Virgin StartUp of the Week: Lou's Poo
Think alpacas are just good for their wool? Think again! Lou's Poo (best startup name ever, by the way?) sell a garden product with a difference - alpaca poo, which contains all the nutrients needed to make your garden grow. Appropriately enough, Gardeners World have picked it as one of their top Christmas present ideas. We caught up with founder Lou over a cuppa.
Business name: Lou’s Poo
Founder(s) name: Lou Archer
Loan funds received: £5000
Based in: Rural Shropshire, UK
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil
I am Lou Archer and I live high in the hills of rural Shropshire in the UK, close to Wales. Originally from London, I am now the Founder of The Archers At The Larches Ltd, managing a 15 acre smallholding and an online homes and garden store. I own an alpaca herd, breed sheep and keep chickens. In my spare time (ha ha) I get to indulge my passion for gardening -which is how Lou’s Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertiliser was created, and how I first encountered the help and support of Virgin StartUp and BES Limited. TheArchersAtTheLarches.com = The Good Life, plus a shop. What could be better!
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
We've been based in rural Shropshire since 2009. It was just after the 2008 housing crash and we were living in a little house in an Oxfordshire village. We knew we wanted to escape to the country, but couldn’t afford what we wanted in Oxfordshire. We scouted the country and found a great property in Shropshire that needed attention and enough land and out-buildings to raise some livestock. The house was called The Larches and we were called The Archers - it seemed destined to be. The Archers at The Larches began.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for Lou’s Poo seemed obvious. I am called Lou and by 2012 I was spending my days picking up poo in the alpaca paddocks in order to clean the fields and ensure the herd were always healthy. I used the manure directly on my plants, as I’d read how fantastic it was, and soon my garden, which had been dreadfully neglected before we moved in, was thriving. Friends and family asked for my secret and Lou’s Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertiliser - the ultimate garden gift - was born. (Plus it made everyone giggle.)
4. What’s the business model?
I sell to retail customers via my website and I wholesale to retailers.
5. Who are your competitors?
A. I have very few direct competitors as I’m selling my product as a garden gift rather than directly competing with fertilisers or soil enhancers, however most customers find the product so good for their plants, they repurchase. This is a fun gift with a practical application.
6. What’s unique about your business?
Lou’s Poo is a unique, hand-picked, hand-cleaned, hand-bagged product. There’s nothing like it on the market. Gardeners love their plants to be better than their neighbours’, and Lou’s Poo offers that unique 100% natural opportunity. For those buying as a gift for others, it's the chance to purchase something fun and unusual. The Lou’s Poo story is strong: I’m a British smallholder/gardener, selling a natural product I'm passionate about to similarly passionate gardeners. I eulogise about Poo because of the wonderful results it brings to plants. I’m pleased to say that even commercial growers, even Chelsea Gold medal winners, agree.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
I had my ideas, my product finalised, my website up and running, a number of customers retail and wholesale, but I was feeling stretched financially and I was without a clear business plan..
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
The funding I received enabled me to immediately book to attend GLEE, a huge trade-only retail gardening show at the NEC, where I found new customers and interested journalists including Waitrose Farm Shop, Crocus.co.uk, Gardener’s World Magazine, and many others.
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
My mentor is Anthony Nellis, Director and Principal of performance consultancy Questline. He is calm and he helps me to think about strategy. It is easy to put off strategy and just focus on day to day tasks, particularly when you are playing every role in a new start up, and particularly when you have a task-driven business like a farm! But having a mentor like Anthony makes you do more, makes you blue sky it. It’s exciting to plan.
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
BES Limited were fantastic at supporting me, particularly Gemma Bee and Glenn Watts. They sent me to courses on finance, marketing, business planning and legals, and helped me understand how to capture my business in a business plan. Glenn helped me scope my plan so that it was of a sufficient standard to submit to Virgin to apply for a loan, but also relevant to managing my business and keeping me focussed on delivering objectives.
11. Biggest achievement so far?
Though making my own ‘off the shelf’ website is way up there when it comes to achievements, the positive reaction I received from key buyers at GLEE was amazing. One buyer representing Waitrose, who went on to order stock for The Waitrose Farm in Hampshire, said it was the best product in the show. Endorsements, and subsequent orders, ensured that the business grew. At the show, my limited edition Christmas Lou’s Poo ‘Rudolphed’ bag was also spotted by Gardener’s World Magazine, who subsequently added me to their big December feature on recommended Christmas gifts for gardeners. This has boosted sales in a month that is not traditionally a month for selling plant feed.
12. What’s next for your business?
Next year I will continue to grow the business, adding new, suitable retailers to our stockists. We will also begin to promote other income streams and products under the company name of The Archers At The Larches Ltd, such as our line of luxury alpaca-filled pillows and duvets.