– Story by Darcy Nybo Photography by Don Denton
It’s not often a school project turns a profit, but in the case of five Royal Roads B Comm students, that’s exactly what happened. They not only turned a profit, the business they created is quite viable and will continue long after the project is completed.
Back in early 2019, five students from across Western Canada got together and decided their B Comm project would be an online website selling an eco-friendly, renewable resource, organic product. Simon Gillett, (chief brand officer), Thomas Tobin (CEO), Bartholomew Yong (chief information officer), Ashley Monk (chief quality officer) and Michaud Smith (director of sales), decided upon bamboo toothbrushes as their product, and set out to create a business and website.
“We all come from some sort of business background and work in a variety of sectors,” said Simon, the group’s only locally based resident attending the West Shore university. “I really appreciate that Royal Roads has us working with people from all over Canada, and with people who have both career and life experience.”
The team worked together through the Royal Roads online portal and in group video chats. The plan was simple enough: create an online business, measure the number of people who come to the website, the number of sales, raw sales and profitability.
“Choosing a product(s) came with a fair number of ethical parameters that had to be established,” Simon said. “We chose bamboo because at first we thought it was an easy product to promote, since it is renewable and organic. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of greenwashing out there with people who misbrand themselves as renewable or organic. On top of that, as it was a requirement of the Royal Roads B Comm course, all profits had to go to a charity.”
Finding a charity was easy. Once they decided on bamboo toothbrushes, they connected with Dentistry for All, a non-profit group based out of Alberta.
“This group of dentists go down to South America to do cleanings and checkups and surgery,” Simon said. “They’ve had quite a few trips and most of it is usually funded out of pocket by the dentists themselves.”
With the charity part of the process in place, sourcing of products was top of mind.
At first glance, one would think it would be easy to find suppliers of eco-friendly bamboo toothbrushes. Simon and his team soon discovered just how hard it could be.
“We found some places that made biodegradable, organic toothbrushes, but they were covered in a substance that protected them, making them non-biodegradable. At one point we even looked at using animal hair bristles, but that thought was quickly abandoned for obvious reasons.”
Eventually they found three different suppliers for three different kinds of toothbrushes, one in each of China, Vietnam and France.
“The one with no paint is 100-per-cent natural and biodegradable, and comes from Vietnam. There is one with charcoal bristles and that one comes from China. The one from France has a natural biodegradable paint on it, which makes it colourful for the kids. However, the bristles in that one are not biodegradable. It was difficult to find suppliers that didn’t use nylon in their bristles. The ones we sell have bamboo bristles.”
With the charity and the product line solidly in place, it was time to launch the website.
Creating a business can be hard work, but when your business partners are located in different cities, across three provinces, that task becomes all the more complicated. Still, the five students not only met their goals, they exceeded them — because what happened next surprised the entire team.
As Simon explained, “Our first month goal was to have 250 unique visitors come to website. In our first month there were 2,045 unique visitors. We also had a goal of 1,500 pages views. We more than tripled that at 4,729. Our sales goal for the first month was $750 and we did $1,562. And, we had over 20,000 views on social media. It kind of exploded.”
After expenses were paid, the team was able to donate $725 after 28 days online. By the second month they had even more money to contribute to their charity.
“We have a little under three months left in the course,” Simon said. “Once this project is complete, the profits all revert back to us. We won’t be keeping all of it, though. Half of our sales will go to charities of our choosing.”
So far it doesn’t look like sales will be slowing down any time soon.
“We’ve had orders from Europe, Australia, South Korea and, of course, North America. The state of New York was our number-three top selling area behind British Columbia and Alberta.”
The team, who reside in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta, are planning on some changes to their business model.
“I hope we can expand into different products and it will be something that continues to get bigger,” Simon said. “It would be wonderful if at some point this would become a more full-time career for a few of us that want it.”
Check them out online at barebambooprojects.com.
From West Shore Life + Style magazine