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When we can’t get it second hand

Welcome to the 7th and last episode of our “Building a Low Impact Grocery Store” blog series! We’re finishing up construction at Nada and have learned a lot about how to build and renovate with as little impact as we know how. Over the past two weeks, we’ve been reflecting on this process of Nada and sharing lessons learned. As a reminder, our design ethic took us through the following questions:

  1. Do we need it? Are we sure we need it?
  2. Do we already have it?
  3. Is someone giving it away?
  4. Can we purchase it second-hand?
  5. What about pre-loved? Or reclaimed?
  6. Have we really exhausted our options for finding it second-hand?
  7. OK fine, if we really have to buy it new, what can we do to make this the best purchase possible?

We’ve already shared stories of the first five questions (click the text above to check out our blogs!), and today we’re looking at the final two questions together, as they form part of the same story.

The thing about appliances

The last area where we tried really hard to buy second-hand was with our appliances (fridges, freezers, dishwashers, etc.). Buying these items second-hand made a lot of sense to us. Not only were appliances one of the most expensive items in our construction budget, they can also come with a high environmental impact due to the resources embedded in the materials. But sourcing these items second-hand was also challenging for a number of reasons.

  • Because we’re selling food, all of our appliances had to be suitable for storing and displaying food in a commercial setting. This means that our regular second-hand sources of Craigslist, Bunz, and Kijiji probably weren’t going to cut it.
  • Because these items are very big, the entire design of our store is dependent on the size of equipment pieces – anything with even slight changes in dimensions could require major changes to the construction, plumbing, and electrical systems in our store.

It was a challenging ask but we ploughed ahead – and had a couple wins, lots of stories to tell, and a change in perspective along the way.

The success story

Our biggest success came with our freezers, which we got second-hand from our friends at Blue Sky Ranch (formerly Urban Digs) who were moving out to Merritt and selling off some of their existing equipment. As much effort as we spent sourcing second-hand later on, this first win came  directly to us through the SVI community – a connecting forum for mission-based entrepreneurs, which both Alison and Brianne are a part of.  We received an email through the listserv that Blue Sky were trying to sell of their freezers, and though we were early on in the process, we jumped at the opportunity. It was a good sign that second-hand was going to pan out.

The long search

Hot on the heels of finding a great piece of equipment from the Vancouver community, we began our search for second-hand appliances in earnest. Starting with local resellers in Vancouver, we reached out to as many people as we could to find the right make and model for our store. It was here that we really began to understand the constraints of second-hand equipment sourcing – none of the retailers we reached out to had any models similar to what we were looking for, with alternatives that were either much too old and without much life left in them, or a few inches over or under what our design process allowed for. The timing was tricky – even though we started this process months ago, by the time we found examples, the design plans were set in stone and it was too late to change paths from what was originally designed for.

We broadened our search to online resellers around North America, and continued to only find items that were older, less efficient, and less reliable. (A fun tidbit we found out that allowed us to avoid several scams: all refrigerators have a serial number that allows you to track when it originally shipped out from the manufacturer. Although several resellers told us that the equipment was like-new, we could look up the items to find that the items were actually from the early 1990s!)

The change in perspective

At the same time, we were hearing from a lot of experts in the retail field that we should be very careful about buying these items second-hand, as we rely so much on them as a food-oriented business. Reliability had to be the number one consideration.

In addition, from a waste & sustainability perspective, although second-hand had a lot of initial appeal, we were also aware that if we invest in really good equipment from the beginning it will have a longer life overall.

After feeling that we had given second-hand a really good effort, we made the call that in this case it would not be right for our business. Second-hand is a great option, but we understood that it we couldn’t be dogmatic. If you can’t find second-hand that suits your needs, and that has enough of a life in it to actually serve your business, in our heads we made the call for quality, reliability, and durability – which in the end we hope will pay some sustainability dividends as well!

Though it wasn’t what we were originally looking for, we were happy with this decision in the end. We opted for something that is made relatively close by, and that we know is a really good product that will serve us well and last a long time.