As someone who has never been particularly conscientious about the environment - a self-confessed shameful New Zealander, I received a politely rude awakening in the form of my die-hard greeny, slightly hippy, social warrior flatmate. All of a sudden, I couldn't get away with sneaking empty cans into the general rubbish bin, buying sunlight dishwashing liquid or using microbeads to exfoliate.
Enter ecostore. A truly environmentally friendly eco brand that answered the dilemma of not only kiwis but greenies worldwide. I had the great opportunity to stop by ecostore's Headquarters and sit down with their CEO, Pablo Kraus, to have a chat about ecostore's beginnings, their challenges with converting customers and their recent expansion into China.
Natalie: Tell us about ecostore and what you guys are about
Pablo: Ecostore specialises in home products, body products and baby products. So everything from your laundry powders and soaps to your moisturisers and shampoos to your baby soap and bubble bath.
We were initially founded on being an environmentally friendly brand but we started getting these letters from people saying “my eczema has started to clear up” or “my allergies have gone away” and we realised that we weren’t just an environmentally friendly brand, but we were very much a health and wellbeing brand as well.
Natalie: Where did the inspiration for ecostore come from?
Pablo: Ecostore was founded in an ecovillage in Whangarei in 1993 through the founders Malcolm and Melanie Rands. Within this ecovillage, they started to worry about the quality of the water that was leaving their house every day, particularly from their laundry and showers, and so they started developing products in the garage of their house which could reduce the chemical impact they had on the environment. About 13 years ago, my family became involved with full ownership transferring from the Rands family to the Kraus family in 2017.
Natalie: How does ecostore differentiate itself from other eco-product companies?
Pablo: We put health and wellbeing first. All our products are made from ingredients that are not only good for you, but also good for the environment. We’ve been operating for 25 years now and we are competing against many other eco companies. While a lot of these companies push the fact that they’re environmentally friendly, they may not actually clean your clothes or clean your table well. Once people try our products and see that they are an eco product and they do work, we get very loyal customers.
We also go that one step further and are one of the only brands in NZ that use sugar bio plastic, so instead of our packaging being made from petrochemicals, it’s made from sugar cane.
Natalie: How have you grown ecostore’s presence in the market?
Pablo: Having been around for 25 years, we have the luxury of loyal customers and I think a lot of it is word of mouth and allowing people to trial our products. This year is the first time we have done a marketing campaign in forever. The campaign was around ‘choosing a better tomorrow with ecostore’. We interviewed children and adults and asked them how they pictured the future and ended up with the idealistic children picturing things like houses walking over trees so they didn’t have to cut them down and then, in contrast, we had the adults picturing things like that there wouldn’t be any more trees and the rivers would be polluted. The images were turned into a painting and the video is now part of our new campaign.
Natalie: What are the biggest challenges in the industry that you’ve had to overcome?
Pablo: The biggest challenge is proving to people that your product actually works and that’s why sampling works really well for us. When people get it, they don’t have to do anything except use it and form their own opinions.
Natalie: How have you found developing a business in New Zealand?
Pablo: New Zealand is a great place to get out and try things. You can get a lot of opportunities to get in front of people. Because of our size, there will always be family and friends and friends of friends who are willing to try your product.
Being based in New Zealand has two sides to it. Countries like China love our products as they are known for being green and of good quality, but exporting to China requires a 3 month lead time for us to manufacture it and transport it.
Natalie: What’s next for ecostore? How do you plan to grow and expand?
Export is where most of our growth is coming from and we have a really great base here in New Zealand. Australia is our biggest export market and China has been growing exponentially in the last 3 years. On Alibaba singles day, we sold over a million dollars’ worth of product in 24 hours which goes to show just how important a market China is, so we really want to focus on and maintain that growth.
Natalie: If you had to give one piece of advice to an up and coming entrepreneur with a dream to see change, what would it be?
Listen. Listen to people. If you are going to be exporting, make sure you go and visit the market so you’re not just sitting around trying to take orders. Go talk to partners, get to know people and listen.
One of the hardest things about trying to be more environmentally friendly is not knowing where to start. Do you start with trying to recycle or with bringing reusable shopping bags to the supermarket? Will my one-man contribution to this cause even make a difference?
Ecostore products provide such an easy solution - you don't even have to exert any extra effort, all you have to do is reach onto a different shelf on your weekly shop - and just like that, you're doing your part. Slightly cleaner waterways, one less dead fish. This entrepreneurial kiwi company will go very far in a world that is becoming increasingly conscious of looking after the planet we live on.