and there are now considerably more than 150 zero waste shops in the UK. So, if everyone's making money and doing it while promoting a great cause, what's to stop you setting up your own shop?

The Problems With High Street Retail

Look at how the high street landscape in the UK is changing and it gives you a lot of insight into what is actually happening at the business end. The obvious thing is, we’re all buying more online. You can listen to your Dad or Grandad that tells you he prefers to go into the shop and see what tools he is buying, or your Mum when she says she is fed up with ordering clothes online that do not fit. They each have valid points - but they don’t represent the behaviour of the masses. Else, bricks and mortar retail would be thriving - and it isn’t.

There are exceptions. Primark, for example, has bucked the trend for decades - thriving with a purely bricks and mortar business model. They don’t even sell online! However, it's important to note that selling T-Shirts piled high for £2 is about as far away as you can get from retailing zero waste products to conscious consumers. 

Products in Glass Jars

You see, the balance has to be struck if you are a profit making business with an ethical stance. Zero waste, by its very nature, means that your customers will be consuming the minimal amounts and require less repeat purchases than someone that, for example, is buying baby wipes or nappies like they are going out of fashion.

Being brutally honest - if you are expecting a zero waste shop to be as busy as the Tesco Express down the road you are probably mistaken. However, if you price your products correctly (not too cheap) and can build regular and loyal custom, you can make the dream a reality and produce a positive income. Be prepared for longer hours, but the saying 'if you do something you love you'll never have to work another day in your life' is true. 

Cost of Setting Up a Zero Waste Shop

Costs can vary to set up a zero waste store in the UK - depending on premises size and location. Although, we’re here to give you an overview. As a starting point, £25,000 is an achievable level outside of London and other major cities (where you could double that starting estimate). Here are some of the start up costs you can expect. We have also created an example cashflow forecast for you to see some of the figures in more detail. If you'd like the original to amend with your own figures you can contact us and we'd be happy to send it over.

Lease - Premises - per month - £1,000 - Could be £3,000 including initial deposits

Legal - You’ll have some costs to arrange the lease etc. £1,000

Shop Fitting - Although minimal, you will want to decorate and present your store correctly £3,000

Stock - A healthy opening Stock level will be around £15,000

Marketing - You need to let people know you are open and a small business website could be valuable £3,000

The above is just a ballpark guide as to the set up costs you will encounter when setting up a zero waste shop in the UK. We have a lot of experience in retail, so we’ve provided a zero waste shop cashflow forecast example that you can amend to suit. 

Zero Waste Shop Cashflow Forecast

PDF: Zero Waste Store Cashflow Forecast 

As we mentioned earlier in the article - there is a boom in zero waste and conscious consumerism - but that has coincided with a large increase in related businesses. There’s only so much to go around. So, it’s important to consider the following for your zero waste business success.

Location - in simple terms, you have to be near lots of ‘chimney pots’ or have accessible parking

Competitors - it’s not like an Estate Agents - where they coexist in the same street in a row. You don't want to be sharing the same catchment with many competitors

Suppliers - Consider the availability of local, organic, zero waste food and products

Local demographic - Do people in the local area care for zero waste? Demand can coincide with a higher education / affluence. University cities can be a big hit. 

Shopify for E-Commerce

Hopefully, the above information gives you a good overview of what to look for when setting up a zero waste shop in the UK. Perhaps it's put you off - or perhaps it's encouraged you to chase your dream. We'd love to hear, either way.

If the figures for investment scare you for a physical store, the alternative is to set up an online zero waste store. Here, you won't be paying high rents each month to be on the high street, but will likely be replacing that with long hours, and extra cost to market your online business. 

Nowadays, you don't have to invest in hefty bespoke-developed e-commerce websites to trade online. There are great ready-made website options that can be set up with very limited technical knowledge. Shopify is the most popular, and they regularly have introductory promotions whereby you can try their services for free and to see if they are a good fit for you. The starter websites will then set you back less than £30 a month (including web hosting). Not bad!

Online Zero Waste Shop

Whether you invest in a high street retail premises or not, having a website is definitely a good idea to serve customers 24/7 all over the UK (and beyond!).

  1. First, you'll need to register a domain name for your shop. Example, Nomadgenie.com - except you can't have that one, because we've got it. Check out GoDaddy to buy your domain 
  2. Sign up with Shopify 
  3. Choose your theme (layout) for your online store
  4. Add your products. Descriptions and images
  5. Add your domain name and go LIVE!
  6. You'll need a process for sending orders out - or use a small business fulfilment service that will handle all of that for you.

So there you have it - an overview of the costs and processes involved in setting up your own retail shop and online business. Good luck :) 

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