One common idea, many visions
Basel, Zurich ... Bern – the third OFFCUT materials market will soon open in the capital. The young entrepreneurs explain how the idea is developing within the social franchising model. And why everything began with a blind date.
The OFFCUT Switzerland project has set itself the goal of establishing a Swiss-wide, long-term umbrella organisation within three years. Now another materials market is opening up based on the pioneering model. It will be launched soon. Then hobbyists and creatives in Bern will also be able to find inspiring used things and remnants that are sometimes quite hard to come by: paper, wallpaper, fabric scraps, leather, wood, paint, ribbons, upholstery material and so on. Anything that could somehow be used for ideas which, not infrequently, only come to you when you’re standing right in front of the materials.
“We agreed on almost every point right away.”
The founders Claudia Meyr, Lilo Fritz and Maartje Bouwsma are sitting in the sofas of a Bernese coffee house, explaining how they got to know each other this spring. On a blind date, actually, one arranged by Dominik Seitz, the project manager of OFFCUT Switzerland. The three women, he says, had each contacted him independently. They all read about the materials markets in Basel and Zurich and thought: We need this in Bern too!
So Seitz brought them together. Lilo Fritz remembers the meeting with the other two women: “There were two unknown people sitting in front of me and we agreed on almost every point right away.” She had never experienced anything like this before. Bouwsma says that for the group it was immediately clear: “We wanted OFFCUT Bern to also become a meeting place, a place for social discussion.” And Meyr adds: “A central part of the materials market will be the coffee corner, where hobbyists, creatives, teachers, children and other interested people can exchange ideas and spend their breaks.”
Well-known logo, own implementation
The umbrella organisation works within the “social franchising” model, which is constantly being further developed. This business model is based on a prototype that has been tested in practice and is implemented decentrally by franchisees. Everyone contributes their own strengths, and services are shared. Much is already available to the Bernese entrepreneurs: a logo, internet presence, an intranet, various templates – for example for employment contracts. It’s an infrastructure that would otherwise take a lot of time to set up.
Dominik Seitz says: “The Bernese women are benefitting, but they have also been contributing their own ideas from the very beginning.” Although new locations will adopt the concept of recycling materials as often as possible, each shop should nevertheless develop its own vision. And this has to be worked out first. Even more than in the case of Zurich, Team Bern is showing how a vision can tie people together, since they didn’t even know each other before the project.
“OFFCUT Switzerland impresses with its unifying idea and the individual design for each location.”
The Engagement Migros development fund is supporting the start-up company in its expansion to other Swiss cities. Project manager Samira Lütscher says: “It is exciting to see how the idea is being brought to life in other places and how new facets blossom at each location. OFFCUT Switzerland impresses with its unifying idea and individual design.” She is convinced that the strength of the project lies in the solid foundation of the umbrella organisation, as well as the open, creative approach of all participants.
However, the search for a suitable location is the first priority. It should be around 500 square metres in size, preferably on the ground floor and in an easily reached district of Bern. Before that, however, the founders had intensively exchanged ideas with the other locations. “Bern should benefit from the experience of others,” says Seitz.
“We see ourselves as a network in which we learn from each other.”
The umbrella organisation did not want to prescribe rigid concepts. “We see ourselves as an equal, holacratic network in which we learn from each other.” And so the colleagues from Basel and Zurich will be happy to come inspect a possible location in Bern before a lease is signed. Maartje Bouwsma, who will be responsible for materials management in Bern, has already visited the other shops, which are helping to fill the warehouse for the launch. And later they want to work closely together in material procurement and sales. Perhaps there will be a common central warehouse at some point in the future. The idea of making optimum use not only of materials, but also of skills, is another cornerstone of the Bernese vision.
Things will get going as soon as a location is found
Lilo Fritz – an experienced financial expert – can therefore imagine supporting the other locations with accounting. The umbrella organisation in turn is providing the Bern team with one-off start-up financing. After that, the materials warehouse in Bern, like the partner locations, will become financially independent. All locations are dependent on donations from third parties. Meyr, who is responsible for fundraising in Bern, has already started work and is looking for possible foundations. Things will get going as soon as a location is found. Additional helping hands are already more than welcome – and will be especially needed once the materials market is in business with regular opening hours. The women from Bern have already demonstrated one thing today: the future of OFFCUT is by no means set in stone.