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The Face Behind Park Market & Refillery: Meet Erika Minkhorst

The Face Behind Park Market & Refillery: Meet Erika Minkhorst

Sustainable living focuses on making cautious lifestyle choices that preserve and benefit our beautiful planet. Over time, sustainable living slowly gained more attention, however, there seems to be a common trend of “I want to, but I don’t know how.”. If you’re trying to live sustainably, the changes you make don’t necessarily need to be drastic from the start. The key to making a change is understanding that a little goes a long way. This is where Founder of Park Market & Refillery,  Erika Minkhorst, is here to help.

While enjoying her honeymoon in New Zealand, Minkhorst embraced the sustainable lifestyle the country seemed to thrive on. After her time spent there, Minkhorst and her husband Jeff, couldn’t help but wonder why these sustainable resources weren’t as readily available back home. With this in mind, she set her mind to making a difference in her community, leading to the success of pop-up and delivery-based refillery market, Park Market & Refillery. 

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I was always an athlete growing up. I went to university and studied Kinesiology, specializing in Sports Management. That’s where I started my career. I also was very passionate about kids from my experience at summer camp growing up and I am so thankful for that opportunity. I took my two passions, kids and sports, and was lucky enough to land an internship at Right to Play, an international non-profit organization that uses sports as a tool to empower and educate kids facing barriers. I stayed there for 3 years and worked my way up. I moved onto my next sports-focused non-profit opportunity at Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment (MLSE), where I stayed for about five years. So my first 8-10 years of work-life was all about sports and fundraising, where I had the chance to work with all sorts of businesses.

How did you get the idea for your business & what inspired you to do what you do today?

In the back of mind, I always wanted to start my own business and be my own boss, which I feel like is a common feeling. But for so many people, they don’t know or how. It was like I was always waiting for that inspiration to hit me. Over the last 3-4 years, my partner and I have become very aware of our impact on the environment and started to think about it more. It can get pretty overwhelming when you think about sustainability and your role as a consumer, but we just tried our best to seek out new resources and become knowledgeable. 

It was actually on our honeymoon in New Zealand, we came across a brick and mortar refillery and I immediately fell in love with the idea. You’re telling me that I can just bring my containers, fill them up and skip all this plastic in between? That’s amazing! After going home I quickly found out these refilleries weren’t as readily available back home. Mind you this was in 2018, so there has been a drastic change since, but there wasn’t any in my area. I found they were mostly in Toronto and closer to the west coast. That’s where the light bulbs started going off while I thought about my passion for the environment. So, I figured I needed to dive in headfirst and all of a sudden it consumed my whole life for a month. It happened a lot quicker than I anticipated but soon enough I was handing in my resignation at MLSE and leaving my dream job to focus on my passion.

How did you guys learn how to run your business from ground up?

I was lucky because, during my time at MLSE, it was only my first week when the idea for MLSE Launchpad came to the forefront. So being there from ideation all the way to launch, I had a bit of experience based on seeing everything come together. Other than that, I had no experience doing this. When people started calling me an entrepreneur, I was like wait, that’s hilarious. This is like imposter syndrome, I’m not an entrepreneur! And then I kind of realized, well, you just become one along the way. It was a lot of trial and error, trusting your gut, and talking to a lot of people who had been in my position.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

We had tons of momentum at the end of February into March. We had a great spread in the Hamilton Spectator, a great calendar lineup of pop-ups, and such a great schedule going for us. The last pop-up we had even had a line-up for three hours, which was just incredible thinking of where we started with me sitting on a street corner. Then all of a sudden COVID hits. It kind of took our business model and flipped it upside down. Luckily, we had a delivery program operating and because we sell hand soaps and cleaning products, we were considered essential. So although we never had to shut down completely, it affected us where we were not able to operate in certain ways anymore. Through a lot of communication and pivoting day to day, at the time it felt like we were able to translate our pop-up customers into deliveries and we saw a huge spike in the delivery program. Of course, we experienced a hit from a revenue standpoint, but I count ourselves very lucky compared to other businesses who had to struggle a lot more.
We also increased our safety measures, with constant sanitation and wearing masks during deliveries. Although our front of house has been quieter throughout the pandemic, on the back end we have been doing a lot of work during this downtime. 

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Do you guys have any plans for the future/where do you see yourself in five years?

We definitely have some big plans in the works. Now that we’ve secured our space, we will be revamping our delivery program to make it easier for customers and allow us to scale it much better in hopes that we can be Ontario wide in five years. What’s nice about our new space is that we have a small retail front and a large back warehouse, so that will allow us to test if the retail experience is what the consumers actually want, or if our delivery service is more successful. Ultimately, we want to reach more people and make it as easy as possible. The biggest thing for me is knowing we live in a convenience culture and as much as I would like to think that everyone will spend the time bring their empty containers in, in today’s fast-paced environment, I just don’t think it will happen. So my goal at the end of the day is creating a solution that is fast and easy and that is actually affordable. Then they basically don’t have an excuse!

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to start a business?

Just do it! It’s so cliche to say that, but I’m very much an analyzer. It’s kind of like getting a puppy, it’s never a convenient time to take the plunge, but if you want something and believe in it then it can work. Go in eyes wide open, do your research, educate yourself, and become as close to an expert as you can. At the end of the day, if it’s something you’re interested in, just do it. The coolest thing is that you think you can’t do it, until you’re like, wait – I did it! If you have the vision, you’ll reach it one day. 

To learn how Park Market & Refillery works, click HERE. 

Follow them on Instagram @parkmarketandrefillery.

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