Michael Martin’s goal for his reusable cup company r.Cup comes across as both unnervingly daunting and elegantly simple.
“Think about any time that there’s a single-use plastic item used,” Martin says. “How can that be replaced?”
Martin, a longtime environmental activist and founder of the Minneapolis-based r.Cup, wants to end reliance on plastic items that are used for minutes only to sit in landfills or float in the ocean for hundreds of years.
And right now, the music-business veteran has his sights set on an industry he knows well: concerts.
The company recently wrapped a six-date run at First Avenue in Minneapolis, offering concertgoers who bought draft beer the opportunity to use an r.Cup.
How does it work? Instead of taking a drink poured into a standard disposable plastic cup, an attendee puts down a $3 deposit to essentially rent an r.Cup. It’s a high-quality plastic cup, branded for the specific event or venue, that the individual can use the rest of the evening.
At the end of the show, that person chooses to either return the r.Cup to get their $3 deposit back—or keep it.
“We had, especially on social media, a lot of positive feedback, folks saying that they liked the concept and that they were interested in trying it themselves at the next show that they went to,” says Ashley Ryan, First Avenue marketing director.
On the surface, r.Cup’s proposition is straightforward. But it’s also asking concertgoers to reconsider ingrained behaviors. That type of consumer education is no small feat.
“We wanted to make sure that there was an education happening along with [the trial],” says Ryan, “not just, hey, there’s $3 you have to pay. We wanted to make sure people kind of got the concept.”
“It takes a while,” Martin says of building familiarity with the product. “It’s a matter of communication.”
Patrons aren’t the only people he needs to convince. Venues have to believe r.Cup is superior to whatever they’re currently doing and worth the effort. The biggest challenge on this front, he says, is making it “as straightforward and easy” as possible.
R.Cup makes its money on the $3 from unreturned cups, kicking back a varying small percentage to the venue, Martin says. Ryan says there was no expense to First Avenue, nor did they need to change staffing.
Martin declined to reveal the number of cups taken and returned during the run, citing confidentiality agreements, but says he was excited about the positive response from fans, while calling the First Avenue crew “phenomenal.”
Martin notes he’s in talks with venues around the Twin Cities but wouldn’t name any. He’s also eyeing other industries—sports teams and facilities, followed by zoos and aquariums.
Whether r.Cup continues at First Avenue is TBD. Martin expects to, but Ryan says they’ll likely do a sales analysis before committing to anything. They’re interested, though, with Ryan noting it’s part of “a social responsibility feeling we have as a business.”