Spotlight on Bamboo Turtle - Isolation Innovation

Grateful for the generosity of Letchworth’s “wonderful community”

Despite the weighty challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, a combination of resilience and adaptability has ensured the continued buoyancy of local business Bamboo Turtle.

Hertfordshire’s first ‘zero waste’ shop opened its doors for the first time in March 2018, selling a wide range of store-cupboard products including pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, breakfast staples, teas and coffees.

Based in The Arcade, Letchworth Garden City, Bamboo Turtle is the brainchild of owners Shani Crofton and Amanda Skinner, both of whom were growing concerned about the increasing plastic pollution problem.

“We wanted to ‘do our bit’ to help, so started researching solutions,” said Shani. “We had already reduced our own plastic packaging by using local businesses such as the butchers and the local fruit and veg shops. Our stumbling block was having to use supermarkets for the other products we needed, which is how the idea of Bamboo Turtle came about.

“Neither of us had any retail experience, but that worked in our favour because we weren’t put off by the impending hard work involved in setting up a shop. And of course, our different work backgrounds meant we brought different skill sets to the table.”

Letchworth was the natural first-choice location. Shani said: “We live local to Letchworth and love its history and tradition. We liked the fact that it has a large number of independent shops, as well as many greenways and paths.”

“Pre-Covid we were doing really well. There was a lot of media coverage for the zero-waste movement and many consumers were waking up to the environmental damage being caused by plastic packaging.”  

Robust response to a crisis

The pandemic changed everything. The business had to make big changes to its Click and Collect service, because the other businesses offering local collection points closed during the lockdown. Shani said: “We opened the shop for collections during set hours – we definitely missed the buzz of customers.”

Shani and Amanda are thankful for the generosity and support of Letchworth’s “wonderful community” during lockdown, including Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation stepping in to offer a three-month rent holiday. Their social media plea for a bicycle was answered, so they were able to provide a ‘man on a bicycle’ home delivery service for Letchworth customers, including those who were self-isolating.

The business expanded the range of products available on its website and boosted its social media activity. “We are constantly on Facebook and Instagram, and have a following of around 3,000 loyal customers on both platforms,” said Shani. “This online presence has enabled us to communicate things like stock issues and opening times effectively.”

The business strengthened its existing partnership with Biggleswade-based Seasons Fruit & Veg, whose customers can add Bamboo Turtle products to their fruit and veg box, for home delivery. Shani said: “This has been great for our business because it gives customers a different way to shop.”

Adapting to the new normal

Bamboo Turtle is hoping to provide a new shopping experience. The former ‘bring, weigh, fill and pay’ process simply is no longer feasible in the post-lockdown world; instead, customers now follow a one-way system in the shop, with social distancing rules rigorously applied at all times.

Shani said: “We have to be incredibly organised, both for our customers and our shop. We have placed a table just inside the doorway: customers walk in, place their order and all the scooping and bagging is now done by myself and Amanda, although many people still bring their own containers. They then pay at the till – contactless card payments, not cash – and exit through a second door.”

What are Shani’s thoughts about the future? “I may be naïve but I am optimistic that as the country emerges from lockdown, people will value their high street more and will want to support local shops. Hopefully we’ll see a new way of shopping that harks back to traditional local values, with less food packaging, fewer food miles and a reduced reliance on global food chains.”

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