Our newest collection point, BYO Grocery in Nunhead, is not just another shop jumping on a trendy bandwagon. Owner Laura Hipkiss chats with us about her motivation behind the shop, why she loves the community, and how becoming a mum has changed her perspective on the world.
Local Greens: What gave you the idea to start BYO?
Laura Hipkiss: I was previously working as a chartered accountant. I worked in corporate finance, and I hated it. I had always wanted my own business, and to do something I care about. Then, I ended up moving to a canal boat, and became really aware of my resources. You become very aware of your waste. No one comes to pick up your rubbish; there’s plastic in the canal. Around that time I heard about a shop in Devon, in Totness, that was a package free shop. I went down and visited and spoke to the running it and decided this is what I wanted to do. The shop will be two years old on October 17th and I look back and think, ok you went on that journey and it got you were you are now.
LG: What brought you to Nunhead?
LH: Before the canal boat, I lived in southeast London. The unit for our first location on Evelina Road on came up for rent and I went for it. The response was so good. People would walk by and be curious and stop in to ask ‘what is this?’ We had quite a wide reach as there were very few shops like this. One woman walked all the way from Blackheath to visit us each week. Now, people walk by and they know this is a refill shop.
LG: What do you love about the neighbourhood and community?
LH: I’ve only just returned to the shop because I had a baby and was on maternity leave for a year. During that time, everyone from other businesses or customers would come say hello when they saw me around. People in Nunhead are really engaged. They care about what they’re buying, and are really community focused.
LG: How challenging was it setting up your own business?
LH: In the beginning, it was just me and two part-timers. I would be in the shop, standing there, chatting to everyone that came in, asking what they wanted, what would they like to buy without packaging. It was the best market research you could do. It’s made the shop really customer led. Our customers really shaped what the shop has become now.
LG: So much so that you now have two locations!
LH: Yes! People were asking for new products, extra items and I just couldn’t fit it all in the Evelina unit. I learned the space on Nunhead Green was becoming available, and chatted with the landlady, who was really keen on getting us in there. That’s when we made the decision to split the food and non-food, so there is now BYO Household in our original unit, and BYO Grocery on the Green. They two shops are about 60 meters apart, but with the extra space we’re able to add special products, such as make your own oat milk.
LG: Is there one thing in the shop that people really love?
LH: Make your own peanut butter is very popular. People get really excited watching it happen.
LG: What’s your motivation for running the shop?
LH: Becoming a mum has given me more anxiety about what’s happening in the world. While I was pregnant, I went to an Extinction Rebellion meeting and listened to some of the info and speakers and I started panicking, thinking, ‘why am I having a baby when the world is like this?’ But, it’s also giving me more motivation to make a change and help others make a change.
LG: There are package free shops opening up in many neighbourhoods these days. What makes BYO unique?
LH: We’ve made a real effort to fit into the area. There are a lot of package free shops that also come with premium pricing, and we want to be affordable and accessible. Maybe we’re not as slick and “Instagramable” as some of the others, but we are more practical and approachable. We’re able to be very local and Nunhead focused because there are more of these types of shops in neighbouring areas.
LG: Why did you decide to partner with Local Greens as a collection point?
LH: Thinking about our core values, we want to be as organic as possible in all that we offer because this is what we believe is best for the planet. Local Greens is a great fit for us because you share our values. I also love that the founders are women. I want to support female entrepreneurs.
LG: How has 2020 been for you and the staff?
LH: I’m really lucky to have such great people working for me. The staff filled in when I was on maternity leave, and then Covid hit. No one expected to be on the frontline of a global pandemic. You can’t teach people how to be great with customers. People can go into Tesco, use the self-checkout and never talk to anyone, and my staff and I don’t want to be like that. They have my massive respect. The spring was really difficult. We had to try and adapt quickly because we are a business that could stay open the whole time. Because of lockdown, a lot of people have found us that wouldn’t have before. They’ve discovered the benefits of staying local. If anything good comes out of this year, it’s people realising the importance of staying local and buying local.