“We are here to care for the future generations of all species.” That is a bold statement. It happens to be the motto for Durango’s newest business, WeFill. Forward thinking owner and biologist Cristin Salaz created her business model to be a part of the pollution solution. WeFill is a refilling station for household and personal care products: dish soaps, household cleaners (all purpose, laundry, toilets and drains), castile soaps, shampoo and conditioning bars, and shampoos for babies and pets. Her mission is to limit the amount of plastic containers in circulation.
Cristin said most of the garbage floating in the ocean is plastic. She was so affected by this that she went from room to room in her home to count all the plastic containers. “I was astounded by how much two people and a cat wasted! I remember how my grandparents, even my parents, shopped without all the waste we see today. There used to be a milkman that refilled out glass bottles. We have gotten away from that. I decided to open a store for people to refill their plastic and alternative to plastic containers.”
The first thing Cristin did with her idea was contact the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Fort Lewis College. Several years ago, Cristin met with Joe Keck to discuss a business plan. She recalled how helpful the experience was. Regarding WeFill, there was no business model to emulate. Cristin first spoke with SBDC Deputy Director Mary Shepherd. “Mary was excited for me and found the idea unique. She has an open-door policy and said for me to come in with any questions, regardless of how silly they may seem. I came in with a list of questions and Mary put me in touch with the right people.”
Cristin met with business operations advisor Carl Malmberg. He helped her understand financial projections. “I didn’t have to know all the answers but I had to decide what my budget was going to be. Carl showed me how to do financial projections on a spreadsheet and had me fill out my personal goals and business aims. All of that goes into the business plan.” Cristin will utilize the plan to see how she can adjust her operation and monitor patterns over time.
Patty Zink was another SBDC advisor Cristin met with. Patty’s background is in marketing and sales. Her advice for Cristin was to network herself. Patty suggested Cristin join Durango’s Chamber of Commerce and the non-profit organization Local First. Both are deeply invested in the community. Those groups would put Cristin in the position to market herself and talk about WeFill. “Patty also told me to get better with social media platforms.”
Hannah Birdsong, SBDC’s office manager, shared a related perspective. Hannah offered two recommendations. The first was to use Instagram as a social media platform. The second recommendation spoke to the qualities Cristin should look for in people she would employ. “Hannah thought it would be best to hire people who have a similar personality to mine. A personality that I, myself, would like to be greeted with. This quality can’t be taught.” Cristin continued, “Hannah also suggested whomever I hired should understand how to use Instagram. I hired two people. I refer to them as my team rather than employees. They take care of the Instagram posts (and teach me how to do it) as they learn all the business quirks and how to talk with customers.”
WeFill opened their doors December 15th. “We had one hundred plastic containers refilled within the first three days of business. We want all our products to be made from plant based materials. Reducing the amount of plastic is our number one goal. Reusing is number two. If we can reuse plastic, that is the best. People feel good after they refill and walk out our door. We view WeFill as an education center too. We can teach and learn tricks from our customers as well. We listen to our customers and take their suggestions.”
Cristin is in the process of applying to SCAPE’s (Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs) 2019 Accelerator program. Acceptance would allow her to pitch WeFill to potential investors and mentors. She hopes to advance her business and improve her model. “I recommend SBDC one hundred percent to anyone looking to start, or grow, a business. I have made numerous recommendations to my friends already. SBDC is so well rounded. They have helped others and have seen so many businesses succeed. They can assistance with anything. Everything from how to start a business to the nitty-gritty of financial matters. They know it all.”