Sam and Dom Moleta developed the idea for The Refillery while they were still living in New Zealand. They went plastic free for a month, choosing not to use straws, to use their own coffee cups, not get takeaways and to use only beeswax paper, amongst other things. Not only did they manage to last a month, but they realised that it was absolutely possible to make small but meaningful shifts in their lifestyle to move towards a single-use plastic-free life.
Naturally, the seeds of a business grew, and it’s at this stage that Sam and Dom learnt their first key lesson: In business, nothing ever goes quite as expected.
Before launch, the couple had carefully considered what solution would suit South Africa’s market, what they liked and didn’t like, and what suited their lifestyle as young parents. They didn’t want to launch a grocery store that was too niche or expensive either. Instead, they wanted to be able to capture a market that was willing to start making a difference and experimenting with less single-use plastic through a variety of different products at various price points.
As Dom says: “We aren’t trying to convert five people who do this perfectly. We want 1 million people to make a small change.” Well, at least to begin with. The Refillery has something for everyone, but the one major factor is that you fill your own recyclable packaging. If you’ve only started with two products, that’s fine by Sam and Dom. Their firm belief is that The Refillery’s share of basket will only grow as customers get used to the idea of life without single-use plastics.
But a great idea isn’t the beginning and end of a business. “Every day we learn something new,” says Dom. These aren’t necessarily huge challenges – many of them are daily speedbumps that must be navigated, but if they aren’t addressed immediately, they could become something more.
The mindset to accept and run with unexpected issues each day has kept Sam and Dom agile and nimble, and the couple personally made deliveries during the Covid-19 pandemic, can always be found in one of their five stores and are always willing to learn something new.
“There is always a way to be leaner, to trim away unnecessary costs that don’t add to the business or customer experience,” says Dom. “Things change, you just need to be lean, flexible and agile.”
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