Start Your Own Refillery

Start Your Own Refillery

In an age where we're facing deep threats to our climate health, sustainability is a growing value among individuals, businesses, and communities. While it's a common argument that individual action can only go so far, there is still value in the tangible, instantaneous impact of reducing your personal environmental footprint. Seeing a reduction in your energy bill, a diversion of your landfill waste, and watering your garden with collected rainwater are all examples of actions that motivate people to foster positive and sustainable living habits, and encourage those around them to do the same.

One of the advantages businesses have is that our choices and actions trickle down to our customers. Is it possible to make sustainable business choices and still thrive? Yes! Read on to learn how.

Why offer refills?

Offering your customers a refill option has a multitude of benefits:

Refills keep your customers coming back

  • Additionally, customers are willing to try more products if they don’t have to commit to a full amount or price. Offering products by weight allows them to try smaller amounts before deciding that they love the product(s).

Creates connection

  • Though they can be done quickly (see: tips), refilling will always take more effort and communication with your customers. This is an opportunity to create community and connection with your customers, which has been proven to increase returning customers

It shows you care

  • If your company values and/or mission statement mention anything about sustainability or environmental stewarding, having refillable options in your shop is a tangible way to show it.
  • Consumers want to support sustainable and socially responsible businesses. Offering refillable products to your customers shows that you don’t just talk the talk.

How to do it:

Offering refills can be overwhelming at the start, and there will definitely be a learning curve to figure out the best way for your business, but we’ve got some tips to get you going:

Assess your Clientele

Start Slow

Make a Policy

  • It is crucial that you have a sanitation system in place or quality assurance
  • Refilling comes with responsibility from both you and your customers
    • Ask customers to bring in their containers clean and dry
      • Moisture and condensation harbour bacteria, and adding new product to wet containers is only asking for trouble
    • Have alcohol and clean cloths on hand.

Make Use of Vertical Space

  • Keeping large containers and gallon buckets of product requires extra space, but stacking or shelving are easy ways to make the most of your square footage

Invest in some equipment:

  • Scales - important for accuracy and inventory. Selling by weight is much easier than volume for some products.
  • Funnels - essential for a mess & stress-free time.
  • Pumps, scoops, spoons, and spatulas

We interviewed Amy, the store manager of our sister company, The Apothecary in Inglewood, to get some insight and advice for businesses considering offering refills. Here's what she had to say:

What is the most challenging thing about offering refillable products?

    One of the hardest parts I find is making sure we don't order too much product or too little product. If we order too little, we will be out of stock for a while which is rather annoying. But if we order too much, we risk product going bad before it can be consumed or used. We hate wasting products, especially food so finding this balance is tough! Sometimes it can be tough too to meet ordering minimums... We try our best to order products from trusted, Canadian companies who know and understand where their ingredients are coming from. This means supporting other small/family businesses and also means they have shipping minimums to make it worth it for them. If we are ever out of soap, this is why!

    Lastly, I think it is a little challenging to get customers onto the idea of refilling. Being a long-time refill customer at The Apothecary, I expected more people to bring their own clean, dry containers. Don't get me wrong, we have lots of customers that do! But, sometimes people forget to wash their containers or forget them all together. Thankfully, we carry donated jars and re-used (and clean) mason jars for this reason!

How do you maintain quality of products?

    LOTS and lots of cleaning and ensuring each food product is sealed in a container (backstock and our floor stock). We also keep the batch numbers to make sure we never mix old and new products. AND occasionally, our staff will taste test the food products to ensure freshness (especially candy lol).

How do you determine whether or not a product is worth offering refills for?

    Often we have customers asking if we carry products in bulk, and if we notice patterns of customers asking for the same products, we will bring in that product on a trial basis. When we try new products in bulk, we usually purchase smaller amounts that way, if it doesn't sell well we aren't wasting products. Especially with foods as there are often expiry and best-before dates. Our warehouse team over at All Things Jill also makes such a variety of home and personal care products. Since they are located so close to us, it is easy to trial new products in bulk at our store. A recent example would be our muscle soak. We had a few customer inquiries and decided to bring it in in bulk! Our warehouse is making it anyways, so it's not hard to put some extra in a larger container for the store to sell in bulk.

What advice would you give to a new refillery?

    Have strict rules for staff to follow about how to keep and clean your store. Freshness of products are so important so coming up with a good system is key. Secondly, know you're doing a great thing for the planet and don't lose sight of your environmental goal!

Posted by Rosie on 7/7/2023 to News