First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mike Newman: We are all doing our best to safely navigate this uncertain time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Returnity.
Mike Newman: I became passionate about sustainability from an early age – probably because it runs in my blood. My grandfather ran his own scrap yard, collecting up metal, paper, and glass for recycling. My father built what became the largest used phone refurbisher and recycler in the world. I always wanted to study environmental policy and be involved in some way. I received my MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Over the last 20+ years, I’ve worked at the intersection of supply chain and sustainability; I directed the Sierra Club’s political operations in 20 states and built e-waste programs which saved millions of used cell phones from landfills for companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Walmart, and Best Buy during my tenure as the Sales and Marketing Vice President for ReCellular. One of my connections, Brian Spaly, introduced me to Returnity because I was really interested in their mission-driven business, and eventually I took over the company as CEO. I am proud to be considered one of the leading experts in transforming logistics platforms from single-use to circularity, reducing the mountains of plastics and corrugated cardboard entering our waste stream while saving millions in packaging expenses.
How does Returnity innovate?
Mike Newman: Returnity Innovations is the pioneer in the elimination of single-use shipping packaging and delivery. Returnity designs and manufactures reusable boxes and bags and builds out solutions to empower the systems necessary for the shipping and delivery of reusable packaging, allowing the national and international companies we work with to shift to the new circular economy. Returnity has replaced millions of single-use shipping and delivery bags and boxes through the strategic integration of their innovative, reusable packaging.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Mike Newman: Efforts to tackle the plastic waste problem were certainly affected by Covid-19 as, after months of lockdowns, we collectively became more dependent on single-use plastic bags, containers, and utensils due to health concerns prompted by the pandemic. To directly address concerns, we teamed up with Polygiene to create a reusable packaging product treated with Polygiene’s ViralOff antimicrobial solvent. By prioritizing safety with antimicrobial coating for our packaging, we have provided a legitimate reusable option that consumers can feel good about – from both a safety standpoint and an environmental one.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mike Newman: The week before the pandemic hit, we went to Dairy Queen to celebrate a major sales win – only to see that contract canceled due to the virus. A key choice for us was to decide on priorities and timelines in parallel. We knew we didn’t want to have layoffs if at all possible – but that wasn’t going to be possible forever. By picking a timeline to sustain through, we knew as a team what kind of sacrifices we had to make as individuals to make sure we could see through that window. And as revenue started to recover during the summer, we could celebrate together as a team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mike Newman: There are some great companies tackling reusables in slightly different ways, and you need not look any farther than our fellow finalists shortlisted in the Beyond the Bag Challenge, selected from a pool of 455 submissions across 60 countries.
As far as staying in the game, we have been finetuning our approach to reusables and effective logistics systems for years, and we understand how to do it the right way. A recent partnership that we are particularly proud of is our work with Happy Returns and FedEx. Happy Returns’ Return Bars have a network of over 700 Return Bars nationwide which allow shoppers to easily exchange and return without printing, packaging, or person-to-person contact. The experience lasts under 60 seconds, and shoppers receive refunds immediately. All items bulk-ship inside Returnity’s eco-friendly, reusable boxes—leveraging low carrier rates and aggregated shipping for economies of scale—to Happy Returns’ regional Return Hubs, where they are sorted, dispositioned and processed. Happy Returns and FedEx just announced their new collaboration (just in time for holiday shopping) to grow the Return Bars network by more than 76%. As of this month, shoppers can bring their online returns to more than 2,000 FedEx Office stores nationwide, which includes more than 340 Walmart stores that have FedEx Office locations inside. Initiatives like this are great examples of how reusables like ours can help companies transition to the circular economy.
Your final thoughts?
Mike Newman: The pandemic has impacted every industry, including ours. Amid major loss and change, opportunities are emerging for innovation, such as our partnership to coat packaging with Polygiene’s ViralOff antimicrobial solvent. Consumers have experienced firsthand the value that eCommerce offers when purchasing in-store became more difficult. We are committed to designing and manufacturing cost-effective and lightweight boxes and bags and logistics systems that are continuing to disrupt the wasteful, expensive, and environmentally harmful shipping packaging market.