Author Topic: Side hustle aligned with values  (Read 3455 times)

Tdub

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Side hustle aligned with values
« on: August 06, 2017, 12:46:21 AM »
Hi all,

I've been playing with the ideas of several different side hustles, but I keep getting caught up on a few challenges.

Logistics
- I work a 60-70hr/week job and travel internationally about 2wks/mo.  This leaves little opportunity for side hustles that require me to be at certain places at specific times.  I do always have access to a computer and internet though.

Background
- My background is in producing "stuff."  Mechanical engineer, educated with a focus on product design, now working as a manufacturing engineer.  I know how to make things.

Values
- I am anti-consumerism and am morally opposed to making/selling crap that the world doesn't need, and to a certain extent, making crap that the world does need, because it probably already exists somewhere else and is being under-utilized (such as in a neighbor's house).  This is obviously misaligned with my career, and my strong anti-consumerism mindset partially grew out of the exposure to consumerism that my job gives me.  I spend a lot of time in Chinese factories.  I want to spend my time after FIRE undoing the harm I participated in pre-FIRE, and am saving money diligently to have the financial freedom to do that.

- I am passionate about the zero-waste movement (google "zero waste home" if you don't know the premise).  Packaging waste in particular really kills me inside.

- I live a minimalist lifestyle, and generally don't like inventory.  I take a "just-in-time" approach to running my home.  This means no costco runs to stock up on a year's worth of toilet paper, olive oil, or any other consumables.  It may be counter-intuitive, but keeping a low inventory both saves money and reduces waste in the long run, both in factories and in homes.  As such, any side hustle should keep minimal inventory, preferably none.

Ideally I would have a side-hustle that is service-oriented instead of "stuff" oriented, but most service-oriented side hustles that come to mind are not compatible with my extensive work hours and travel. 

Ideas I keep revisiting:
- I would love to have bee hives/chickens and sell honey/eggs, but I can't commit to that with my current job, so they are relegated to post-FIRE.  It'd be minimal profit, but high enjoyment.

- Selling things or services to promote zero waste in my community, but I struggle with the idea of selling stuff to REDUCE waste, and the services part conflicts with my work hours/travel.

- Designing better bulk food/liquid dispensers and systems for grocery stores/cop-ops to use.  Actually, a pie-in-the-sky dream of mine is to run a bulk store where I could source/design the dispensers, design the store layout, and select the inventory to be sold. The grocery industry is something I know nothing about, and capital investment for something like this would be high, but it's an idea I play with because there are so many improvements to be made and inefficiencies to be eliminated.

- Being a bicycle courier for uberEATS evenings and weekends, although I don't like the idea of working for another company as a side hustle, esp at low wages.

- Buying stuff at goodwill and selling on eBay.  I dislike the inventory aspect of this though.

Skills:
- Making stuff
- Graphic design and visual communication. I used to have website design experience, but my skills are now out of date, and the website services industry (e.g. wordpress) has grown so much I'm not sure developing sites for others is worth getting back into.  However, these skills will come in handy to promote my own hustle.
- I am efficient and get shit done, so I am willing to do a hustle on top of my demanding job as long as it is something I enjoy.

Any thoughts or ideas?

shelivesthedream

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2017, 04:18:59 AM »
- Designing better bulk food/liquid dispensers and systems for grocery stores/cop-ops to use.  Actually, a pie-in-the-sky dream of mine is to run a bulk store where I could source/design the dispensers, design the store layout, and select the inventory to be sold. The grocery industry is something I know nothing about, and capital investment for something like this would be high, but it's an idea I play with because there are so many improvements to be made and inefficiencies to be eliminated.

This is a great idea! And I think there are a few ways you could start up on a small scale:

1. Specialise. I know you don't want a huge amount of inventory, so pick something and just do that. For example, high-class oils and vinegars. Fancy shower gels and hand soaps. Organic snacks. As it's such a small amount of stuff, could you get a concession in a store - either permanently unmanned, or on certain days (e.g. first weekend of the month?)
2. Do local markets and events. You'll have to decide whether to go fancy or basic for your products depending on the event. The way this will work best is if you have a website listing your future locations and an email list, so people know where they can come and find you. Start with a few products and add in more as you get going.
3. Set it all up in a van. Outfit a small van with wide side doors and have all your bulk dispensers right there. Pimp out the van so it looks awesome inside and out! Then you can either just drive the van to markets and events (see 2) or do home deliveries. If you do home deliveries, I would strongly suggest picking one day of the week or month when you deliver to a particular area and having people pre-order online. Then you turn up, dispense, and go. You could offer a one-off delivery at a different time with a high minimum order value.

In my experience, you will want to have some kind of reusable packaging available for sale as well - whether it be recyclable/compostable paper bags for 5p each or serious Kilner jars for 15 each. Because people will forgot, or spot something else they fancy, or just happen upon you unexpectedly.

Sun Hat

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2017, 12:19:17 PM »
How about designing better reusable packaging for bulk food stores?

I have cotton mesh bags for produce and buying chunky things at the bulk food store, but I have a problem with powdered or ground things. I have a couple small woven cotton bags, but fine things filter through the fabric and pour straight out the draw-strong top. I could bring mason jars to the store and have them weigh and label them before I fill them up, but 1) that requires a lot of the cashier's time, and 2) I prefer the convenience of bags.

Could you design a reusable, non-plastic bag for bulk foods that aren't suited to mesh bags? It would have to be durable, washable and seal well enough to keep flour in. I'm thinking a top like dry sacs have, and a fabric like a waxed cotton (though I have no idea how well that would stand up to use).


Moonwaves

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #3 on: August 06, 2017, 12:58:22 PM »
How about designing better reusable packaging for bulk food stores?

I have cotton mesh bags for produce and buying chunky things at the bulk food store, but I have a problem with powdered or ground things. I have a couple small woven cotton bags, but fine things filter through the fabric and pour straight out the draw-strong top. I could bring mason jars to the store and have them weigh and label them before I fill them up, but 1) that requires a lot of the cashier's time, and 2) I prefer the convenience of bags.

Could you design a reusable, non-plastic bag for bulk foods that aren't suited to mesh bags? It would have to be durable, washable and seal well enough to keep flour in. I'm thinking a top like dry sacs have, and a fabric like a waxed cotton (though I have no idea how well that would stand up to use).
Now I'm wondering if I should start a new thread on bulk food stores because it seems like there may be cultural differences at play here. Especially when I read the bolded part above because, well, that's exactly what you're supposed to do. Over here anyway. You bring the containers that you actually use for stuff to the shop, weigh the container and make a note of it, fill it up and bring it to the counter to pay, they weigh it, deduct the weight of the container and then calculate the price based on that weight. If no-one else is in the shop the cashier will weigh your containers for you but otherwise there are a couple of scales to weigh your stuff yourself. And then when you get home, you can just put your stuff away immediately.

shelivesthedream

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2017, 02:20:44 PM »
How about designing better reusable packaging for bulk food stores?

I have cotton mesh bags for produce and buying chunky things at the bulk food store, but I have a problem with powdered or ground things. I have a couple small woven cotton bags, but fine things filter through the fabric and pour straight out the draw-strong top. I could bring mason jars to the store and have them weigh and label them before I fill them up, but 1) that requires a lot of the cashier's time, and 2) I prefer the convenience of bags.

Could you design a reusable, non-plastic bag for bulk foods that aren't suited to mesh bags? It would have to be durable, washable and seal well enough to keep flour in. I'm thinking a top like dry sacs have, and a fabric like a waxed cotton (though I have no idea how well that would stand up to use).
Now I'm wondering if I should start a new thread on bulk food stores because it seems like there may be cultural differences at play here. Especially when I read the bolded part above because, well, that's exactly what you're supposed to do. Over here anyway. You bring the containers that you actually use for stuff to the shop, weigh the container and make a note of it, fill it up and bring it to the counter to pay, they weigh it, deduct the weight of the container and then calculate the price based on that weight. If no-one else is in the shop the cashier will weigh your containers for you but otherwise there are a couple of scales to weigh your stuff yourself. And then when you get home, you can just put your stuff away immediately.

That is what SunHat is doing, they're just using bags instead of really heavy breakable jars as their reusable container.

SunHat, have you looked at silicone freezer bags? I just bought a few and am loving them.

CargoBiker

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2017, 07:53:03 PM »
- Designing better bulk food/liquid dispensers and systems for grocery stores/cop-ops to use.  Actually, a pie-in-the-sky dream of mine is to run a bulk store where I could source/design the dispensers, design the store layout, and select the inventory to be sold. The grocery industry is something I know nothing about, and capital investment for something like this would be high, but it's an idea I play with because there are so many improvements to be made and inefficiencies to be eliminated.

This is a fantastic idea.

A Winco Foods came to town recently, and everyone is going bananas over their bulk section, which is like 3 half aisles.

A bulk concept store would be really interesting (and fun?!)


I think the bulk dispensers, if shown to improve the customer experience and/or the store's profits, would be a fairly easy sell.

You know why I don't use the bulk dispensers?  Because it takes too damn long to tie the zip tie around the bag. 

Get the devices tested in stores, work out the kinks, improve a design, and then find a way to test the store concept on a small scale (like a store within a store, or just a section of a store), with minimum capital investment. Then pitch to investors and get the capital you need to do it big, if that's what you want to do.



Someone could do this. Why not you?



« Last Edit: August 07, 2017, 07:56:04 PM by CargoBiker »

Tdub

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2017, 01:07:09 AM »
I love the ideas!

There are a few stores in existence that specialize in bulk foods in America, one of which is about an hour drive from me.  My local whole foods recently got rid of all of the bulk liquids, which made me very sad.  Some produce markets are zero-waste friendly without even trying (if you bring your own produce bags), and co-ops often also tend to favor bulk food selections.

The milk-man style delivery aspect of zero waste groceries is something I haven't heard of yet.  Subscription-based deliveries (blue apron, clothing, make-up, amazon goods, etc) are becoming increasingly popular so this idea definitely has merit.

The idea of starting out in a van and local markets is great - super low barrier to entry.  My only car happens to be a small cargo van, so I've already got that going for me.  Starting out in service+distribution is a lower risk option than developing my own product (be it dispensers or zero waste "accessories"), at least until I know the industry better and know where to add value. 

I really loved the low capital investment approach to starting a business discussed on the PopUp Business School podcast on Mad FIentist.

This is also the sort of business where I would love competition down the road, because that would mean Zero Waste is becoming more mainstream and consumers are becoming more responsible.

Time to start researching now that I have a good direction to go in!  Thanks, all :)

Snow

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2017, 02:03:38 AM »
More doe-eyed idealists, yay!

I am approaching the development of my own side-hustle in much the same way. I want to make products where you can opt in if you want packaging, but otherwise going zero-waste/reusable/no plastic all the way.

You can do it!

veloman

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2017, 11:55:40 PM »
There is a bulk food only store here in Austin TX. Ingredients is the name. Prices are just simply too for me to rationalize shopping there. ok

SimpleGuy

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2018, 01:06:09 PM »
I've thought about opening a small bulk food store in the area I want to downshift/retire in (not Alaska) because the grocery stores no longer have bulk bin sections.  Concerns I have: 1) did the existing stores get rid of the bulk bins because there was no demand; 2) could a small bulk food store be profitable (I've heard groceries have a low profit margin); and 3) do I really want to run a store or do I just want access to one?  I know nothing about grocery stores, so I have no idea what the startup costs would be, where to source product, regulatory issues, etc.  I wouldn't be selling anything that requires refrigeration, so I think that would cut down on a lot of costs.         

Tdub - any news with your venture?       

SC93

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2018, 04:49:48 PM »
There is a bulk food only store here in Austin TX. Ingredients is the name. Prices are just simply too HIGH for me to rationalize shopping there. ok

There is a reason more stores do not offer this..... they are in business to make money, apparently this is not a good way to make money or else they would all be on the band-wagon.

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2018, 05:18:52 PM »
There is a bulk food only store here in Austin TX. Ingredients is the name. Prices are just simply too HIGH for me to rationalize shopping there. ok

There is a reason more stores do not offer this..... they are in business to make money, apparently this is not a good way to make money or else they would all be on the band-wagon.

This.

I suspect bulk foods have a lot more spoilage than pre-packaged goods. How long is 5-gallons of flour exposed to air good for before it goes rancid and you have to throw it all away? Throwing away one bag of flour that gets damaged costs a lot less than throwing away most of a 5-gallon tub of flour that went rancid because it just wasn't very popular at that time.

The packaging is really not that expensive so unless you were selling at a larger scale (like a 5-gallon bucket full of some food product) I doubt you could get your COGS low enough to make for a meaningful discount.


I've looked at the financials for a grocery store and they were around 30% as I recall for gross margin but the net margin is just a few percent typically. Lets say can buy a bag of Oreos for $1.50 at wholesale and sell them for $2.50. That's a $1.00 profit but you still have to cover all of the labor and overhead that goes into running a store and if you don't have a high enough volume to cover those fixed costs you won't make it.

A well-performing grocery store will have retail sales of about $300 to $500 per square foot. So a 50,000 square foot store should be selling about $15 to $25 million per year. Less than $200 per square foot and that store will likely get shut down as it won't be able to cover their high fixed costs of labor, rent, taxes, etc.

SC93

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2018, 06:19:07 PM »
+1

Bicycle_B

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2018, 04:09:46 PM »
Yep, 1 to 3 percent margin at the grocery.

http://smallbusiness.chron.com/profit-margin-supermarket-22467.html

And word of high price does travel.  I too have heard that Ingredients has prices too high to shop there.  Bulk is not the only reason it's high; all ingredients locally sourced and organic, for example.  But the Way of the Ethical Capitalist through the bulk aisle is not a smooth and easy path. 

At my local high volume grocery, nearly identical items can be bought in bulk or packaged form.  Which is cheaper depends on specific products, whether a packaged item is on sale, and what quantity is desired.

I wish all ethical capitalists the best in whatever business is the best for both entrepreneur and customer!!

living small

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2018, 12:09:51 PM »
I am in the process of looking for someone with your background knowledge to help with the design/manufacture of a consumer product.

I have also sort of paused when considering this project as I am try very hard to avoid creating trash or consumer goods that will eventually become waste. I would love to hire someone with your knowledge of engineering/manufacturing who shares those values and could think of a better way to manufacture goods so that they aren't harmful to the environment.
 Have you ever considered consultation as a side gig?

isaakthepirate

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Re: Side hustle aligned with values
« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2018, 12:46:04 PM »
I had all of your requirements, and I ended up buying these bicycle rental stations: www.spinwayusa.com. The biggest time investment was getting locations, but you can have them do it for you if you pay for it. Otherwise, the time investment is pretty low - suuuper basic bike maintenance.
Not sure where you live, but if it's a bike friendly area and has tourism, might work for you.