For many Australians, access to basic and dignified sanitation has always been an easily accessible essential that we take for granted.
While we might fight over loo roll at the supermarket when a pandemic hits, there are around 2.4 billion people across the world who don’t have access to a toilet.
The lack of proper sanitation for around 40 per cent of the world’s population leads to around 700 kids under the age of five dying every day from diarrhoea-related diseases.
The numbers indicate that there are more people who have a mobile phone than access to the basic necessity of a toilet.
These “mindboggling” stats didn’t stack up for Who Gives A Crap co-founder and CEO Simon Griffiths who had a sudden “quarter of a second epiphany” on his way to the loo about a decade ago.
He had an idea to start a toilet roll business that gave profits back to communities in need after spotting a packet of loo rolls in the corner of his eye.
Simon quickly called a few friends to share his idea and it got them wondering why no one had come up with this before.
A couple of years later in 2012, Simon and one of his friends co-founded Who Gives a Crap and raised funds to get it going with a crowdfunding idea.
Simon, who comes from humble beginnings, didn’t have the financial backing to get the business off the ground and relied on an attention-grabbing campaign to get the capital needed.
Simon sat on a toilet in their draughty warehouse and refused to move until they’d raised enough pre-orders to commence production.
It took 50 hours but Who Gives A Crap had raised more than $50,000 – spurred along with a video that went viral with 2.5 million hits on social media.
“I was sitting on the toilet until we raised the money. That sent us viral. We had 2.5 million social media mentions in 50 hours. It was an amazing way to get started,” Simon said.
Who Gives A Crap has been growing exponentially ever since, with a loyal customer base that believes in the mission just as much as Simon and his team of 100 do.
“Every year since we first started we’ve doubled or tripled in size,” Simon told news.com.au. “This year was no different.”
The business more than doubled this financial year compared to last financial year – and the pandemic buying frenzy certainly had something to do with it.
Uptake in March 2020 almost trebelled compared to the same time the previous year.
“Who Gives A Crap did more than a month of sales in Australia in the first three days of March,” Simon said.
“On the first day in March we did twice the number of sales, then five times, then 12 times.
“We ran out of stock in Australia at 8am on March 4.”
Simon said they were seeing “crazy numbers” in toilet paper sales.
“On that fourth day, we didn’t have enough inventory,” he said. “We were selling 28 rolls of toilet paper every second.”
The customer pool grew exponentially during the pandemic, with about three times the amount of people signed up to the distribution list by May 2020 compared to the previous year.
“We put a waitlist on our website and we ended up with half a million people,” Simon explained.
More than 600,000 people were on the Secret Toilet Paper Club email list to be notified when more toilet paper was coming in.
Meanwhile, the Who Gives a Crap Team worked in a flurry to get more stock out the door and had to hire and train 24 freelancers in a week.
“We went viral in those first days in March because people were posting pics online of empty shelves and were saying people should be buying from Who Gives a Crap,” he said.
The bulk of Who Gives a Crap’s sales come from online, but the loo rolls are also stocked in independent grocers in Victoria and NSW including Harris Farm.
While Simon said they’re open to distributing in larger retailers, he said “we can have a stronger relationship with our customers online”.
Who Gives A Crap donates 50 per cent of all profits to helping improve sanitation in poor nations, a massive point of difference that has helped gain a loyal customer following.
In total, the business has donated more $8.3 million to improve sanitation and help build toilets in developing countries.
The spike in sales related to COVID-19 pandemic buying meant the social enterprise has been able to donate $5.85 million this financial year – a 750 per cent boost on the previous year’s donation.
The brand’s presence is so strong that its most loyal customer base is in the UK and US, which makes more sales than Australia, since launching globally in 2019.
“The US and UK have been our two fastest growing markets,” he said.
“Donating 50 per cent of profits and the ethics and values we have wrapped up in our product makes us unique,” Simon said.
“Doing good is good business and that’s what our customers like the most. When they buy from us they know they are doing more.”
Simon explained that putting 50 per cent back into the business helps to make a larger contribution than if 100 per cent of the profits were donated.
“We decided on 50 per cent instead of 100 per cent because we believed we would be able to grow the company faster if 50 per cent was reinvested back into the business,” he said.
“The belief was we could make the company at least twice as big which would be a larger contribution to 2.4 billion people.”
Simon said “it should be a big year” with new products coming out and the launch of its first European warehouse as its global expansion grows further.
Who Gives a Crap recently launched a new product that sold out in Australia in eight days – the Dream Cloth which is a blend between a paper towel and a sponge made from recycled materials.
“We’re 10 years in now and having a hell of time,” Simon added.