Cathy Nesbitt has taken a common recycling problem and turned it into green business gold by helping consumers compost their organic waste with the help of worms. This green entrepreneur has learned a thing or two about marketing and building a green business in a slow economy and we wanted to know what those lessons were.
Can you tell us a bit more about Cathy’s Crawly Composters?
At Cathy’s Crawly Composters we raise red wiggler worms for worm composting purposes. Worms are going to play an ever-increasing role in waste management and soil production. We believe that the solution to the garbage crisis is several solutions, one of which is vermicomposting. Cathy’s Crawly Composters has been recognized with several environmental and business awards.
We supply red wiggler worms, worm composting bins, worm castings, books and a DVD: “Squirm, The Story of Cathy’s Crawly Composters.” We conduct inspirational workshops and worm birthday parties. Worms provide a tremendous cross-curricular learning opportunity in the classroom. Over 50,000 students have seen our presentation, so far. We also offer on-site solutions to manage organic matter.
We carry a vermicomposting system known as the Worm Chalet. This is a tower composter and a continuous flow system. Tray systems are perfect for those that do not like to handle the worms. Harvesting the Worm Chalet is clean and easy. When the worms have finished converting food scraps and bedding from one tray, simply add another tray on top and the worms will make their way up to the new food source. The lower tray will consist of converted castings (worm poo) ready to enhance soil in house-plants and gardens. You can then feed the soil with compost, returning required nutrients and micro-organisms back to the earth.
I saw a piece in a local paper asking; “Are you a woman? Do you have a business idea?” It was an ad for a six month business course. I had been injured at work as a freelance behavioural management specialist. Freelance means without benefits. I was not eligible for any government assistance. I was thinking about this worm business, but I wasn’t ready. Taking a course offered the perfect opportunity. I turned to my husband and said, “I’m quitting my job, taking this business course and starting a worm business” and to his surprise, I did just that!
In 2002, the Keele Valley landfill closed. This was the largest landfill site in Canada and the third largest in North America. The garbage for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was dumped there. The GTA has a population of almost 5 million, about half live in multi-residential units (eg. condominiums, townhouses, etc.). Many people have few options for composting, therefore most organic matter from these buildings ends up in landfill. Vermicomposting provides the opportunity to compost indoors – a sustainable solution to manage organic matter (food scraps and paper) for apartment dwellers or anywhere without the option to compost outside.
Are you self-funded? Or did you receive external funding from government or investor organizations?
To date, we have been fully self-funded enterprise. There seems to be a misconception that if you do good work, you should be not-for-profit organization. Why? I believe for a truly sustainable lifestyle, a sustainable economy is an essential part.
We are seeking corporate sponsorship for our school program to assist with incorporating worm composting systems. Red wiggler worms in the classroom offer a tremendous learning opportunity. Vermicomposting allows schools to convert organic matter (food scraps and paper) into worm compost on-site. The compost can be used to create vegetable and flower gardens and/or sold as a fundraiser.
Like backyard composting, worm composting requires a carbon to nitrogen mix. To provide the required materials, we collect food scraps from local restaurants and grocery stores and shredded paper from offices. It is then processed and fed to the worms. Some days will involve harvesting. This means separating the worms from the compost. The castings are then dried, screened and packaged for sale.
Monday is a busy day of the week. This is our picking, packing, shipping day. Orders are prepared for delivery.
Education is a key component of our business to create awareness about the benefits of using worms to convert organic matter into nature’s finest fertilizer. Some of our time is spent presenting worm workshops for schools and community groups.
How do you promote your business? What green marketing strategies have you found successful?
We chose media as our marketing strategy. We have attracted over 100 print articles, several television and radios appearances as well as a documentary about our business called “Squirm, The Story of Cathy’s Crawly Composters.” We also attend monthly business networking events to promote the business.
I am the chair and co-founder of an organization called Green Connections. Green-Connections is a networking and mentoring group of small businesses.
We are dedicated to exploring and sharing environmentally-friendly practices, products and ideas. Our goal is to encourage all businesses to “go green”.
What mistakes have you made along the way as a green entrepreneur? What advice would you give others starting a green business?
To raise awareness about our business, we exhibited at every show that was remotely connected to the environment. We spent a lot of money and time at events that did not provide the returns we were seeking. We discovered that worms are not an impulse buy (seems obvious when you think about it). Money is often limited at the beginning of a new business venture. When considering if an event is suitable for your business, attend first before deciding to exhibit. This will provide the opportunity to find out if the event attracts your target market, you can get the feel for the show, etc.
Invest money wisely. There are many ways to get the message out for little or no cost. Social media offers an opportunity to get exposure for little cost. Attend a workshop on how to use social media to maximize your time to create awareness for your business.