March 21, 2024

Teresa Sanders in the Vernon location

OKANAGANFILL – Vernon and FILL – Kelowna have saved an astounding 381,911 plastic containers from the landfill – the equivalent to 168 hockey rinks full of plastic – to fulfill part of their mission to “kick plastic to the curb”.

“Our whole mission is to reduce plastics in the environment,” says Teresa Sanders, who founded FILL – Vernon’s Refill Store at Polson Place Mall and is partners with Gabi Goossen in the Lakeshore Road store in Kelowna. “I thought of the idea after I read a post that said only 50 percent of plastics get recycled. It’s actually 9 percent, and when I saw that, I was horrified. I was an environmentalist, but recycling obviously wasn’t as streamlined as I thought, so I started to do my own research.”

That led Teresa to open a store where customers can fill their cleaning and hygiene products using their existing containers, and it’s been a huge hit with customers from Kamloops to Penticton.

“90 percent of what we sell are Canadian products and 50 percent of them are made in B.C., and they are mostly non-toxic, organic products, so there are less harmful chemicals going into our water ways and into our bodies,” says Goossen. “Because we work with so many local businesses, we have a circular economy where we bring our containers back to our suppliers to get them refilled.

FILL focuses on carrying competitively priced products from local suppliers like Mint Cleaning, OM Organics, Carina Organics, BottleNone and OM Naturale.

“I think a big reason people come is because of the range of products we offer, and they love the fact they are products that we can refill,” Gabi adds. “We have a very diverse range, and customers are drawn to what we have to offer.”

Teresa and Gabi both note the atmosphere in the stores is attractive to customers as well.

“We definitely have a great feel in our stores,” Teresa notes. “Our customers feel like they’re coming and hanging out with their friends, and our interactions with our customers continue throughout the whole shopping experience. People love us for our community involvement and the way we’re developing a community within the store. We know our customers by name, and it’s personal customer service.”

Gabi Goossen at the Kelowna location

FILL has won numerous awards, including the Retail Business of the Year and Small Business Award from the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, and the Green Business of the Year Award in the 2023 Pushor Mitchell LLP Thompson Okanagan Business Excellence Awards. In Kelowna, they’ve captured the Environmental Impact Award from the Chamber, and “Best of Kelowna Awards” for Best Zero Waste Store, as well as a runner-up for the most popular gift shop in Kelowna.

“We expanded into creating gifts, and we’re able to support our local artisans,” Teresa states, explaining the gift shop award. “We supply beautiful gift boxes for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and for corporate customers, so they can give the gift of sustainability.”

Besides pushing for more corporate clients, FILL is concentrating on personal home customers.

“We encourage people to go greener and reduce plastic waste,” Teresa says. “Our hand soap, dish soap and cleaners can be purchased in larger volume sizes to reduce their environmental impact.

We have also really stepped into the AirBnB and short term rentals the last couple of years. It’s been a great way to connect with the community, as when guests see they’re using refillable containers, it stays in their minds that they can be sustainable even on trips.”

Both stores have expanded rapidly, and FILL is open to franchising, with ideal locations being Penticton, the Fraser Valley, Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

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