There has been a lot of discussion recently about the amount of rubbish Australians generate each year, with ABC TV’s War on Waste series highlighting the massive number of plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups we throw away, and the impact this has on the environment.
Retailbiz caught up with Tracey Bailey, the founder of Brisbane-based retail chain Biome, who is on a mission to help consumers waste less and make a positive contribution to the planet.
‘We can all do something’
Bailey started Biome in 2003, influenced by a passion for the environment that was fostered during childhood holidays spent camping and bush walking in north Queensland.
It was Australia’s first online eco store and very niche, appealing to consumers who were already living a more mindful lifestyle.
“I explored the concept [of Biome] for many years, combining my desire to be part of the solution to the world’s environmental problems with a business that would fuel my entrepreneurial spirit,” Bailey told Retailbiz.
“From that I created the idea for a retail store that would make it easy for people to choose carefully vetted environmentally and socially responsible products.”
All products stocked by Biome—from kitchenware to beauty products—are judged by strict standards, which require them to be free from all known or suspected toxins, cruelty free, made without exploiting people or animals, longer lasting than alternatives, and verified for all claims like ‘organic’ and ‘biodegradable’.
“Biome gives our customers peace of mind that the choices they make are safe for their body, their home and our world,” said Bailey.
“We show that it is possible to enjoy high performing products like our super clean, cruelty free beauty ranges without sacrificing your health and the values that are important to you.”
As the business has grown from an online store into five physical locations around Brisbane, Bailey said she has seen ‘waves of interest’ in eco-friendly living. Consumers have become more aware of their impact on the planet, and that the products they buy can help address this.
“The mission of Biome has always been to change consumer habits for the betterment of all,” said Bailey.
“Rather than despairing about what is going wrong in our world, I feel empowered and positive about the contribution I am making to the planet.
“As my daughters grow up, I hope that I am giving them the gift of knowing that we need not feel powerless, that we can all do something in our little part of the world to effect the change we wish to see.”
Aside from the challenge of getting people to adopt more eco-friendly alternatives, the biggest obstacle Bailey has encountered in running Biome is something all retailers can relate to—the non-stop nature of the business.
“An intense amount of effort, creativity, and emotion goes into our business across all roles day in and day out,” she said. “It seems in retail in particular, you cannot rest on your laurels. Maintaining that intensity is challenging.”
With Biome continuing to grow, Bailey said she is now stepping back and focusing on refining and strengthening the procedures and guiding principles for the way she does business.
“We have experienced excellent growth year-on-year since we began and sometimes you need to take a breather and ensure that your foundation remains solid.”
Becoming a certified B Corp
Earlier this year Biome became the first Australian retailer to be awarded B Corporation certification, for its success in operating a business with the highest social and environmental standards.
Bailey said that attaining certification was about practising what she preached. “A large part of the service Biome offers our customers is to assess the claims being made by our suppliers about the social and environmental responsibility of their products.
“I felt it was important that we applied that same rule to our business to show our customers that we uphold those levels of accountability in the way that we operate.
“Our business has to be sustainable in a true triple-bottom-line sense. We must remain financially viable or we cannot continue our mission, but we must achieve that with the highest standards of ethical, social and environmental performance.”
‘Find the right people’
Bailey said the best advice she has for other retailers is to “find the right people who love what your business does and whose passion is to be working with you”.
With five physical locations she also has experience dealing with one of the more painful aspects of retail—finding a bricks-and-mortar location.
“If you are negotiating a retail lease, be prepared to walk away knowing that other opportunities will arise,” she said.
“I feel the most disappointing aspect of physical retail is that we are mostly in business to pay landlords. You need to ask yourself whether all the effort and the financial risks are worth it.”
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