Tag Archives: being green

How to sell a free service

From the Lisbon Chill Out Tours website…

We are a team of creative and free-minded tour guides who work as a part of United Europe’s independent network of free walking tours throughout continental Europe. If you support sustainable tourism or you’re just looking for a tour free of formalities, free of commissions, free of pressure and full of authentic experience – just show up to our meeting point.

There are three magic words in the marketing lexicon – new, you, and free. Despite what we may say, we’re all attracted to something flagged up as ‘new’ and ‘free’. But is it possible to run a viable business by offering a free service? Chill Out Tours seem to have done so – they’ve been operating free walking tours around Lisbon for nine years. Here are some insights into the apparent secret of their success,

Make it free and easy to join The freedom alluded to in the website blurb is not just about not having to pay for the guided walking tour – an important element in their offer – but also the convenience of being able to just turn up at a fixed time and place; no need to book. You can leave the three-hour tour at any stage.

At an accessible central location, the guides are easily identified with bright yellow bags from about 30 minutes before the start time. Importantly, they also advertise their business on their bags as they walk around the city.

Keep your publicity simple Their main publicity tool is a credit-card sized folded leaflet – printed on recycled paper. It’s handed out at the meeting point before the start of the tour, distributed to visitor accommodation (including Airbnb) and given to walkers at the end to distribute any way they can. They could have been handed out on the tour, but our guide didn’t do so.

The leaflet includes essential information in English or Spanish – meeting times and place (with a simple map), membership of different associations, contact details through social media and an invitation to find out more and share feedback. Enticing photos are used to tell the story on their website and through social media – with lots of images on Instagram and short video clips on Facebook.

Establish your credibility There’s fierce competition for your time if not your Euros – Trip Advisor lists 15 walking tours in Lisbon, and a rival provider of free (but sponsored) tours set up in 2013 with the same start time and location. So standing out from the rest is important.

The folk at Chill Out Tours do this by emphasising that all their guides are local to Lisbon and experienced – our guide Rafael had been leading tours for six years. In a veiled reference to the immediate competition, they describe themselves as the ‘original’ free tour company and stress their independence – they are not paid by any of the businesses along the tour route. They also establish their green credentials – see below – and their membership of a European-wide association gives reassurance. Ultimately, they can point to happy customers – on Trip Advisor Chill Out Tours are #29 out of 650 tours in Lisbon, with a 91% rating as ‘excellent’.

 Build your brand The public imagine of the tour company is everything if independent of support from providers of travel and accommodation. For Chill Out Tours their green credentials are important. As their website blurb makes clear, they push walking as sustainable low-impact tourism, their leaflets are printed on recycled paper, and their identifier bags are handmade from waste materials by a local company. Like all good businesses, they encourage their customers to spread the word – on and offline – at every opportunity, knowing that personal recommendation is always the most cost-effective promotion.

Make it personal With a rival company touting for business at the same time and place, it was important that the Chill Out Tour guides were  friendly and forward, without being pushy, from the start. They welcomed people coming especially, tried to attract the odd passer-by (we gained two en route) and informally they kept a check on waiting walkers who had gone to the nearby coffee bar for refreshments before the start.

At a first stop on the tour (in a quiet backstreet) everyone was invited to give their names and countries of origin, sharing a bit about their particular interests in relation to Lisbon and Portuguese culture – our expectations for the tour. Our friendly guide – Rafael – introduced himself with a bit of background (establishing his authority) and explained the plan for the three-hour tour. The tour commentary was informed and informal with references to the interests of the walkers where relevant. In short, we struck up a friendship with our guide and the group very quickly – skilfully orchestrated by Rafael – and the time passed quickly.

Be honest and upfront about the deal Although ‘free’ is the main hook (a selling point in the broadest sense) the website and the guides make clear that walkers are invited to donate what they think the tour is worth at the end. Of course, a dissatisfied customer can choose to pay nothing (but will probably not have stayed to the end – literally voting with their feet!)

The pay-what-it’s-worth principle puts obvious pressure on the guides to impress (and can make decisions about ideal group sizes a bit tricky) but the ratings on Trip Advisor confirm they’re doing a consistently good job. We were told of this payment arrangement at the start, during, and at the end of the tour.

Have a big finish – the reward As we got to the three-hour mark, and with legs getting weary, Rafael urged us on for a final climb (Lisbon is very hilly), promising a reward for our effort. For us that reward was a fine view across the city and a recap on the route we’d taken and the sights and landmarks along the way.

For Rafael the reward was genuine appreciation from the group – reflected in generous donations. Most of the 15 – 20 people in our group seemed to give willingly and without embarrassment. Comparable paid-for tours charge between 12 and 22 Euros per person and I’d estimate this was replicated by the donations on our tour.

And for Rafael, even after six years, one hopes he gets great satisfaction from knowing his obvious passion for the job, for Lisbon, and it’s living history had fired a similar interest in our small, happy, dispersing walking tour group.

Author’s note: These are my personal observations – based on a walking tour in September 2018 – I was neither paid nor encouraged to write this blog post.

Further information https://www.lisbon-chillout-freetour.com and Trip Advisor  https://bit.ly/2Rby6Rj

The story of a broken piano stool

Last Saturday I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours at New Broadcasting House contributing to a BBC World Service radio programme* about Repair Cafes.   These community repair events have gone global since being founded nine years ago by the brilliant Martine Postma in the Netherlands. There are now nearly 1600 Repairs Cafes in 33 countries.

On Saturday morning I had lots of examples of successful fixes ready to share with radio listeners but, as often happens, I only had time to recall a couple. One unshared repair job stands out in my memory; I think it sums up perfectly what the Repair Café concept is all about. In fact, it was my first introduction to a ‘live’ Repair Café, it fired my interest and I’m re-telling it here in the hope it will spark interest in others in the run-up to International Repair Café Week 2018 in mid-October.

Before setting up the Royston Repair Café five years ago, I arranged a visit to one in London at the wonderful Goodlife Centre. Alison Winfield-Chislett, the genius behind the Centre, offered me a cup of tea as I walked through the door and suggested I just ‘get stuck in’, buddying me up with the owner (we’ll call her Sue) of a broken piano stool. This was lucky because, if I have a repair specialism, it’s furniture. I soon learnt that the stool had been broken by Sue’s 16 year old son. She didn’t say he’d ‘lost it’ in the middle of a particularly demanding piano lesson but that was the image in my mind’s eye.

The big thing about the best Repair Cafes is that, where possible, the owners learn how to mend their broken items themselves. After a bit of instruction for Sue, I watched while she dismantled the broken part of the stool – unscrewing the wooden leg from the metal bracket that had held it in place. Sue glued and clamped the leg and, while the glue dried, we drank tea and had a chat with others at the Repair Café – a lot of that goes on at these events.

Back on the job, Sue bent the bracket back into shape and reconnected the broken leg to the main body of the stool, while I had another cup of tea and offered the odd bit of advice. Within about an hour and a half the stool was fixed. The proud smile on Sue’s face made it all worthwhile.

As she left Sue said, almost as an afterthought, “What I didn’t tell you is that my son’s now 21. This piano stool has been broken for five years! I can’t wait to see his face when he sees it in one piece again, he feels very guilty whenever he looks at it. And when he finds out that his mum fixed it…!”

*Programme to be broadcast in October 2018 in the World Hacks series  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04d42vf

Find out more…

Visit your nearest Repair Cafe https://repaircafe.org/en/visit                                                              International Repair Cafe Week 2018 is 13-21st October https://repaircafe.org/en/international-repair-cafe-week-2018/

Royston Repair Café www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

 The Goodlife Centre https://www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk

More blog posts in this Repairing the World series https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/repairing-the-world

Repairing the world

Who said “Waste isn’t waste until we waste it”?

Learning of this clever quote was one of many pleasing things I gained from an event in Cambridge yesterday which could legitimately be said to have a global significance. It’s not every day you can say that about spending nine hours in a church on a wet Saturday in November.

The man associated with the quote is Will.I.Am – someone I associate with a name which I regard as, er… unusual, and whose performances on ‘The Voice’ leaves me cold. In contrast, I’m impressed by his behind-the-scenes activities; the music-man-come- style-celebrity gives his name, time and money to many worthy causes. This includes an international campaign – Fashion Revolution – which aims to sew social, ethical and environmental responsibility into the fabric of the fashion industry.

The essence of the campaign is ‘telling the story’ behind the clothing items that arrive on our high streets and sell at rock bottom prices with, in many cases, scant regard for the people and processes behind their production.

For me, the story behind the product was also at the heart of my uplifting day in Cambridge. It was at an attempt on the record for the World’s Biggest Repair Café – a mass fix of pre-loved and still-wanted broken items – bikes, clothes, electricals, toys, high and low tech kitchen gadgets, gardening equipment, ornaments, phones, laptops, even an umbrella. We were seeking to mend more than 150 items – a record set in France in 2013.

I worked on eight items and was pleased with the result, though many of the fixes where a lot more straight forward than those of my fellow repairers working on more technical problems on either side of me.

There were two garden forks with broken wooden handles (with a combined age of 140 years!) and both deserved more TLC than I could give them in the time I had to work on fixing them. The older of the two was 100 years old – originally owned by the great grandmother of the little girl who attended the Repair Café with her mum. As the current owner said to me “I could get a new fork or replace the wooden handle, but it’s my mother and her mother’s hands that worked the soil with this particular handle – that’s what matters to me.”

Or the 40-year old binoculars case – a wedding present I think – the leather hinge between body and lid worn torn in two from regular use. This is now replaced with some new leather in a cack-handed repair which, while certainly not beautiful, will hopefully keep those binoculars protected for another 40 years.

Or the 25 year-old hand-crafted ornamental wooden horse and carriage from Russia. A cherished memento that needed some refurbishment – new reins for the horse, re-fixing the carriage harness, reconstructing the passenger’s parasol – it’s journey to be recalled and treasured, I hope, for generations to come.

Then there were the little food related highlights – the edible nuts and screws on some lovely biscuits, the wonderful free three-course meals served up from surplus food by Cambridge Foodcycle.

Most important for me is that yesterday was about keeping so many things in use for longer. The eight items I worked on had a combined age of over 227 years. “But did you set a new world record?” I hear you ask. It doesn’t really matter but, yes, we did – with over 200 items fixed – we well and truly broke it and so, of course, we now need to repair it…

Further photos at  https://www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe/photos/a.709787542553843.1073741847.168583403340929/709787559220508/?type=3&theater

Fashion Revolution http://fashionrevolution.org

Green and Grey Repurpose – MeTubes

tab-tube-2Question – what do a pencil, toothbrush, and phone charger have in common?               Answer – calcium tablets.

I’ve been prescribed calcium tablets for osteoporosis (well, against osteoporosis to be more precise). I’m meant to be taking 60 every month for five years. That’s a tube-a-week habit so I’m accumulating a goodly supply of empty plastic tubes with plastic plugs in the end.

Not wanting to waste the NHS’s investment in these tubes (and my health), I’ve set out to devise as many re-purposing ideas for them as I can. Here are the first three (I have some others in development using combinations of tubes – watch this space)

  • img_0020Brushguard – after hearing about potential health hazards on hotel bathroom sinks, I set to work producing a cover for the average toothbush. It works well in a washbag and can be secured upright to a smooth surface in the bathroom using the sucker on the end.
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  • Sharpenhold – big enough to store a couple of short pencils – the kind you find in Ikea, Screwfix and Wickes (see my blog on the value of short pencils – link below) You can also keep your shavings under control and your pencils sharp. Yes – real writing can come in small sustainable containers!
  • img_0016-2The leader – twist the plug to reduce or release the lead between your charging phone and the wall socket. No more tangles, no tripping over a trailing lead, no more people confusing your charger for theirs.

All tubes can be painted for identification, so you don’t try to brush your teeth with a pencil, for personalisation, and to coordinate with your bathroom, office, and phone-cover colour schemes.

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Your turn…

Share your own re-purposing ideas and let’s see if we can come up with “101 uses for an empty tablet tube” I’ll send you (within the UK) three tubes with plugs if you submit an idea with a brief explanation (and preferably a drawing or photo).

Also of interest?

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/green-grey-repurpose/

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/pencils-and-personalisation

Enterprise essential – make the physical environment your business

Social enterprise is about environmental sustainability as well financial viability. Whether its travel to meetings, the conservation of energy in your office, or the re-use and recycling of equipment, we can all play our part in demonstrating how social enterprise can be a better way of doing business.