Granolas. That’s how people from the rest of Canada call Vancouverites. They would eat organic, buy local, grow vegetable gardens, and stuff. But when Linh Truong moved to Vancouver ten years ago, it wasn’t that crystal clear, and that’s why she decided, then, to open a refill shop, first of that kind in town.
‘‘I used to live in Victoria were I was a customer of The Soap Exchange. When I moved here in 2009 I was expecting many shops to do refill and I was very surprised to find out there wasn’t. Selfishly I wanted one, so I opened my own shop in 2011 to offer the first refill store in Vancouver’’. The shop opened on Main Street, an avenue of boutiques and cafés, a shopping destination. Its name: The Soap Dispensary.
Indeed, Linh started out just focusing on soap, cleaning products and DIY ingredients to make soap and beauty products. She also ran workshops to teach people how to make products. The shop grew very quickly. ‘‘The response from Vancouver was tremendous’’, does she explain, still excited by the success of her concept: “ We serve our customers. You drop off your order and the staff fills everything for you, like when you order at a café at the counter”.
Linh’s background? A degree in Fine Arts. Her appetite for business? None: “Before opening the Shop, I worked with a lot of small independent businesses and thought I would never want to have my own business, because it never ends. But here I am!”
As a matter of fact, it never ends. Three years after the opening, the shop moved to a bigger location. And two years ago, it expended with the creation of a grocery store ‘‘because, of course, most packaging waste comes from food’’. Linh wanted to offer items that are hard to find in Vancouver. She installed bulk olive oil, vinegar, sauces of all sorts, cheese…. Ingredients you cannot usually find without packaging.
“The atmosphere is encouraging for businesses like mine”, does she explain. “The city of Vancouver is very progressive, we have composting city wide, we have one of the best recycling programs in the country… All these trends are developing”.
So far, in town, you are still not allowed to refill dairy products – milk, ice cram, yogurt – A new market to unlock? For sure, Linh doesn’t lack ideas.