How a couple's homebuilt narrowboat toilet turned into a booming Hillmorton business with worldwide customers

Nigel and Lorraine planned for a peaceful retirement on a narrowboat - but they accidentally stumbled across a brilliant business idea

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 11:13 am
Nigel Flude and Lorraine Pritchard.

This week the Advertiser continues our project where we visit independent businesses across the borough to see how they are doing as the lockdown continues to ease.

Toilets - we don't think about them very much, but they remain somewhat of a necessity - and in our second instalment of this series we bring classic entrepreneurial tale of a couple who saw a need, made their own item and quickly turned it into a booming business.

In 2019 Nigel Flude and Lorraine Pritchard were looking forward to retirement and, to that end, they had bought the bare shell of a narrowboat - aiming to lovingly fit it out and spend many years cruising the waterways in peace.

When it came to fitting out the bathroom, the environmentally-conscious couple were set on eschewing chemical toilets in favour of a composting toilet - but they saw nothing they wanted on the market.

"A lot of the toilets weren't user-friendly, and their designs were horrible. Many of them were made to look like something from a space ship," Lorraine said.

Lorraine asked partner Nigel to look at building something more suitable.

Nigel knew the main assembly of the toilet had to be made of fibreglass - something he had never worked with before.

But a combination of the practical skills he learned in his decades as a carpenter and joiner - and some Youtube video tutorials, saw him able to put something together.

Lorraine was deeply impressed when she saw the finished item - which featured a sensible, stylish design and, uniquely - some electrical additions to make using the toilet easy.

They shared a picture of the loo on Facebook and quickly became inundated with people asking if they could buy one themselves.

At this point the couple, previously looking forward to a peaceful retirement, realised they had stumbled on the makings of a booming business.

They called the business Compost Toilets and began making the loos in their home, rapidly selling units.

Customers loved the toilets - with the addition of an electrical churning system, a sensor to tell the user when the loo needs emptying and an odour-free operation.

Things went from good to even better when popular narrowboat Youtubers Colin and Shaun Dobson-Fox of the Foxes Afloat channel bought a toilet and uploaded a video to explain how impressed they were with it.

"To date that video has had 84,000 views," Lorraine explained.

"We've had loads of customers ringing up and saying they saw it on the Foxes Afloat channel and they want one for themselves."

Business was soaring, and it certainly showed at home.

"The house, the garden and the garage were just full of toilets," Nigel said.

"Our kids have left home and even their bedrooms were just full of the toilets," Lorraine added.

The couple realised it was time to rent out their own unit and a want to be near a canal saw them find Unit 8 at the Locks in Hillmorton.

Nigel said: "It had been stood empty for a while and at the time it wasn't even for rent - but we got in touch with the owners and we were able to move in."

The business continued to thrive through lockdown - with the toilets being bought to be fitted in narrowboats, motorhomes and caravans.

At the time, Lorraine was working as a carer - but the volume of calls and emails coming in meant that she had to cut her hours and, eventually, move to being at Compost Toilets full time.

Some unlikely customers during the lockdown were NHS staff.

Lorraine said: "We sold a lot of units to NHS staff because they were having to isolate in a separate room in their homes.

"For them, the choice was a bucket, a chemical toilet or our toilets."

And as lockdown lifts and the demand for staycations soars, the couple has seen sales continue to rise.

"Glamping is now a huge thing as well, we had someone from a glamping business call the other day and they wanted to order six toilets."

With units being exported as far away as Australia, there is currently a lead time of 10 weeks.

"We wanted to set up a little showroom but we're struggling to keep anything in there - we'll put something on display and someone will call in wanting the same item," Lorraine said.

The couple's loos are already serving friends of celebrities, with Tyson Fury's site manager opting for one.

As for the couple's narrowboat project? The business has, for now, forced its progress to drop anchor.

"It's still sat in a field near Warwick," Nigel said.

"We're hoping to get it on the water later this year and we'll fit it out from there."

The boat is named 'All The Time In The World', in honour of Lorraine's father Barry.

Lorraine said: "My dad is a retired foundry worker, he worked hard for years but now his favourite phrase when he sees us all running around is, 'I've got all the time in the world'.

"So we decided to name the boat after his favourite phrase. He absolutely loves it.

"As a tribute to him we're going to put a cast-metal clock face on the side of the boat - but all the hands will have fallen off to show we've got all the time in the world."

Visit composttoilets.com to learn more about the business.