After the 2020 lockdown extended her New Zealand holiday, Bridie McNamara found herself reevaluating her next step and started successful bulk bin refillery SWOP instead.
“I was supposed to be going back and just finishing off a bit of travel but the day we were due to fly out was the day we went into Level 4 lockdown.”
Launched in Raglan in December 2020, SWOP (Shop Without Packaging) survived the pandemic and now Bridie’s branching out with another store in Hamilton, Bare Refill Grocery.
“We definitely didn’t pick the easiest three years to start a new business. I guess the mindset now is, if you can make it through that, surely you can make it through anything else?” she laughs.
The Hamilton store will be part of the newly developed urban precinct that houses a mix of produce markets, artisan eateries, dining and retail located in the former Waikato Regional Council building in Hamilton East.
“Made approached us because they wanted to have the full supermarket shopping experience, but without a supermarket. So that was kind of where we fit in and there’ll also be a butcher and greengrocer. It just felt like the right next move.”
The Hamilton store has a larger footprint than the Raglan store which means there will be room for a fridge and freezer to store unpackaged berries, frozen vegetables, milk and oat milk on tap.
It doesn’t mean Raglan shoppers will miss out on the new products; Bridie says they will be available online for click and collect in Raglan.
Bridie’s business philosophy is simple; providing zero waste products packaging free to help reduce shopping’s environmental impact and encouraging a zero waste lifestyle.
“We buy in bulk as much we can and basically you can buy as little or as much as you want in your own containers. We do sell some prepackaged products in jars and you can drop the jar back. Essentially, you’re not creating any new waste, you’re just refilling and reusing” she says.
SWOP and Bare Refill Grocery have a jar library and customers are encouraged to drop off other packaging that can be reused in the store.
Getting behind local boutique foodies is also something Bridie supports; the Raglan SWOP stocks local Dreamview products, Raglan Chocolate and Hunt and Gather refill honey, and she hopes to tap into local produce artisans in Hamilton and around the Waikato.
“I’d much rather stock local produce. We’ve recently swapped a few products to New Zealand growers now that their seasons are starting to get a bit more regular as well, like the walnuts and the pumpkin seeds.”
Bridie started SWOP with her auntie Sarah McLeod who lives in Raglan; the pair had seen a similar shop in Wellington, and Raglan had recently lost its bulk bin shop so they knew there was a gap in the market.
“She spoke to locals who were travelling to Hamilton to shop in bulk bin stores. We thought if people are willing to travel into Hamilton just to shop this way surely, it’s more convenient to bring this way of shopping out to Raglan.”
In the first few months Sarah helped out in the shop to give Bridie a break, but Bridie now employs a fulltime shop manager, while Sarah has her hands full running the midwifery degree at Wintec.
Having left high school and heading off to spend a gap year travelling, Bridie had not yet had a chance to consider her career options.
“I’ve kind of just done your typical Kiwi OE. I never saw myself going into business.”
And, she says, no-one in her family has ever run a business, so it was a matter of learning on the job, and during a pandemic at that.
“Now I feel like having been in business, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. You create this skill set that you can’t really find anywhere else.”
Bridie says the Covid supply chain issues and the weather events that closed the main road into Raglan for a short period of time and impacted Raglan’s busy summer season have been a blessing in disguise for her growth as a business owner.
“You learn those harder lessons quite quickly, and then you adapt and that’s kind of your baseline. Whereas now that things are going well you appreciate it a bit more.”
by Janine Jackson