THE HOLIDAYMAK­ER WHO STAYED TO LAUNCH AN EN­VI­RON­MENT-FRIENDLY WA­TER COM­PANY

▶ Carol Fraser of No More Bot­tles tells David Dunn how she found in­spi­ra­tion on a 40th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion visit

The National - News - - BUSINESS MONEY -

Carol Fraser is co-founder of No More Bot­tles, a Dubai com­pany that sup­plies and ser­vices mains-fed wa­ter fil­tra­tion sys­tems, en­abling ho­tels, of­fices and homes to drink tap wa­ter, re­duc­ing costs and plas­tic us­age – by 375,000 bot­tles an­nu­ally at one ho­tel.

Born in Scot­land, she has been work­ing in the drink­ing wa­ter in­dus­try since the late 1980s, in­clud­ing co-own­ing a wa­ter cooler com­pany. Dur­ing a Dubai hol­i­day, she met a for­mer col­league and be­gan de­vis­ing No More Bot­tles. Ms Fraser, 48, re­lo­cated to the UAE in 2017 with her hus­band Garry, a for­mer prop­erty de­vel­oper, who now works with her, their 11-year-old son and daugh­ter, 16. They live in Da­mac Hills.

QHow did your up­bring­ing shape your at­ti­tude to­wards money?

AI was born in Hamil­ton [south-east of Glas­gow] on a coun­cil es­tate, with one younger sis­ter. My par­ents worked in a fac­tory. We had food on the table, clothes on our back, got to do things we wanted to do. But if you wanted some­thing in par­tic­u­lar you had to save pocket money; about £2 (Dh9.5) a week. Money was never handed on a plate, hence when I left school I was en­cour­aged to get a job. You strived to do some­thing bet­ter and my pri­or­ity for my kids now is to al­ways do good for them.

I left school at 16, straight into my first job, which was of­fice work on a Youth Train­ing Scheme for £29.50 a week. Later on, a boss at the time started a com­pany and in­tro­duced five-gal­lon wa­ter dis­pensers to Scot­land. I went from sales ad­min­is­tra­tor to dis­tri­bu­tion man­ager, to branch man­ager. Then we got bought out and I be­came gen­eral man­ager for the Scot­tish di­vi­sion.

Are you a saver or a spender? At the mo­ment a spender – start­ing a busi­ness here is not cheap. We funded it from sav­ings. We’re pri­mar­ily a rental busi­ness so we’re hav­ing to buy equip­ment. It takes sev­eral years to get your in­vest­ment back. So far we’ve got about 900 ma­chines and it’s grow­ing rapidly.

We’ve still got sav­ings we live on just now. We’ve got stocks and shares and a prop­erty we rent out in the UK. We al­ways had quite a large chunk in the bank we could get at if we needed, like if we wanted to buy land quickly.

Why launch a busi­ness in the UAE?

For my 40th birth­day I came to Dubai, a birth­day present from my hus­band. We loved it and started com­ing every few months for long week­ends. Dur­ing one of the first vis­its I met by chance my now busi­ness part­ner, who used to work for me in the UK. He had a job here with one of the big­gest five-gal­lon wa­ter com­pa­nies. We were talk­ing about the vol­ume of wa­ter drunk in the re­gion, the lo­gis­tics. An av­er­age wa­ter cooler in a UK of­fice uses 39 bot­tles per year. Here they were us­ing 10-20 per week.

There were no high-end fil­tra­tion com­pa­nies in the UAE and we dis­cussed open­ing a busi­ness. I made the move over in 2017 and No More Bot­tles started that June, mainly busi­ness to busi­ness, but ex­plor­ing how could we make fil­tra­tion pos­si­ble in the home. Now that’s 50 per cent of our busi­ness. We saw an op­por­tu­nity here and were in a po­si­tion where we could come and start a new life.

How much money can fil­tra­tion save?

Com­mer­cial cus­tomers are on av­er­age sav­ing 50-70 per cent of what they’d be pay­ing us­ing bot­tled wa­ter. An av­er­age fam­ily saves 50 per cent, if spend­ing Dh50 per week on bot­tles. We’re speak­ing to a num­ber of ho­tels in the re­gion.

When I came here it was mainly a com­mer­cial ven­ture, I didn’t re­alise the feel­good fac­tor of get­ting in­volved in a plas­tic-free UAE and the things we can do to make a dif­fer­ence. It’s a re­ces­sion-proof busi­ness. It saves peo­ple money and helps the en­vi­ron­ment, so it’s win-win.

What’s your best in­vest­ment? A plot of land in Scot­land we bought in 2004. We split the big coun­try house on it into two and built three houses around it. We still have plan­ning per­mis­sion for an­other 10 houses, so if this goes wrong we can go back and start build­ing again. But I be­lieve we’re in the right place, at the right time with the right prod­uct with No More Bot­tles, and this will be our best in­vest­ment.

Are you wise with money?

We learnt to be as we went along. I’ve been lucky, my hus­band is good with money, has al­ways been a saver and that rubs off. We’ve never had sep­a­rate money, any­thing we’ve earned al­ways went into the pot.

When we bought our first house, by the time we’d paid our mort­gage and bills we had £40 a week be­tween the two of us. That took us out at the week­end, fed us, got us clothed, travel to work. We’ve been care­ful and never had credit card debt.

Dur­ing the 2008 prop­erty crash we lost a great deal, but we came back. You al­ways keep enough to start again. My hus­band al­ways has the plan B, whereas I’ll al­ways go “I’ve got the vi­sion, let’s go for it”.

What are you hap­pi­est spend­ing on?

Hol­i­days, rather than pos­ses­sions, when you can spend time to re­lax with the kids. Bora Bora is on the hit list of places to go. Prior to Dubai, our favourite place was the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. We need to start go­ing East a bit more, though. I’m not very materialis­tic. My hus­band, on the other hand likes his cars and mo­tor­bikes.

Is there any­thing you re­gret spend­ing on?

A 4 Se­ries BMW bought in 2016 for £45,000. It had “run-flat” tyres, so any time one burst you had to or­der from Italy and wait three days for a new one cost­ing a for­tune. It had a nice body kit, un­til you hit a curb, £1,000 every time to re­pair – I must have done that four or five times. I was glad to see the back if it. Now I’m driv­ing a 10-yearold No More Bot­tles sign-writ­ten Land Rover. It’s prac­ti­cal.

What’s been your key fi­nan­cial mile­stone?

When we paid the mort­gage off on the fam­ily home – five-bed­rooms, de­tached on a nice es­tate, that we built our­selves – in our early thir­ties. In the UK we bought land, built houses, sold them on. Busi­ness was do­ing well.

Do you plan for the fu­ture?

We want to be re­tired by the time we’re 55. It was 50, but we’ve ex­tended be­cause of the busi­ness. We thought we’d come here, make some money and go back home, but we found we like liv­ing here. My hus­band wants to sail around the South Pa­cific and we’re look­ing at do­ing a joint ven­ture in Africa. Ev­ery­one’s go­ing to wake up to­mor­row morn­ing and need a drink of wa­ter.

An­tonie Robert­son / The Na­tional

Ms Fraser says fam­i­lies can make big sav­ings us­ing her wa­ter sys­tem

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