Some days ago Ram from Bright3r approached me with handful of interesting questions. Most interviews I gave in the last two years are in Slovenian, but this one is for the broader audience, so I decided to publish it here as well.
Interview with Primož from Rifuzl
Primož Cigler is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Rifuzl, the first home supplies store in Slovenia that uses no plastic packaging. Alongside their mission to cut the use of single-use packaging, they are focused on locally and regionally produced organic products, thus providing everything a household needs in the healthiest and most environmentally-friendly manner.
When you walk through the door of Rifuzl, you see a beautiful organic-looking design with refill isles, refundable glass jars and even zero-waste supplies such as wooden toothbrushes and compostable sponges. But there’s much more to it than what the customers see. How did you set up your supply chain so that all the products get to your store with the minimum amount of waste?
After 2 years of experience, the short answer is this: with short supply chains, it is possible to source products 100% without plastic (or any) packaging. Simple, unprocessed foods like grains, tea, vegetables, fruit, chestnuts etc. come to our store in containers which we return to the producer. The more complex the product gets and the longer it travels before it arrives at Rifuzl, the more challenging it is to do it without waste, even plastic waste.
To us, it’s equally important that we source the products we sell in a sustainable way, without plastic packaging. Therefore once we begin working with a new supplier, we send them the document where our mission is explained and where we suggest ways of working with them such that there is as little waste produced in the supply chain – ideally none. It would be near impossible to supply everything completely without waste. We could source only locally, but that would have severe impacts on the broadness of our offering and therefore the very existence of Rifuzl and viability of our business model.
We have publicly listed 10 rules of our offering on our website. And at the moment, the 30 day challenge is taking place, where we take a photo of our trash in the shop every day before we empty it and comment on what landed there and why.
The concept of your store is a novel one and surely it required a lot of innovative approaches to make it work. What would you say was the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is
- on one hand being honest to ourselves and our rules of sourcing and offering and
- on the other hand still being competitive on the food market, therefore having a viable business model.
Sourcing locally means having lots of small suppliers, and generally each of them is hard to work with, because they are not business people. They are farmers. They do not understand how pricing works, how selling products to a shop is different from what they sell at home or at the farmers market.
There is a lot of overhead and manual work. Thankfully I have knowledge of software development, so I already automated a large part of it. But still, there are parts that cannot be automated. For example, in the middle of the season, the farmer runs out of the product we were selling, they do not tell us in advance and we should find another one quickly, or the customers get upset.
It would be soooo much easier if we only had a handful of professional B2B suppliers like bigger, non-zero waste shops usually have – they offer more competitive prices, you source everything from one business, they keep everything in stock. But that usually means products of lower quality, packaged in plastic or some other kind of packaging. And the customers don’t know who produced this food. Or if they were paid and treated fairly. Or if the land where this food grows is treated well or getting more contaminated with pesticides every year.
You received a lot of support from the community and continue to foster a very loyal customer base, which is a very important factor to success. How did you build this awareness and such a passionate following?
People tell us a number of reasons why they love Rifuzl so much. Surely it is because many can relate to our mission. Some know that it’s a lot of work to run such a shop. Some are persuaded by the personal, friendly and warm approach our shopkeepers have in the shop – we constantly improve our service. Some love our offering – what we offer in the shop. Some believe that our prices are very good (they really are, if you take into consideration the quality we sell and the service we provide). Some love our style of online communication.
All in all, probably it’s a mix of everything above which makes people feel that we are honest to them and to ourselves and that a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, hard work and knowledge is required for a shop like Rifuzl to exist.
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