Phoenix-based Refresh Glass collects more than 15,000 wine bottles/month from local businesses, turning them into glasses, vases; recent investment by business incubator boosts processing capacity by 1,000 bottle/day
June 3, 2013
Entrepreneur Ray DelMuro is counting on Phoenix-area wine drinkers to help him grow his business and reach a goal of keeping 10 million wine bottles out of landfills.
DelMuro, 35, founder of Refresh Glass LLC, is in his fifth year of turning wine bottles from restaurants and hotels into glasses, candle holders, vases and planters.
So far he has reused nearly 330,000 wine bottles, transforming them into 100,000 glasses, all with slight variations is size, weight and color.
"Each of those glasses has a story," said DelMuro, noting that the wine bottle might have been shared by people celebrating or drowning their sorrows. "It's not like these are Chinese mass-produced glasses."
Refresh Glass has a long way to go in reaching its goal of 10 million bottles, but steady growth since 2008 and a recent infusion of investment capital should speed things up.
Mac6, a Tempe-based business incubator, bought a 17 percent equity stake in Refresh Glass and is providing the company with 6,000 square feet of space in a Tempe warehouse and business-support services. The financial details were not disclosed.
The investment will allow Refresh Glass to increase its capacity of processing 1,000 wine bottles per day.
DelMuro said he plans to double his current payroll of six employees this year, including the company's first sales representative.
Refresh Glass and Mac6, its new partner, are committed to a business practice known as "conscious capitalism." The idea, espoused by Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, is that for-profit companies demonstrate a social responsibility that benefits people and their community.
Kyle McIntosh, co-founder of Mac6 with his father, Scott, said they started the for-profit incubator in November and are backing nine companies.
"We support a long-term approach to business instead of just looking at the quarterly profits," McIntosh said. "The other part is choosing companies that have a higher purpose than just making money."
Mac6's incubator businesses include reNature Inc., which creates fertilizer from food waste, and Endless Entertainment, which recently staged Phoenix Comicon.
"We picked (DelMuro) for the good his company is doing in taking all those bottles out of the landfill and doing something really cool with them," McIntosh said.
DelMuro explained that his Refresh Glass combines "the heart of a charity with the horsepower of capitalism."
He intends to make money but also contribute to the community. That includes helping Phoenix achieve its "40 by 20" initiative, diverting 40 percent of trash from landfills by 2020. It currently is at about 13 percent.
DelMuro is in the Accelerator Program of Entrepreneur's Organization Arizona, which provides mentorship and training for new businesses.
"Our goal is to try to get them to $1 million in revenue as quickly as possible," said Robert Clickenbeard, program chairman.
Running on empties
Refresh Glass collects more than 15,000 wine bottles per month from more than a dozen businesses.
About 160 shapes of bottles are sorted by color: amber, green, gold, clear and antique, which has a light-blue tint.
The vessels are cut in half after the labels and metal caps are removed. Then the top edge is heated to about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit to give the glass a smooth lip.
DelMuro, a former aerospace engineer, designed the equipment for this critical step in the process, and he is guarded about explaining how it works or having it photographed.
"This is the Willy Wonka part of the tour," he said. The finished glasses are packaged in a cardboard sleeve.
Refresh Glass sells a package of four 12-ounce glasses for $25 and four 16-ounce glasses for $30. A candleholder is $30, and a self-watering planter is $20.
DelMuro said he settled on his business concept because it combines the engineering part of his personality with his artistic interests.
He has an engineering degree from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and worked for five years as an aerospace engineer.
After quitting that job and traveling around the world, he came up with the idea of reusing, or "upcycling," wine bottles while working as a bartender.
He started the business with a pickup truck out of his garage and initially sold glasses at the First Friday art walk in central Phoenix.
"I figured out how to make a living doing what I love," DelMuro said.