Shop Talk: If I’d known then what I know now…
Tash Gorst, Owner and founder, Gather, Peckham, London
When I went on maternity leave from my job as a civil servant, I read a lot about the plastic issue and made some lifestyle changes. I started shopping in a refill store, which got me thinking about opening my own store instead of returning to the office.
I say ‘store’, but I always wanted it to be more than that. I want to change people’s behaviour and use Gather as a platform. Lots of our marketing communication is around how to live a more low impact life, rather than promoting our products.
Because the store exists to have a positive impact on the planet, I set it up as a social enterprise. This means 50% of our profit goes towards our ‘mission’, which might involve reinvesting it in the shop or supporting environmental charities. Being a social enterprise gives us access to grants and funding, too.
We opened in July 2019. At that point, there were quite a few refill stores, each with a different feel and focus. For me, being organic and being accessible were important.
People automatically assume this type of shop is expensive. Ours is not but I do carry out benchmarking to establish price points. Price-wise we are similar to the mid-priced supermarkets. Our stock is a mixture of food, household and personal care products. We buy most food in bulk – usually 25kg sacks – from wholesalers, as well as working with small producers who are willing to provide circularity or plastic-free packaging. These include Rollagranola, Fine Food Forager, Old Spike Coffee and The Yorkshire Pasta Company.
Our best-selling and most profitable product is Honest Toil olive oil, which we buy in circular 20-litre containers. Porridge oats are another top seller (although not as profitable). The only products that haven’t really worked for us are canned goods, even though they are staples.
If enough people ask for a product, we will look into whether we can stock it. This led to us selling fresh milk, dispensed from a pergal machine.
Other than milk we don’t sell any fresh items, mainly because of the waste, but I do want to expand our product range, with locally produced yoghurt, vegan butter, and frozen produce.
The biggest challenge with the refill concept is the restocking. We have approximately 200 unpackaged lines and at the end of each day have to top the dispensers up. It is time-consuming and physically tiring but I now employ four people which means I have more time to focus on outreach and organising events and workshops. Having a larger team means it will take longer to get to the point where the store is turning a profit, but for me, Gather is about more than retail.