Money & Me: 'I set up a business in the UAE after coming to Dubai on holiday'
Carol Fraser of No More Bottles first visited the Emirates for a 40th birthday celebration and saw a gap in the market
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.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I 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.
My best investment was 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.
How much did you earn in your first job?
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 did you 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. We said ‘if we don’t do it now, we never will’.
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 feel-good factor of getting involved in plastic-free UAE and the things we can do to make a difference. It’s a recessionproof 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’ve 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. We don’t get it if we can’t afford it.
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’.
There have been times when a house sale fell though, but it’s never been the end of the world.
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 anytime 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 kerb, £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-year-old 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.
Updated: November 1, 2019 03:40 AM