Stephanie Fry is the co-founder and co-owner of multi-award-winning IdealCup, the very first reusable coffee cup to be designed and made in New Zealand. Based in Lower Hutt, IdealCup was launched in 2010.
Business Type: Consumer Goods
Number of employees: 4
Current Business Situation: Renewed growth and positive revenue recovery following Covid-19
Relationship with The Icehouse: Owner Manager Programme Alumni
‘Steph has always had plenty of passion and drive, and since taking part in The Icehouse OMP she is much more focused on the things which are important to growing the business. She has surrounded herself with people she can rely on to carry out the day-to-day activities and provide support where needed, allowing her to step back and keep an eye on the bigger picture.’ Fiona McAllister, Office Manager
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been passionate about positive sustainable change. And I've spent over 17 years growing two sustainable businesses, so I’ve always had that entrepreneurial streak in me. My husband Nick and I started our coffee business in 2004 in Wellington as Celcius Coffee. It wasn't long into that journey that we realised that we wanted to try and do things differently.
How did you choose this type of business?
Single-use coffee cups are one of the biggest contributors to landfill and, at that time, ‘sustainability’ as a concept wasn’t commonplace in the industry. We knew we could do things better, so we started thinking how as a business we could help the community and the planet.
In 2008 we became carbon neutral as a coffee company and around that time we went out to the market to see what was available in reusable cup products. We weren't satisfied with what was available and so we decided to make our own. We put together our first prototypes from 2010 to 2012, and that’s how IdealCup came to be.
How does 2021 look for you compared to 2020?
The first part of the last 18 months was absolutely awful for us. We were over 80% down on revenue for a period last year and that was scary.
Obviously the nature of our businesses is hospitality and hygiene related, so when Covid hit, we had a lot of cancelled orders. We’ve got two models, wholesale and the CupCycling cup-swap system, which relies on cafés so, understandably, the ones that did stay open didn’t want anything to do with cup-swapping initiatives when Covid hit.
Our products are also used for giveaways, corporate gifts and many large events, so we were really knocked about with cancellations and being a ‘non-essential’ purchase. We had three months of no revenue, just as we were hitting a significant growth phase.
Like so many people, I actually hit the wall mentally, and the challenge was how to get through with two businesses and staff. It was really daunting and an incredibly stressful time.
Once we got through that mentally challenging period, knew we were safe, and that our staff were good due to the wage subsidy, we started knocking off some projects which were waiting to get some attention. We gave the team administrative tasks to keep them busy but we were very light on any demands on our staff. We put our people first.
We had to revise our long-term plans as short-term plans and went from a three-year plan to a 12 and 24 month plan. We’ve been working closely with our business mentor and advisors and keeping it real, rather than trying to look too far ahead – we’re focusing on what we know we can control.
Right now our revenue is not back where it was, but it's definitely heading in the right direction. Provided we can keep Covid where it is at the moment in New Zealand, I think we'll have a strong growth phase again in the next six to eight months.
What are currently your biggest challenges?
One of our biggest recent challenges came straight out of Covid, which is inspiring, and that was getting our Environmental Choice Certification in November 2020. It was a wonderfully laborious project which involved a lot of research and buy-in from our team and our suppliers.
It was a massive accomplishment and a positive moment for all of us. With that finished, we thought why not develop the next phase of our CupCycling cup-swap App? Now these projects are done ahead of schedule and we’re going to keep growing and building on what we've achieved.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
I completed the Owner Manager Programme in 2018 – OMP 43 – and the timing of it was really powerful, especially around resilience. Ironically, when I was on OMP, I thought; ‘Yeah, I've heard all this before’ – but I hadn’t – and didn't realise how much of an impact it was going to have on me and what was coming around the corner in 2020.
I’m a huge Icehouse advocate and speak at Icehouse events and so on. The learnings that I've taken are lifelong learnings, and you can only grow from them. What I took away from it I am probably using more-so in 2021, and I honestly think about The Icehouse at least two or three times a week in terms of the impact it had on me and how I'm continuing to use what I learnt.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
One of the things that I absolutely hold dear from my Owner Manager Programme experience was developing a process of resilience, as I just alluded to. There were times when we would question whether a husband-and-wife business was such a great thing but we were able to lean on each other, both professionally and personally.
OMP taught me how to prioritise and focus, and how to work in the right areas of my business and look at everything holistically - to create the future that we wanted – rather than the things that I thought I enjoyed doing that were nice to do.
I can't speak more highly about The Icehouse. The people I met on OMP 43 are all still very close friends and we communicate with each other and catch up regularly. It’s another family. Anytime you feel like you need a pick-me-up there’s someone in my cohort or at The Icehouse to help you get back on track.
So much of what I learnt is naturally embedded now that it's default and second nature. OMP was everything that I ever hoped I was going to get out of it – as a human and a business person.
One thing’s for sure, the business would look very different if I hadn’t done OMP. I honestly think we would have struggled to get through Covid because even though Nick didn't do OMP, I’ve been able to share what I’ve learnt and he’s on that journey with me.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
Don't be afraid to take your time in whatever you're trying to do and get it right. Don't rush, even though you can see competitors doing something similar. It definitely pays to take your time, because we took our time with IdealCup and, although a whole lot of other products made it to market, we've risen above those and we’re at the top in terms of best-in-class product.
Also, never say ‘no’ to any offer of assistance, especially when it's free. And don't ever give up on your dream and your passion – no matter what speed bumps, brick walls or global pandemics are thrown at you! Remember that you started this for a reason.
Follow the link for more information about IdealCup and CupCycling.