VAIL, Colorado - Annette Sprague had been bugging John Miller about reusable bags for a while before he bought a batch. Now, Miller's company has put Vail in the top five of a ski town challenge to keep plastic grocery bags out of local landfills.
Miller owns Vail Delivery.com. As the name implies, the company delivers groceries and other items. The vast majority of the business involves shopping for families coming in for a vacation stay. Miller and his winter employees get a list, fill it, then fill the condo's cabinets and refrigerator before the guests arrive.
Winter business has been good enough for Miller to hire as many as a half-dozen people during ski season, and those people sometimes make dozens of trips per day.
Miller started the business after moving to Vail nine years ago, right out of high school. He parlayed what he'd learned delivering pizzas and working at grocery stores into an increasingly popular business aimed straight at the heart of the well-heeled traveling public.
"I can't say enough good things about John," said Joy Dunham, office manager of the Lodge at Lionshead. "He's done a great job for our guests over the years."
Sprague, who's now the owner and guest services manager at the St. James Place in Beaver Creek, is similarly glowing in her praise of Miller's business, which she's known about since she was a concierge at the lodge.
A big believer in reusable bags, Sprague said she spent a few seasons bugging Miller about getting on the bandwagon. Plastic bags are more frail, and more likely to break and spill salsa - or something like it - which means a delivery person has to make another trip.
"Once he started using them, he realized how great they are," Sprague said. "It's so much easier to carry a load."
Miller said the idea of spending a couple of dollars each on 2,000 bags didn't make much sense at first. Now, though, it's all he and his employees use. Between giveaways at trade shows and taking bags out of service - his bags don't wash well, and aren't used if they get dirty - he's down to his last 50 new bags out of his batch of 2,000.
But the bags Miller's using are filled a lot. Every bag filled up for a customer keeps three or four plastic bags hanging in a store. If Vail Delivery makes 30 trips a day with five fully-loaded reusable bags, that's 600 bags that aren't used.
"We'd make sure they didn't miss a bag when we checked out," Miller said.
Of course, the 30-trip days pretty much ended when the local ski areas closed for the season. Miller usually takes summers off, since he doesn't take any time off during the high season. This year, though, he's been the only one working at Vail Delivery, foregoing any vacation time in order to get couple of new ventures up and running.
Aspen Delivery.com will start up there this fall, and a new company, Resort Delivery LLC, is being created in order to duplicate the Vail Delivery model in other resort areas.
"Our business is based on 'What do you want and when do you want it?'" Miller said. "I think that will work in a lot of markets."
And those markets will see their plastic-bag use drop, too.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.