Pitlochry-based Kaja Ekiert runs Handam Refill Station, a zero waste store
that offers affordable refills of dry foods and household liquids and reusable
products all of which reduce waste.
She first contacted GrowBiz in the summer of 2018 looking for advice on a
business plan and setting up a zero waste shop in Highland Perthshire.
Experienced enterprise facilitators met with Kaja and discussed various
alternative options open to her.
That initial meeting was followed up with introductions to other like-minded
rural entrepreneurs, signposting to the zero waste team in Perth and Kinross
Council and funding opportunities through Zero Waste Scotland, the
Climate Challenge Fund, a local micro enterprise support fund and
Kaja went on to set up an online shop and received advice on marketing
and her social media presence. She offers occasional home deliveries and
her products are also available to pick-up from a number of different
pop-up shops, local markets and collection points.
In early 2017 Kaja came across the term ‘zero waste’ online - it caught her interest and prompted her to do more research. She says that she quickly learned more about plastic pollution, climate changes and minimal lifestyles and “started an adventure toward zero waste at home”.
It was embarking on this path that made her realise that at that time there were no businesses in Perthshire that offered dry goods like pastas and rice without packaging or where people could bring their own containers to take their shopping home in.
So she decided to start one.
The enterprise journey
Kaja moved to Scotland from Poland in 2011 to be near her parents in Aberfeldy. On completion of a college course in clothing technology she decided to follow a different career path, and she spent the next seven years working at the Kenmore Club in the Highland Perthshire town.
Her growing interest in zero waste initiatives and recognition that there was a gap in the local market led her to start her own enterprise providing groceries without plastic packaging.
Kaja started small with just five food products and a simple website and online store.
She says: “I attended a few local markets, and started spreading the word and holding regular pop-up shops.
“It was my local community, friends and family and their continuous support, encouragement - and some of my own determination - that helped me grow the business.
“Seeing the impact I have, the small but steady change in the community to help reduce our waste, and the satisfied customers who come back week after week, that’s what really keeps me going.”
Kaja says that she received a lot of help in the very early stages from community-based enterprise support organisation GrowBiz and that it continues to be “an amazing help, support and source of knowledge”.
She explains: “I first heard about GrowBiz through a course that I attended. I went to a Women’s Enterprise Network meeting and ever since then they have been fantastic.
“All of the services GrowBiz offers, from the training, the support, the networking, the information, it is all a brilliant resource to have.
“Even just having the enterprise facilitators check in on you from time to time is great, it makes you realise that you are not on your own.
“It doesn’t matter what stage you are in your own business adventure – if you need help or advice - GrowBiz is the place to go!”
As with most entrepreneurial stories, Kaja’s also involves a great deal of support from her family and friends as she juggles family life with developing an innovative new business.
She says: “Those close to me have been a fantastic help - my family and friends have supported me from the start. And I will always be grateful to the community in Pitlochry and Aberfeldy, and other entrepreneurs for their input and support, without which I would not have been able to get where I am now.”
Kaja also contributes a huge amount to her local community, both through the services she offers and her desire to grow a collaborative community in the green sector, having been involved with the Pitlochry Climate Café since its inception last year.
She says: “I first heard about climate cafes when I was doing research before setting up my business. I approached the Aberfeldy Climate Café for feedback on my idea and just after that the Pitlochry Climate Café was set up and I have been involved ever since.
“Through the Climate Café we raise awareness of steps that can be taken at a local level to tackle the declared climate emergency. We organise events such as a zero waste festival and a climate conversation and this year we raised a petition calling on the local authority to introduce recycling bins in the town centre.
“We are also working with other event organisers in Pitlochry to encourage them to introduce recycling facilities and compostable food and drink packaging.
“So many people have been so supportive of our efforts and of my business – without the local community I would not have been able to get the business up and running.”
Looking to the future
Kaja says that she “dreams big and has lots of ideas!” She is currently working on providing a permanent shopping place in Aberfeldy and Pitlochry and says that as the business grows she hopes to employ staff.
Although she says that the hardest thing about running your own business is trying to balance her work and personal life, she is open to opportunities “that might be out there waiting” and is determined to remain open-minded and flexible.
As she says: “It is good to be able to change and adapt your plans accordingly.”
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