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Inspiring Conversations with Kelly Murphy of Refillery LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Murphy.

Hi Kelly, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
In 2017, feeling unfilled with my corporate job, I resigned and took off to travel for a few months. While abroad, I experienced amazing natural beauty, but even in the most remote locations, plastic pollution was always present. Sometimes it was as small as an errant water bottle, but other times it was a beach covered in garbage or a vacuum cleaner sitting on the reef at the bottom of the ocean. These images stuck with me and I knew that I wanted to make changes beyond the reusable shopping bags and water bottles I was already using. When I returned home, I immediately started to implement changes in my life to reduce my personal waste. Quickly, I discovered that this was not a trivial task. Consumer household goods such as shampoo, dish soap, and detergent all come in plastic containers. Then, I recalled the bulk stores I had stumbled across while traveling that allow you to bring your own container to refill everything from shampoo to laundry detergent. I searched for something similar, but I struggled to find a store like this in my neighborhood.

Eventually, I decided to look into opening my own refill store. With a limited budget and retail space in L.A. being some of the most expensive in the country, a traditional store was out of the question. Then, my boyfriend suggested a brilliant idea. Why not convert his surf van into a refill store? Being mobile would allow me to service a larger area while keeping startup costs low. Not only that but, I could also make house calls to residences and businesses. After a couple of months of build-out and prep, Refillery LA became the first mobile refill station in the US. We make no-contact house calls around Los Angeles and have a pop-up in Mar Vista the first Sunday of every month. Based on feedback from customers, I’m regularly adding new bulk products and zero waste items that are both good for people and the planet. The business is evolving every week, and I’m excited to see where this journey will lead as we reduce plastic pollution one refill at a time.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Starting any business is always a challenge, but being a mobile adds its own set of unique problems. We don’t have the constant physical presence of a permanent store, so we must work hard to maintain an online presence and try to be consistent with regular pop-up locations. Since our launch, it was exciting to see our efforts starting to pay off. But in March 2020, the global pandemic hit. Surviving it has been our greatest challenge to date. With corporate offices shutting down and pop-up locations such as farmer’s markets and events closed, many of the locations our business relied on were simply no longer available. We were forced to pivot to a new business model or shut down. In these desperate times, being mobile actually turned out to be a blessing. It allowed us to continue to service customers by going to them with a house call service we implemented. Customers can now book an appointment through our website and choose either a no-contact visit and leave their bottles on the doorstep to be refilled or a social distanced visit where they can still experience our mobile store with guidelines in place. Although it’s been a struggle, we have persevered and I dare to say, even become stronger as a business. We are so thankful for our customers that have stuck by our side through these difficult times. We are hopeful and excited to see where this journey leads us as things start to reopen and the world gets through this together.

As you know, we’re big fans of Refillery LA. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Refillery LA is a mobile refill station working to reduce plastic pollution by offering eco-friendly household goods in bulk for refilling. We encourage customers to bring their own containers and reuse them to reduce waste. Common household products such as shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent and more are available for refill, and more products are frequently added to our selection. In addition to refills, we also carry a variety of zero waste items such as bamboo toothbrushes, coconut husk scrub brushes, and reusable shopping totes. We are the first mobile refill station in the U.S. and regularly make house calls and appearances at local events in addition to having regular pop-ups each month.

What does success mean to you?
For us, success is defined by our community impact. To fix the problem of plastic pollution, there needs to be policy change on a grand scale but we believe that this starts by influencing people at the grassroots level. Our goal is to educate the community about how plastic is filling up the oceans and destroying our planet and provide them with an alternative to buying products packaged in single use plastic so they can reduce their own personal waste. If we have encouraged even one person to change the way they look at waste and take steps to reduce their environmental footprint, then we have succeeded in our mission.

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Image Credits:

Photos by Lawrence Lee

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