Organic food is becoming the staple diet of increasing numbers of UK consumers, but Samantha Burlton has managed to tap into a relatively untapped section of the market – organic products ranging from shampoo to nappies.Samantha’s business, So Organic, is an online department store for every non-edible organic item you could imagine. Parents can browse the site for baby products, women can buy organic, chemical-free cosmetics, while there’s also various organic gifts and clothing on sale.
Set up in February 2005, So Organic is a business born out of frustration. Samantha couldn’t find the organic products she was looking for and, spotting a gap in the market, decided to go it alone.
“I started learning more about the organic industry, and found that it wasn’t just organic food that was important, there were a lot of chemicals in mainstream cosmetic products too,” she explains. “I found that they weren’t easily available and no one could give me good advice about the products I wanted, so I set about creating a company that could.”
The organic food industry is worth over £1 billion in the UK, but Samantha felt there was a substantial, and growing, demand for all kinds of organic products.
“I could see that the organic health and industry was going to take off,” she says. “More products were becoming available and my experience was typical of many people – you tend to get into the food and then look at the other accompaniments to an organic lifestyle.”
Samantha undertook a lengthy period of research before launching So Organic, spending three years pouring over market reports on the organic industry, reading relevant material from libraries and looking into what potential competitors were offering.
She found that many ‘organic’ products weren’t entirely free of harmful chemicals. The London-based entrepreneur insists that So Organic tests every product to ensure they are not only stylish and high quality, but also fully organic. The company’s size can certainly prove an advantage in providing the personal assurance needed by ethically conscious customers.
Samantha decided to launch the business online as, although she has plans to open retail outlets in the future, she wanted to build So Organic up through the extended reach provided by the internet.
The bulk of Samantha’s start-up funding went on developing So Organic’s website and launching an online advertising campaign.
“We get a lot of good feedback about the website,” she says. “I think it’s worth investing a chunk of your funds on a nice, professional website. We spent money on products, of course, but the most significant part of the funding was spent on marketing and PR.”
The approach has certainly worked – sales have soared by around 18% each month since the creation of the business, with no signs of a slow-down. The website receives around two million page impressions a month. The growth prompted the recruitment of staff and a move from the spare bedroom to office and warehouse facilities in Greenwich, London.
Samantha runs the business alongside her husband Stuart. It’s a partnership she feel works very well.
“I’m very much in charge of sorting products and supply management, Stuart’s more in charge of the financial side,” she explains. “We get on exceptionally well – maybe because we are so recently married! We have an excellent working relationship and we manage to separate work and home life very well.”
Samantha admits, as a first-time business owner, that she also took inspiration from Sahar Hashemi’s entrepreneurial tome Anyone Can Do It. However, it’s clear that being an entrepreneur would always trump her previous job in corporate telesales.
“Since I was young, I’ve wanted to start my own business,” she says. “I’ve come from a family where everybody was self-employed, so it felt a little bit uncomfortable working for an employer.
“I came up with lots of ideas, but never felt I had the freedom to implement them when I worked in my previous jobs.”
Recently asked by the Soil Association to address its members on organic products, Samantha has clearly made a big impression on the market. Her ambitions are to take the business even further into the public’s consciousness.
“The idea is to become the destination of choice for anyone looking to buy products to support their organic lifestyle,” she says. “We want to be the most well-known and respected provider in the UK.”