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Owner Laura opening the front door of Byrds Filling Station in San Mateo California

Retail Partner Highlight: Byrds Filling Station

Plaine Products partners with over 270 retail stores and refill shops across the USA to make our products more accessible for you. We are pleased to share with you one of these stores, Byrds Filling Station, to tell you more about them and their history. Read on to learn more about Byrds – it’s so inspirational to read how far they’ve come so quickly! (And if you are looking for a retail store near you, search here.)

What inspired you to start Byrds Filling Station?

In 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle published a multi-page story about plastic pollution on our beaches, and one woman’s efforts to eliminate single-use plastics from her life entirely. By ascribing to a Zero Waste lifestyle, she was able to avoid all of the plastics that the article depicted in the photos of broken laundry baskets, cracked water bottles, and the carcasses of animals who had starved to death due to bellies full of plastic. While it took me a while to get my head around this article, I challenged myself to complete ONE WEEK of grocery shopping for my family of 4 without any single-use plastics. Knowing it would be difficult, I set out confidently but was still surprised when all I could buy at the local store was a baguette, a dozen eggs, and a little bit of fresh produce. At that point, I realized that eliminating plastics was not something that our society was set up to allow us to do… which made me want to do it even more, and I had this hunch that others wanted an easier way to shop sustainably, too.

Tell us about the early days, how did you get started?

From the point where I realized our world was in trouble if we didn’t make it easier to avoid single-use plastics, I started looking for the products that weren’t in plastic, shopping in bulk food bins at our local grocery stores, and shopping online to learn about better ways to purchase the items we needed. Friends and family started to take notice and ask where I found solutions to certain items, so I decided to stock a few of my favorites (including Plaine Products!) in a hallway closet and could give easy access to people who were open to it. That led to finding spots in local farmers markets to really spread the word about plastic-free living and building a website for online shopping options. We started with a milkman-style delivery service that we were able to continue during Covid, but I always knew that there was a much larger plastic-free world than could ever fit in a farmers market tent… so we needed a store!

What do operations look like now? What area are you serving?

In June 2022, we opened a storefront in downtown San Mateo that carry bulk refills of every major necessity that a household needs. We expanded our personal care from shampoo and conditioner to include all sorts of hair products, a complete cosmetics line, skin care and sun care, as well as cleaning products for every room of the house, and even expanded to food.  We offer the largest bulk food selection on the San Francisco Peninsula, along with coffees, teas, spices, fresh organic produce and dairy, and even fresh baked bread.  We strive to be a one-stop shop for people who are looking to eliminate waste – particularly single-use plastic – but also to choose clean ingredients that won’t further air, water, or home pollution.

What are you most proud of?

When people walk in our store, they are floored by how many items we have been able to bring under one roof that don’t use single-use plastics. The comments about, “Wow – this is phenomenal” mean that our message resonates with people who may be interested in lowering their carbon and waste footprints but have been struggling. When someone new comes into our store, we welcome them not just to shop for the day, but to a community. We frequently introduce customers to other customers in the store, or strike up conversations that lead to outside events (jewelry swaps, film screenings, etc) with members of the community… allowing us to engage with people not just to drive a profit, but to educate and be a support system.

What has been the most challenging?

SUPPLY CHAIN – no question. This year, California was slammed by some gnarly atmospheric rivers (13, to be exact), which took our state almost entirely out of the mega drought. While we welcomed the rain, the damage caused by that quantity of water in such a short time led to many disruptions in our supply. For the last 3 months of the year, we have been dealing with manufacturers and distributors who couldn’t ship product, or would have delays of weeks over their normal shipping times, or back-up distributors who lost packages or couldn’t deliver either. Things seem to be calming down, but making sure that our bins are full of the products that our customers have come to know and love keeps me up at night.

What are your most popular products?

We sell a large amount of bulk coffee – more even than some of our large grocery competitors!  People enjoy fresh ground peanut butter so much that when our supply chains snarled, we bought 180 pounds of it to make sure that we could get through the month.  We also have a very popular tea and spice rack that will be doubling in size in the near future.  Laundry detergent and dish soaps probably take the top prize for most sold items.  It’s a wonderful feeling to stop buying 5 gallons of laundry detergent because we really need 30 gallons…

What are the hardest zero waste items to find?

Great question – the one thing that I really wanted to find was cheese, but I can’t seem to figure this one out without putting in a true deli counter.  Some other things that have proven tricky are Ball jars (I know, sounds weird, but it’s true) and snack foods.

What are you excited about for the future?

After going to Expo West this spring, we have a big investment in the works to be able to add more inventory. Unfortunately, some of the supply chain difficulties have delayed this a bit, but it’s getting close now.  We anticipate that we’ll be able to truly be the one-stop shop for plastic-free (or at least very low-waste) groceries and necessities by summertime.  I’m as excited about that as the customer who once shouted, “I can buy everything I need here and break up with plastic overnight!” as she held a butternut squash over her head.

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