Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Heather Jeffery, owner, and designer of Re4m Design and Fabrication Inc., located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are glorified garbage women! haha, but all jokes aside, we are a recycling design firm located in Ottawa, ON. We design and build furnishings, fixtures, and displays with rescued and recycled materials! This can be anything from custom displays for products, custom furniture, and furnishings to signage for offices and other establishments. Our materials are not only diverted from the landfill. They are also unique and come with a story. We work with local museums to repurpose their retired exhibits, construction companies to save old lumber from house renos, and with retailers to repurpose last season's displays. Most of our projects are with other businesses, but due to COVID, we have started working with residential more and more.
Tell us about yourself
I am an Industrial Design graduate from Carleton University in Ottawa, with a passion for the environment. Out of University, I didn't quite land my dream job, but I became a full-time graphic designer at a local Ottawa retailer. This is about the time I started thinking about making products out of waste because, in the retail industry, I saw ALOT of it.
On a few different occasions, the retailer would throw away outdated display units. However, the display units were perfectly fine - hardly any scratches! The retailer insisted that this was the easiest and fastest way to get rid of them. It surprised me that the retailer would prefer to spend money on junk removal rather than post it on Kijiji for another business to use. One day, they threw out a display unit that had about eight box-light fixtures inside. I couldn't watch it get thrown out, so I deconstructed it on the spot and removed the lightboxes for repurposing. I ended up repurposing the light fixtures into stylized "marquee" inspired lightboxes with interchangeable letters. I was able to sell each one for about 400$ each (Times 8!), and I quickly realized that this could be a great opportunity to help the environment while paying off tuition debt!
The Re4m Design and Fabrication Inc. business model was developed soon after I conducted some research and recognized that most businesses have a waste issue. Unfortunately, the commercial and industrial sector accounts for the majority of waste headed to landfills. Six years later, by working with businesses that are part of the leading sources of waste generation, Re4m Design and Fabrication has directly diverted over 8000 lbs of waste since its inception in 2016. This is so thrilling to me, and I am so excited to see what new waste I am going to reform each and every day.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
It's hard to narrow it down to one! But I would say that growing a business from the ground up is my biggest accomplishment. Additionally, Re4m has been recognized as Ottawa's best manufacturer in small business in 2019, winner of the 2019 eSAX Pitchfest, featured in the Ottawa SUN, won the 2021 BMO celebrating women grant, a finalist in the Nature inspiration awards in 2019, and featured in other local publications and the ZenBooks Made-in-Ottawa Product of the Year in 2021!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
For me, life becomes work.. and work becomes life. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. You lose yourself (and your savings) a little, but with the right people in your life, it's not too bad ;)
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
In my opinion, Firstly, You should evaluate your priorities in life! For example, Are you the type of person that wants to buy a house within the next five years? Start a family? Go on a long vacation? OR are you the type of person that wants to create something for yourself, be in control of your working life, find fulfillment in something that you've built? Because starting a business will take a lot of time, money, and effort!
Secondly, get advice from people who have started businesses in the industry you're interested in!
Lastly, make sure you have a supportive partner in crime (mostly mentally supportive); this can be a spouse, friend, business partner, or mentor.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
The photo of the Faux brick house façade in this article was made a year ago for a local shopping centre. It's made from 100% reclaimed materials! Everything right down to each individual brick, to the windows, and even the paint and the paints - all rescued materials that would have went to the landfill!
Green tip: Tim Hortons and Starbucks coffee cups can't be recycled in Ottawa! Not even the lids. The whole thing goes right into the garbage :( Using a reusable coffee mug goes a long way, even though it feels small.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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