Ginette Matthews shows off some of the wares at The Local Refillery. Photo by Femke Overmaat

Pandemic meant going digital quickly for Courtenay’s Local Refillery

Owner Ginette Matthews says system keep business open in its early months

The Local Refillery had only been open weeks last year when the pandemic struck and lockdowns were imposed.

The Courtenay business offers a variety of items, all without packaging, but like so many other businesses, it had to adapt quickly. It opened its doors roughly this time last year, but six weeks later everything went into a flux.

The store, located on Fitzgerald Avenue, sells items like refillable health and hygiene products, laundry detergents, dish soap and other cleaners, along with healthy food items. The business, which has ‘Zero Waste’ as its mandate, had what seemed like zero time to adapt.

Owner Ginette Matthews said the plan was to add some kind of online component after a couple of years, but that part of the business plan got moved up well ahead of schedule.

“My guess would’ve been like two years we would have rolled out an online store and delivery,” she says. “We had to do it … in like six weeks.”

She ended up working with the store’s point-of-sale company, Square for Retail, to set up the website and allow the business to keep operating.

“It essentially just allowed us to stay open. There is no question about it,” she says.

As a grocery the business could have stayed open, but they chose to close their doors because of the health concerns. Without the online component, they would have had to close completely and lay off everyone, but once they were set up to process their online orders, they could start bringing back some of the staff.

Another advantage has been that the system updates the store’s inventory in real time. Much of the package-free product sells by the 100 grams, so keeping track of it can be a challenge, but the system allows The Local Refillery to stay on top of what is being sold as it being sold. For example, if someone orders 400 grams of bath salts online, the store staff can pull the material aside right away.

“It makes it really smooth for us,” she says. “Our inventory is a big deal…. We’re always ‘live’ on our inventory for both online and in store.”

Alyssa Henry, seller lead at Square, says in a news release that many retailers did rush into online sales because of restrictions on in-person sales, but the challenge goes beyond simply making a product available on a website and includes aspects such as inventory control.

“The real difficulty in selling online for any retail business owner is not just being able to accept an order; it’s that sellers must digitize their entire operations to do so,” she says.

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley Farmers’ Market set for online shopping

Because of the pandemic, it’s no surprise The Local Refillery is not alone. Locally, organizations such as the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market have opted for online technology this past year for people to sell their wares, and the trend is happening everywhere. According to a Fortune magazine article last July, many businesses started using e-commerce for the first time ever as they faced the challenges the pandemic had forced on brick-and-mortar stores. For some, it’s made all the difference.

One year later, The Local Refillery is open, planning a change or two, but doing “really well,” says Matthews, adding, “I’m thankful that our doors are still open, so I’m trying to just stay focussed on that.”

The store is located at 420 Fitzgerald Ave. in Courtenay. You can get more information by calling 250-871-6600, emailing localrefillery@gmailcom or going to

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