Behind the Counter: Refill Nation Proves That Waste-Free Shopping is the Future of Retail

We here at Vend are huge fans of sustainability, and firmly believe that environment-friendly and socially-responsible businesses will thrive in the years to come. In fact, we’ve listed the continued rise of sustainability and the circular economy as one of our top retail trends for 2020

That’s why we’re thrilled to put the spotlight on Refill Nation — our latest retailer in Vend’s Behind the Counter series. 

Refill Nation carries a wide range of pantry staples, including nuts, flour, spices, protein powders, and a whole lot more. What makes its approach interesting is the fact that Refill Nation promotes “waste-free shopping” by encouraging its customers to bring their own containers or use the store’s brown paper bags. 

Since its opening, Refill Nation has helped save more than 105,000 pieces of plastic packaging from hitting New Zealand’s environment and landfills. Needless to say, we’re super impressed with the company’s commitment to evolving consumers’ shopping habits for the good of the planet. 

Beyond sustainability, Refill Nation also creates an incredible shopping experience that continuously drives loyalty among its customers. 

We could go on about how remarkable Refill Nation is, but we figured it’s best to let the company’s founder, Jackson Mulligan, to do the talking. 

We caught up with Jackson and asked him to share Refill Nation’s story and how the company keeps customers coming back. 

Let’s dive in!

1. Tell us a bit about how Refill Nation got started. What’s the story behind the business?

Refill Nation is a bulk wholefoods refill store. Our aim is to make zero-waste shopping as easy and enjoyable as possible. People can bring their own reusable containers in-store and fill up on our awesome range of organic and non-organic pantry staples, such as flour, nuts, spices, to protein powders, pet foods, eco cleaning products, grind-your-own coffee and peanut butter. Everything is paid for by weight.

Like many Kiwis, we’ve had to wake up to the shocking amounts of waste (mostly single-use plastics) that are entering our environment and landfills. I discovered a growing number of people – particularly in our West Auckland community – that also wanted to do better, but there just wasn’t the choice. To truly drive change, we need refillable and reusable alternatives – of quality – that are affordable for everyday shoppers. 

So this gave me the added push to leave my finance job and build Refill Nation. Since opening, our Refillers have helped us save over an estimated 105,000 pieces of plastic packaging from entering our environment and landfill. We’re stoked.

Refill Nation aims to be the shopping experience of the future for Kiwi households in a bid to help the planet and the next generation.

2. What are the unique things about your store that customers love? How do you keep people coming back?

We’ve definitely got our super popular products, like grind-your-own peanut butter, kombucha on tap, all-natural pet foods and treats, and our sell-out favorite: coconut rough.

But I think what makes people come back time and time again is the one-on-one relationship we can have with them. We love getting to know everybody, and being part of their efforts to reduce waste is meaningful. We swap recipes, advice, and knowledge, helping people to define what zero-waste living looks like for them in the context of their circumstances and budget. 

Because we believe it’s not about getting a few people to do zero-waste perfectly; it’s better we get everyone doing it imperfectly.

The biggest compliment is seeing more and more people bring their family and friends to meet us, and show them the store – we feel like a small part of what makes people proud to live in our community.

3.  How did you find Vend? Would you recommend Vend to retailers like yourself?

I came across Vend when doing my research on point-of-sales systems. It ticked all the boxes, and the free trial meant I could download the iPad app, have a play, and make sure it could do everything we needed.

I’m so happy that I have stuck with Vend. It’s honestly so easy to use, and training new team members takes only minutes, as the design of the system is intuitive and just really well thought out. Phew!

4. You mentioned that you like how Vend integrates with everything you need. Could you elaborate on that? What other tools or apps do you use with Vend?

Coming from a finance background, I was determined to find a POS system that could integrate with our website, EFTPOS, and accounting systems. 

Vend was the obvious choice because it can sync with Shopify and Xero. The reporting that can be produced from Vend gives me everything I need to track sales and inventory. 

Vend is a no-brainer for any store that wants to make the most of system integrations.

5. Could you tell us about how you’re using Vend with your scales?

Sure thing! With the scales, this is one thing we have not integrated which was intentional. The reason we decided to go with non-integrated scales was two-fold. 

Firstly, we really like Vend, and an integration was not yet an option. More importantly, we really encourage our customers to bring their own containers to refill. When customers bring their own containers we tare the container first and then deduct this weight at the end. Given that many of our customers do bring their own containers, an integrated system would not support this. To tare the containers we use our trade certified Arrow scales.

Our process for managing our weight-based sales is to enter the weight against the product in Vend. All of our weight-based products are loaded into Vend as kgs. If we weighed something that came to 600 grams we would simply change the quantity in Vend to 0.6.

Vend’s website also has some great examples that we referenced when creating our process.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.