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Zishiri makes millions from empty bottles


VANCOUVER — Theatre-schooled Richmond entrepreneurs Russell Zishiri and John Brinson plan to make a million dollars a year returning bottles.

That would be with the Recycle-Now! firm. Zimbabwe-born Zishiri founded the company in 2008 and the native Philadelphian partnered him in 2010.

How it happened sounds like a fanciful script. Still, here’s Zishiri’s account: Aged 18, and picked for the Under-19 World Schoolboy rugby-football team in 1999, Zishiri said he was sponsored to enter Australia by a Brisbane professional team.

When visa errors closed that window, he picked fruit for six months, enrolled at the University of Melbourne and earned a degree in information system management in 30 months while selling telecom services at a call centre.

Meanwhile, with his family’s farm in Zimbabwe appropriated, and Canadian authorities having rejected his immigration request, he arrived in Vancouver as a refugee in 2002.

Granted permanent residence in 2004, he sold the Yaletown condo bought while working at a Royal Bank customer-credit centre and went to study acting in New York.

He met Brinson at a Juilliard School audition and attended church and shows with him. Returning to unsuccessfully repair a Vancouver romance, he enrolled in and eventually graduated from UBC’s theatre school while selling for 1-800-GOT JUNK.

Brinson graduated from Juilliard. Hollywood lured, but didn’t deliver for him and choreographer-wife Sarah, whose parents are Canadians.

However, a side trip reconnected him briefly to former pewmate Zishiri, who phoned months later with news of theatre opportunities.

As for serving six bottle-returning restaurants with a $1 200 truck he’d acquired, Brinson recalled Zishiri saying: “We can make a billion dollars up here.”

More realistically, two weeks of cold calling got them 65 new clients, which they then had to service. “We were stuck in that truck for six months,” Brinson said.

“That’s when we realised that, to make money, we had to get out of the truck, put on suits and ties and focus on the sale process.” As for their business face: “You’ve got to make it fun, man. (Clients) don’t care about the truck, the cardboard, the bottles, the cans. They care about a good relationship.”

They care about deftness, too, as Memphis Blues Barbeque House co-owner George Siu showed by assigning them the chain’s toughest locale, a hard-to-access single bin. “But he wanted it done right,” Russell said.

Today, their client list tops 200, with growing numbers of hotels, office buildings and residential towers that can generate six times the recyclables restaurants do.

With-out taking their eyes from the bins, they see the bigger return Zishiri once promised. Referring to the $91 million worth of bottles Encorp Pacific (Canada) reports recycled annually, Brinson said: “Why can’t we get one per cent of that? It’s just a matter of how hard you want to work.”

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