Interviews

The end of pollution? It's only one reusable nappy product away

21 min read

22 February 2019

Reporter, Real Business

What do you get when you cross a trip to the Taj Mahal with a husband and wife team who are sick of plastics pollution? A globally growing reusable nappy brand of course! We meet Managing Director and co-founder of Bambino Mio, Guy Schanschieff, to tell us more.

Guy Schanschieff is no stranger to us at Real Business. In fact, his company, Bambino Mio, won the ‘Bridges Positive Impact’ award at ‘our’ very own Amazon Growing Business Awards last year.

But whilst Schanschieff heads up an impact minded company that sees revenue grow by 85% year-on-year, he’s not your typical entrepreneur with an A-type persona to match.

Upon interviewing the man at the awards ceremony last year, we encountered a humble winner who was quietly determined about changing the ‘throwaway mindset’ of customers who feel that, with nappies, they have no other choice.

We catch up with Schanschieff to talk post-awards life, including what’s on the Bambino Mio agenda this and next year…

Can you describe what Bambino Mio offers customers in one sentence?

Bambino Mio provides parents all over the world with stylish, affordable and environmentally friendly product alternatives for babies, including reusable nappies, swim nappies, potty training pants, change bags and accessories.

What makes your product stand out in the marketplace?

What makes our Brand stand out is the quality of our products, our fun and trend-led designs, and the fact that we’ve created a business that provides parents around the world with access to our eco-friendly products.

“Access and availability are key factors – Bambino Mio products are available in over 50 countries including UK, Germany, France, Australia, USA, Italy and Spain.”

A store based and e-commerce balance

As well as selling directly to consumers via e-commerce, we’re available in a range of retail sectors including independent stores, nursery outlets, online retailers, supermarkets and pharmacies around the world. Retailers include the likes of Amazon, Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Waitrose, dm-drogerie markt, Rossmann, REWE, Walmart, El Corte Inglés, Carrefour and many more.

International staff, international reach

Also, we’re not only selling internationally, we truly are an international company, with 40% of team members across the business coming from our key markets, including Germany, France, Australia, Spain, USA, Italy, and other non-European markets! Providing the business with a breadth of market insights, language skills and culture.

Where did the inspiration for the idea come from?

Guy Schanschieff (pictured) is planning for reusable nappy world domination.

It all began in 1991, when me and Jo, my wife, were travelling through India and met an American at the Taj Mahal and got talking about a reusable nappy laundry service, that was it, the seed of an idea was sown.

When we returned to the UK, we set up a reusable nappy laundry service from our house in Northampton and although the laundry service showed slow growth, we were convinced that reusable nappies were the future.

“It became apparent that reusable nappies were increasing in popularity, but the demand of a laundry service was limited as parents soon realised how easy they were to wash and how much money could be saved by doing so.”

As a result, in 1997 we started to sell reusable nappies and associated products. Since then the business has gone from strength to strength and we’re established as one of the leading brands for reusable nappies and accessories worldwide.

What was the trigger moment for starting the business?

An overarching objective for Bambino Mio has always been to raise awareness of the numerous benefits that reusable nappies have on our environment, finances, and babies, by educating consumers and retailers on the positive impact that converting to reusables can bring.

We’ve always endeavoured to be a driving force in this market to help make reusable nappies mainstream.

What has been the toughest moment in your business journey so far?

The recession of 2010-11 was a tough time. In the space of one month, our two biggest international distributors stopped ordering from us, so we effectively lost a third of turnover in the space of about four weeks.

With no sign of imminent recovery, we cut costs and were forced to make around half of our staff redundant. But ultimately, we emerged stronger because we were able to reassess the business and confidently responded with a new and improved sales and marketing strategy.

“We also focussed on targeting big supermarkets, in an effort to increase product awareness, drive volume and sell directly to international customers, rather than relying on distributors.”

The biggest change that helped to drive the business forward was developing a modern digital marketing strategy which to this day is still at the heart of our business. Although the recession was a difficult time, we learnt a lot, improved the business and if anything, it made us even more passionate to succeed.

What did the nappy market look like when you decided to start Bambino Mio?

It’s a babe’s life. Bambino Mio’s target audience model the reusable products.

In the early 1990s only 2% of parents were using reusable nappies, now over 30% of parents try a reusable product and I would like to believe that Bambino Mio has played a vital role in this positive product shift.

The demand for eco-friendly baby products is rapidly increasing as more consumers, and therefore retailers, are specifically opting for single-use product alternatives in the change-time category.

“In particular, the reusable nappy industry has seen an impressive surge in product popularity. 2018 was the most successful year in Bambino Mio history!”

Overall revenue saw incredible growth, international sales increased six-fold and e-commerce sales doubled YOY. Growth for the Brand and product category as a whole shows no signs of slowing down as the popularity of reusable products continues to grow all over the world.

Was it always your intention to start a business that associates itself with societal as well as commercial impact?

Yes, this has always been important to us. Our original mission statement was to make reusable nappies commercially acceptable worldwide, to provide parents with products that are better for baby (no harsh chemical, comfortable and stylish), better for parents (money saving) and better for the environment.

Tell us about your evening at the Amazon Growing Business Awards, did winning an award change your outlook at all?

We were nominated alongside some great brands and the standard of entries was remarkably high, so to win the Bridges Positive Impact Award was a brilliant achievement because it recognises the positive influence that our brand is making to the world around us and highlights us as champions for sustainable consumption.

“The response that we received from other businesses on the evening was positively overwhelming. Business continues to boom since the win and the general growth that our product category has continued to see has been incredible.”

Winning prestigious awards such as this gives existing and new potential partners confidence that we know what we’re doing and that we should be proud of our positive impact.

What’s tougher, starting a business from scratch or growing a small company to the next stage of growth?

Both are tough but in different ways. When starting a business from scratch you’re entering new territory. You’re taking on something that is completely unknown and the biggest challenge is finding out if people are actually going to buy your products, so it’s tough because you’re relying on demand.

Growing a small company to the next stage is focussed around strategy and understanding how the business works, using insights and developing different skills to allow growth. Both have their challenges.

You appear to be at the helm of some spectacular growth (you’re now supplying to major supermarkets) can you tell us more about that as well as your plans for the future?

Our recent growth has been incredible, we’ve become one of the most accessible reusable nappy brands in the world, with products available in over 50 countries, we’ve won over 60 business and consumer awards, our social media audience now exceeds 100,000 brand fans worldwide.

“We’ve launched more market-specific websites, have grown our product offering, and have recently seen further internal expansion with more specialists joining the company to bring a variety of skills to the business and support overall growth.”

Yes, we’ve been working closely with some fantastic retailers such as Aldi, Morrisons, Asda, Amazon and many more, to introduce more eco-friendly product alternatives to single-use plastics. We’re finding that more retailers want to come on board due to the success that other retailers are experiencing. We will continue the work that we’re doing with retailers to reinforce that the reusable products we offer are stylish, save parents money and are as easy to use as disposable products, without the negative environmental impact.

We’re also focusing on increasing product development to offer a wider range of change time products. Also, we’re just about to start a new customer insights project which will help to guide our strategy; listening to our customers when planning for the future is important.

To be a successful entrepreneur do you have to be an extrovert? How would you describe your own character as an entrepreneur?

No, I don’t think that you need to be an extrovert. For me, being successful isn’t down to my personality traits, it’s about having a good business idea that I’m passionate about and motivated to drive forward.

How is your business going to navigate the challenges of Brexit?

As an SME we deal with challenges all of the time. No one really knows how Brexit will affect their business at this stage so we’re focusing on the present. We’re not panicking, it’s just business as usual until we are faced with firm facts of Brexit implications.

“We export to over 50 countries where rules, regulations and tariffs vary, we’re confident in our strategy and will overcome any challenges that we are faced with.”

We are one of the most accessible reusable nappy brands in the world, so our priority is to ensure that our products remain widely available so that more parents have access to high-quality product alternatives to single-use plastics. Currently, we do not see Brexit as a major cause of concern for our business and 2019 is set to be a record-breaking year for Bambino Mio.

Was it useful to network with other growing business owners at the Amazon Growing Business Awards ceremony last year?

Yes, it’s always good to network with other businesses and due to the nature of the awards there were lots of inspiring people at the ceremony and the positive response that we received from other businesses on the evening was overwhelming.

After Sally Phillips, the host, presented me with our Bridges Positive Impact award, Sally actually mentioned that she used Bambino Mio on all three of her children which was a nice surprise.

Tell us about your lowest moment so far, are entrepreneurs ever adequately prepared for when things get tough?

The lowest moment would be the recession, when we lost a third of turnover but challenges are good for a business, they encourage reflection and new ideas. As you can expect, as a growing business there have been a number of low points, but usually, out of the low points come some of the greatest successes because you’re challenged to reassess your strategy and forced to find solutions to push the business forward.

There is a limit to the amount of preparation that you can do as an entrepreneur, some things will be out of our control. Every business has their ups and downs, what’s important is that you learn from challenges and mistakes, asses what’s happened and take control of the situation to ensure that you overcome them.

Is there a need to change the buying culture of consumers when it comes to sanitary product consumption generally?

The important thing is that consumers are aware of the environmental effects of what they buy so that they can make more informed decisions.

However, parents certainly shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about the buying decisions that they make but they should be given information about their options and disposable brands that advocate single-use plastic products should be more upfront about the environmental impact of those products.

It’s about having a choice so that if customers want to make a difference then they can. The negative effect of single-life plastic straws and coffee cups…etc are often talked about but sanitary product consumption isn’t highlighted as much because it seems to be a subject that is difficult for people to approach.

“The sanitary product industry has a huge opportunity here to provide adequate information to consumers and to offer more biodegradable and safer plastics which will in turn mean that less plastic goes to landfill, reducing the emissions created through waste management and as a result local government will save money.”

Thanks to the quality of reusable options available and fun designs like our new Bug’s Life collection, we’ve found that consumer attitude is changing.

“Parents are naturally making more eco-friendly choices which is brilliant because by using just one reusable nappy in place of a disposable every day with one baby, that parent could save a staggering 912 disposable nappies from going into landfill over the course of one year!”

Tell us about how customers have reacted to your product?

Once a consumer has tried one of our reusable products, we’ve found that they are extremely happy with the results, which is supported by the fact that a strong 78% of our customers repeat purchase.

What’s the next biggest challenge you’re set to face?

We’re constantly growing which is extremely positive but SME growth can bring many challenges from an operation point of view. However, with growth comes new opportunities which Bambino Mio thrives on, it creates a chance for new jobs within the business, new processes which the team get to experience and further investment which exposes our company to more opportunities to help drive the business overall.

“As we’re set to face further significant growth in 2019, something that is not so much a challenge but something that we strive to retain is our core family values and close company culture. Launching into new markets will also provide new challenges, for examples we’re just about to launch in Portugal, where reusable nappy product awareness is still in its infancy.”

It can take time to change the mindset of consumers and show them that the quality of reusable nappies has changed dramatically since the day of boring white material nappies. But it’s also exciting that we can educate new markets on the benefits of reusable nappies and make a positive difference to our planet.

What’s the thing you’re most excited to achieve with Bambino Mio during the next few years?

We’ve set ourselves some ambitious targets for 2019 and have already hit the ground running by securing new retailers, launching new product innovations, entering new markets and expanding our team.

Continual international expansion is an ultimate goal and now, more than ever before, is our Brands time to truly shine as the demand for eco-friendly baby products is rapidly increasing as more consumers and retailers across the globe are specifically opting for single-use product alternatives in the change-time category.

So, it’s an extremely exciting time for our business and we’re looking forward to embracing the growth opportunities that lay ahead for Bambino Mio.