The Taylor&Emmet Blog

Plastic Phobia: Interview with Tom Benford Part 2

Where in Sheffield is Plastic Phobia based and how does working from the city benefit your business?

The business is based in Manor Top, Sheffield, on Alison Business Centre. All the units and offices there are on monthly rents, so without long leases it is easy to scale up quickly.

I love Sheffield, it’s an excellent place to start a business. We’ve benefited from the support of Business Sheffield, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and lots of great people we’ve met along the way who have helped us. When I left University, it would have been cheaper to go home to Lincoln and run the business there but I felt Sheffield’s business community had a positive influence on my mindset.

When you launched your business, did you have a clear development plan? Does the business now resemble your initial ambitions?

When the business was launched it was an online shop selling to consumers. We went directly to factories instead of buying from wholesalers. The idea was that we would be getting the products at a lower price so we could make eco-friendly products more affordable and abundant.

However, 3 months later we were approached by a retailer who wanted to buy steel drinking straws from us in bulk. We began at this point selling wholesale to zero waste shops. Fast forward 13 months and the business only does wholesale and no longer has an online shop.

So the business model changed but the mission to make zero waste products more widely available remains the same. I think for a young business planning more than a couple of months in advance is just guessing. Our plans can change dramatically in a matter of days and weeks.

Have you needed to use solicitors or other professional services during the growth of your business? If so, how did you select a firm and do you think they represented your needs effectively as a young professional?

We haven’t needed solicitors yet, but we chose our accountant based on the interest they took in the business. I remember that first meeting they were talking about how they could help Plastic Phobia grow and all the people I should talk to.

More recently in a meeting with my accountant I told them I wanted to expand my network. They then put me in touch with the Chamber of Commerce, which resulted in a lot of connections being made and ultimately led to this award. I like learning from other people but my network was small, especially with limited work experience before starting the business up. After my accountant introduced me to the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve met a lot of great people from whom I can hear about the lessons they’ve learnt.  

Our trainee solicitors co-organise a networking group called Sheffield Future Business Leaders. Do you think having business events tailored specifically at young entrepreneurs is beneficial?

When you attend your first networking event it’s intimidating because you don’t know anyone and you’ve never been to one before. Of course after 5 minutes you relax and realise that’s it’s actually really interesting listening to the lessons and stories of others. However, you don’t know that until you attend an event therefore, I think a networking event for young people can encourage people to attend their first networking event and to generally increase their confidence.

It’s also fascinating hearing the stories and ambitions of people who are just starting out in their business or career. They’re facing similar new challenges to me as they’re a similar age and it’s useful to hear about their struggles and successes as they embark on a new path.

What do you hope the future will hold for you, your company and Sheffield’s wider business community?

We’re aiming to grow Plastic Phobia into a huge brand. Climate change and plastic pollution are huge problems so you need a big solution to solve them. I’ve got other business ideas too that are linked to Plastic Phobia and I’d like to lead a movement to tackle environmental issues using enterprise. We hope to build a community that is united around this movement and to make Sheffield live up to it’s name as the greenest city in Europe.

Sheffield has the potential to be a launchpad of start-ups with support networks to boost growth and creativity. There is a great culture of giving back to the community and I think that will lead to the city prospering.

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