Future is smelling sweet for Sue as her Ponypoopaper business takes off
Creating something that people want to buy is a tricky business, but Annabel Groom meets a horsey entrepreneur who believes she has the right product, made from pony poo.
Turning pony poo into wrapping paper is smelling sweet for Sue Eberle who wanted to create something new and different that people would react to.
After Sue was made redundant, a random thought while sitting at home, in the horsey hamlet of Thorndon in Devon, led to her new business – Ponypoopaper – and the reaction has been a positive one.
"No one has turned their nose up at it yet," said an enthusiastic Sue, who has designed the novelty paper for people who love ponies and horses or just like something a little different.
"I wanted something that people would buy, that isn't already out there and would appeal to children, so I thought poo!" exclaimed Sue who initially thought of poo sweets, but these are already on the market.
"So I thought paper – people seem to think it's brilliant and love the fact that it's environmentally friendly too," added Sue who spent 30 years working for the Dartmoor National Park Authority, encouraging others to find sustainable and environmentally-friendly means of earning a living in the countryside.
Now, with great excitement, it is her turn and surrounded by horsey neighbours she has plenty of pony poo producers to help grow her Ponypoopaper empire.
Initially Sue used the droppings from her sister's beautiful German dressage pony stallion, Rosewater I Claudius, but clearly the beauty of her business is that she can use any pony, so long as it has a diet with a high roughage content.
"It's the roughage I'm after," explains Sue who doesn't mind getting her hands dirty, quite literally, as she picks up the pony poo, brings it home to wash the waste away before extracting the fine bits of roughage. These bits are then dried (in her tumble dryer). "It looks a bit like chopped silage," she explains "and smells surprisingly sweet!"
Sue says that finding a paper mill that had good environmental credentials was one thing, finding one that was willing to make such small quantities of paper, was another.
That was when she discovered Frogmore Mill, in Hemel Hempstead. "The Mill is over 100 years old and still produces paper the old fashioned way," she enthused. "They have wonderful old machines that still rattle and steam away and get the occasional bang with a hammer if they stop!"
At home, Sue will bag up her dried pony poo into breathable sacks and personally drive to the mill, as she likes to "build relations with the person producing it". The dried poo is mixed with recycled FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved paper in a large vat and then processed.
"It starts off as liquid pulp and goes down a conveyor belt which vibrates the water out," explained Sue, who said it then goes on through a series of rollers and comes out the other end dry. She best describes it as "a bit like wall paper" and it comes in different thicknesses. As Sue hands me a speckled sheet, you can really feel the quality.
The printing is designed locally using vegetable inks.
"The idea is to first use the Ponypoopaper logo as branding but if we are successful we want people to have their own bespoke designs," said Sue.
While the paper is currently aimed at pony-mad children, Sue is also keen that it appeals to parents. "I not only want to extend the range but also go for something more sophisticated."
She becomes fidgety in her kitchen chair again as she rolls off a list of new ideas – "we could have native breed pony poo paper; racehorse poo paper; celebrity poo paper, all with their own bespoke designs".
Priced at £2.99 a sheet, she admits she will never "compete with cheap". "The thing that is important for this product, for me, is that it is sustainably made and environmentally friendly, with no chemicals – there is nothing mass produced about it.
"It's potentially a huge market out there – research has said six out of ten of the population has an interest in horses, be it in betting; owning one or just being a grandparent of a child who has a pony."
With her big ideas Sue admits to being "excited" rather than "daunted" about getting the ball rolling.
"It's going to be a complete learning experience for me but great fun too."
She currently has more than 2,000 sheets in stock which she houses at home but clearly if the interest takes off she will need more space.
"I'm not going to worry about that right now," she said calmly. "My plan is to market online and retail it and if it goes crazy, well then that's a lovely position to be in."
After her redundancy Sue admits that she enjoyed the "sheer delight" of not having a regime but recognises now, to be successful she will have to get back into one.
"Whereas before it was a case of fitting this in around other things that interest me, now, I have to go back to the working discipline and I do a certain amount each day."
She said with a twinkle in her eye: "From the pony mad girl to Clinton Cards, the opportunities are out there and if I can help promote, for example, Dartmoor or Exmoor ponies, or even donkeys with my conservation background then that will be the icing on the cake."
It might be wrapping paper for now but already there are plans for expansion – art paper, notelets and cards to name a few – "the possibilities are terribly exciting," beamed Sue.
For more information visit www.ponypoopaper.com. Sheets are also available at the Dartmoor National Park visitor centre at Princetown.