Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Michelle Stevens, Founder and CEO of The Refill Shoppe, located in Ventura, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ever-evolving and always innovating, The Refill Shoppe is an eco-awesome retail solution for the modern-day. Combining over 50 unique (and often customizable) bulk bath, body, home, and cleaning products with loads of vetted reusable swaps and cherry-picked bath products creates an authentic, approachable, and enjoyable experience to help people live more sustainably. Eco Made Easy. And fun!
We believe in love, gratitude, and doing the right thing. We share with you what we like to use and make everyday necessities extra special, just like you! We do what we do because hot bubble baths, clean people, lovely smells, smiles on faces, and a little less plastic in the world makes us so very happy.
The Refill Shoppe was designed in response to the mounting issues relating to plastic pollution, overflowing landfills, and recycling expectations vs. realities; the list, unfortunately, goes on and on. Single-use culture is destructively pervasive, and it is having devastating impacts on our environments on every level and scale. We can't just keep mindlessly consuming as the systems have been designed.
According to Frontier Group, the U.S. produces more than 30 percent of the planet’s total waste, though it is home to only 4 percent of the world’s population, and containers and packaging make up 29.7% of all of that trash. Despite what the old recycling narrative has taught us, plastic is a top-down problem. Unless we stop producing single-use plastics at our current rate, we will never end plastic pollution. (earthday.org)
Things were different when recycling first hit the scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s. America’s recycling system was multi-stream, meaning different recyclable materials went into different containers. People spent more time sorting recyclables, washing glass bottles, removing labels, and ensuring their blue bins were free of food waste. At the turn of the century, that all changed. China was a booming manufacturing market and needed all the raw materials it could get, so the country took all our recyclables, regardless of quality. This demand, combined with China’s lax environmental regulations, shifted global recycling from multi-stream to single-stream. People put all their recyclables — glass, paper, plastics, food scraps, pizza boxes, Styrofoam, whatever — into one bin, which waste companies collect and send to China for a hefty sum. With all this plastic coming into China, trash islands popped up, waterways and oceans filled with plastics, and animals made snacks out of bottlecaps and bags.
Meanwhile, countries like the U.S. ignored it. They kept collecting whatever passed as recycling and shipping it to the other side of the world. Out of sight, out of mind. That all stopped in 2018, when China, eager to address its environmental problems and improve its public image, abruptly banned plastic imports of anything with more than 0.5 percent contamination. America’s current recycling contamination levels are 25 percent, meaning one of four items in our recycling bins shouldn’t be there. In other words, when China stopped accepting our poor recycling habits, we were left holding the trash bag. (earthday.org)
Waste is an extremely serious, growing problem, and single-use plastic is equally massively concerning. Unfortunately, recycling, especially plastics, in particular, is no longer a viable solution. The Refill Shoppe exists to fight the war on waste.
Tell us about yourself
We only have so much life energy and a finite amount of time on this planet, so you absolutely have to consciously choose to focus on what is important to you. I became a small business owner for that very reason
I wanted to put my energy into something I believed in, something that's bigger than myself.
Ever since I was a child growing up on a sailboat on the bayou, mucking around in the Florida Everglades and sailing through the beautifully clear waters in the Florida Keys, I have felt a deep connection to the earth. In 2010, I had this wild idea for The Refill Shoppe and couldn't find anyone doing anything like it, so I decided to jump into entrepreneurship.
It really all began with a beautiful olive oil bottle and then buying a new bottle of olive oil to pour into the pretty bottle. While contemplating the 20-minute lifespan of that second bottle in the shower (the perfect place to ponder and wonder), an idea formed. Why not simply refill all the still perfectly good bottles instead of buying new ones every time?
I now see how this path is perfect for me and my ever-evolving why. When I started, I thought it was because I loved shopping and the earth. I have realized my real 'why' is my love of ideas and innovation in a manner that benefits all stakeholders. Ideas are my forte, and I am so grateful to have a reality where I can develop and utilize them. The Refill Shoppe was born out of a personal desire to be more eco-friendly but not wanting to make all of my products or go without. I work to make this easy for everyone.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I am most proud to be a trailblazer. The Refill Shoppe® is not only an early pioneer in the ever-growing zero-waste movement, but it was also the first of its kind. When we founded in July of 2010, the only refilling options we could find anywhere online were for printer ink!
We have continued to push boundaries by introducing our Sudscription program that offers zero-waste refills for over 50 products to be sustainably shipped right to your door! Ideas and innovation are my true passion.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The hardest thing that comes with being a business owner is that there will always be more new, different hard things. Being a business owner requires an impenetrable will to overcome hurdle after hurdle. Everything from personal growth, learning to have hard conversations, managing people, stressing over financials and constant tech support, to name a few. Having a growth mindset and the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other is critical to longevity and success.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
There is nothing quite like bringing your own ideas to life. The trick is to do so in a way that is both sustainable and profitable. Start small, where you are, and really flush it all out. Details are paramount. From there, grow smart, let your successes lead the way, and be sure you are learning absolutely everything you can. Others will help you along. There is no shame in asking for help or admitting what you do not yet know. Above all, listen to yourself, trust yourself, and believe in yourself—you’ve got this!
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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