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Every Thursday morning at Soleshare’s office, a race against the clock kicks off amid the clucking chickens in Hackney City Farm.
Fish collected by day boats across the UK are brought up from ports including Kent, East Sussex, Cornwall and Devon.
Soleshare’s founder Theresa Douthwright, then gets to work portioning, labelling and packing the fish into cool boxes by herself. By 1pm, more than 100 Soleshare orders are out for delivery. By 5pm, every box will be ready for busy Londoners to collect in time for dinner.
Soleshare’s pitch is to give whatever fish was caught less than 48 hours ago to city dwellers. It launched in London in 2013, with prices starting at £18 a box.
The model riffed on food subscription services such as Abel and Cole and Gousto food boxes and more niche service like Pact Coffee. But Soleshare has tried to sidestep the tricky business of the ‘last mile’ delivery to the customer’s door and instead its boxes are available for members to collect from its pick-up points across London.
‘As soon as you take on deliveries, there’s a whole other load of costs you need to consider,’ Douthwright explains in defence of a system that’s far less convenient for consumers.
‘You need a fleet of vans, drivers and software to sort out delivery schedules. It’s too costly, really.’
In addition to its first pick-up point in London Fields, Soleshare has added 12 locations.
It’s most recent addition in September 2017 is also its first south of the river, in south-east London’s Brockley. Previously, the focus has been on covering the north-east boroughs of Hackney and Haringey.
Growth has been steady, but Douthwright admits it’s not been as fast as she’d like. The issue is simply capacity: the business only has one full-time employee – Douthwright – and one part-time driver. Adding Brockley made sense as it’s on the driver’s route home.
‘I can just about manage on my own,’ the founder says.
On the rare occasion her driver isn’t available, Douthwright has put fish boxes in taxis – and made a loss.
Douthwright is trying to hire a part-timer to help with packing and deliveries, freeing up her time to grow Soleshare.