Any other business

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“Trade is business, not charity,” says ethical entrepreneur

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EthicalSuperstore.com stocks over 3,500 products, from organic wine to eco-toilet tissue. The website receives 100,000 unique visitors per month. On one of their best-selling lines, the Eco Kettle, EthicalSuperstore.com outsells Currys twofold.

Ex-Traidcraft director Redfern and business partner Vic Morgan founded the online store in 2006. Today, the market is saturated with green shops, peddling eco-wares. Redfern isn’t fazed: “Every week another green shop opens online,” he says. “But we don’t really see them as competition. It’s like asking Tesco if they feel threatened by the corner shop.”

It’s a resolutely commercial operation. But how do you reconcile an ethically-friendly business plan with the need to make a profit?

“Fairtrade is still trade,” states Redfern. “I’m a passionate believer in ethical retailing, but the business model has got to be based on trade, not charity. Charity is completely different. You need investment to make a proposition like this work, and for that, you need to be a viable business.”

This is a lucrative niche. Customers make an average basket spend of £40. “And we’re looking to increase that to around £50 by stocking more high end lines, like furniture,” says Redfern.

Despite the company name, Redfern isn’t targeting only ethical consumers.

“Not all of our customers come to the site because they are green. Sure, for the activist, who believes in the cause, we’re the convenient choice. But there’s an even bigger part of the market that’s made up of people who are interested in a particular product, not green credentials.”

Example: Big sellers over the festival season include solar-powered mobile phone and ipod chargers, for rockers who don’t want to run out of battery in the middle of Glasto. Other people buy devices that monitor electricity usage in the home, to save cash, not the planet.

“We break into the market that way,” says Redfern.

The online store saw a turnover of £800,000 in 2007, with predicted revenues geared up to hit £2.4m this year. Redfern is also serious about investment. The firm has seen two rounds of private equity backing, totalling £1.1m. “With this venture finance we’re on track to do £7-8m next year,” he says.

Not bad for a big hippie, eh?

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