Karen Cornelius’s story
Following 20 years of work as a veterinary nurse, Karen Cornelius found herself wanting to make a tangible difference to the environment. This meant leaving her familiar workplace and moving into the unknown territory of self-employment. Karen had never run a business before and really didn’t quite know where to start, but her lack of experience didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream. Needing support in lots of different areas of busines start-up process, she turned to Outset Cornwall, “I did some research to see what help I could get, and never having done this before the Outset programme ticked all the boxes for me. Meeting the other people on the course was great, and a couple are now regular customers. The Outset team was so supportive, I always felt I could make a quick call to one of the business advisors and get help with any issue I came across.”
Karen’s ambition was to find a way to help people to enjoy a greener, more eco-friendly life by reducing our impact on the natural environment. After a career spanning 20 years as a veterinary nurse, becoming a shop owner was not a natural next step, but following the Outset program gave her the confidence to push ahead, and allowed her to piece together a strong business plan during 2020. Not shy of hard work, and lockdown or no lockdown, she got straight to work, growing the business idea, putting the business plan into action, and in 2021 The Refill Hut was born.
The Refill Hut is a brand-new, packaging-free shop in the beautiful surroundings of London Apprentice village, just outside St. Austell. Selling all the basic household ingredients, from coffee to cashews, from laundry detergent to locally made facemasks, the shop is brimming with the highest quality eco goods you can find. The principle is simple, bring your own containers (or use the paper bags and jars provided), fill up with your chosen goods, and only pay for what you need. No packaging, no waste, and a very beautiful and pleasant way to make a difference to the environment.
As Karen explains, “It’s really about changing the way people shop, realising that our daily habits could help make that change. People really do want to do the right thing for the environment but sometimes don’t know how. I wanted to create an affordable and achievable way for people to make those changes, and this shop allows them to do that regularly.”
During the lockdowns of 2020 Karen and her friend Alison took on a large unit in Kingswood Business Park, on the banks of the St. Austell river. Alison wanted to open a farm shop and café and both felt the business would be very complimentary. They got to work renovating, painting and designing their individual retail spaces, and planning the launch of their new endeavours. Both shops were able to open in April 2021, an amazing achievement to go from lockdown project all the way to business launch in the middle of the pandemic. Karen was naturally a little apprehensive about opening, but Outset helped with her confidence, and the response has been great, with footfall growing steadily. Ensuring limited numbers in the shop, and adhering to all the guidelines, customers feel comfortable and welcomed.
While this may seem like a new concept, and way of shopping that differs greatly to the usual experience of a supermarket, as Karen explains, it really isn’t all that new at all. Many of her older customers really enjoy shopping like this, as it was in fact how communities shopped in days gone by. Karen is a busy working mum, and so fully understands the demands of the day-to-day life. Her ambition is to support people in making new and positive habits, but as she has found, “So many people are already well aware of the challenge our natural world faces, and are more than willing to adapt to new, greener, ways of doing things.”
A visit to The Refill Hut leaves you feeling so positive about the future. Karen has created a wonderfully bright, open and welcoming shop, where the environmental impact of our daily shopping can be drastically reduced. Not only that, but the care and attention Karen has taken in sourcing high quality ingredients, locally made goods and many beautiful eco products, makes this an exceptional shopping experience! Outset is continuing to support Karen throughout her business start-up journey, and we were delighted to catch up with her for this interview. To witness the fruits of her hard work, with the support of the Outset programme in action is wonderful to see.
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