How to Succeed in Your Grocery Delivery Business
Interview with Urban Grocery Affiliate Don Stachelek
Don Stachelek is an Urban Grocery Affiliate using the Urban Grocery Delivery System in Pittsburgh, since April 2009.
Don saw the need for grocery delivery service as he delivered products to disabled customers. Later, was laid off and researched and purchased the Urban Grocery Delivery System.
Don delivered some food to a wake for the editor of a senior magazine to help her out. Unexpectedly, that resulted in an article in the magazine.
Don covers all of Allegheny County and the business is growing every year. There are 950 names of customers in Don’s database.
The business provides a steady income and pays the bills. The business is rewarding more than just monetarily. Don is concerned about the welfare of his customers, and goes the extra mile, such as putting their groceries away.
Richard: How would a new affiliate get into the grocery delivery market?
Don: Every city has a senior service agency. They are having staff buy groceries for people and delivering them. You can shop and deliver for less than what it costs them to deliver. Some agencies have both senior services and disability folds. Some are home care agencies that just deal with seniors.
It’s just a matter of making a phone call or two and trying to come in and talk to them. Most places are anxious to find another service that they can provide to seniors or those who are disabled. And it’s not just seniors or disable, I have several clients who just don’t like to shop.
Richard: Apart from the senior market, how have people found you?. Do you have a promotion budget?
Don; I hit the bricks. I did a lot of cold calling on agencies and with a lot of local churches, while a good avenue I wasted a lot of time doing that. There are so many apartment buildings. In Pittsburgh there are over 300 apartment buildings. I put brochures in apartment buildings as often as I can. I j have a little brochure made up about my business that just says grocery delivery service. I print them at home; , I don’t get them printed professionally, you don’t need to do that, don’t go through the expense. You put up little posters outside the elevators whenever you’re in a senior high rise or any apartment building. Drop off some brochures on the table at the apartment buildings.
Word of mouth is great. I find that to be the best means of advertising. I get calls all the time from people who want to advertising for me (11:00 I’m not big enough to advertise, in my mind. I don’t want to go through the extra expense of paying four or five or six hundred dollars for advertising when for me word of mouth it goes pretty quick. If you provide a good service for somebody it happens quickly. It’s Just a matter of waiting your turn.
I don’t have a budget for advertising; I don’t have time to worry about that aspect of the business. Maybe if I did I’d be bigger than I am, but I’m staying pretty busy.
Richard: Other than reaching out to seniors, which has been huge and a primary focus, any other kinds of things you’d recommend to do?
Don: Get in front of people as much as you can. I have an appointment set up next Tuesday and the following Tuesday. All of these big apartment buildings have weekly meetings of one sort or another. Senior high rise buildings have support coordinators that they want people to come in and talk to their residents and let them know what’s out there. They’re not there to endorse you but they’re there to provide information to their people, to let the people make a determination if they want to use you. The meetings for me last about half an hour. It’s not like you are spending a lot of time there. Grocery delivery service is not a complicated service so you can’t get in depth about a lot of things because all you are doing is providing a service of taking their order, picking up their order, delivering their order so it’s not real complicated. I have meetings as often as I get calls for, I never turn them down.
The congressmen have meetings; they have yearly get togethers that they have for seniors. I attend those as much as possible. Congressmen are a good source of information because they want you to be at those meetings, because you are providing a service that is direly needed in those situations.
Richard: Do you focus on senior buildings or other buildings, too?
Don” Both. I know the seniors definitely need me. There is a lesser chance of getting people to use your service out of a normal, quote younger crowd. Just because of the way business is nowadays. I really thought my goal would be to help people in the north hills, but I spend very little time in the north hills now, most of it is in the south hills. ..
Thanks for sharing that. It sounds like in proportion to your efforts, and you have really done a lot of basic, inexpensive things, like printing up some fliers, I guess they are 8.5 x 11 size, or what.
Don; they are half size, 4.25 x 5.5 inches. I use card stock. I print it on card stock so it’s a little more durable. Of course it’s in color so it looks good. The idea is just to get people to read it. If they used you once maybe they’ll use you again. I had orders today from one end of the county to the other…
Richard: If you are a new business, a new affiliate using our system, how long would you tell them it takes to get started, like weeks, months, half a year?
Don: I think, it’s not a rich quick type thing. If you make contacts every day for five months, six months, you will be doing fine. You’ll get some orders coming out. Even offer an incentive, like maybe the first order don’t charge for delivery, or try another gimmick to get people to try you. As far as making money, the investment for the software is not that expensive in my mind; I thought it was reasonable. Monthly charges for the computer side of things which Richard takes care of I think is very reasonable. I just like that it’s the type of system that a dumb Pollock like me can use…
As far as where you determine where you get your groceries for these people, I try not to let them tell me where to shop because, I don’t do store brands or generics in my situation. If you get tied into a situation where the customers want generic, I just tell them I don’t do generic. If I know a certain item is on sale at a certain store I might gear my purchasing that day, depending on the quantity of the orders that I have to a different store… I use major plyers, Walmart, Target…
Richard: I know that at least initially you did set up the database on your system for one key store, and that’s how it is more basically set up. Is that still true?.. Right now I use one store primarily for 80 % of my business. It allows me the luxury of entering orders on my system and then getting a pick sheet that allows me to follow from row one to forty six. Just by walking through the aisles I can pick the orders as I go along from row one, row two, row three.
Richard: And that should be a lot quicker, right?
Don: Oh, definitely, because you’re not ruining.
I just had a call from my cousin in Ohio who asked how do you do that grocery business? Well, it’s just a matter of staying on top of things, finding out when things are being moved around the store, which you can do that just by walking in the store. It’s important to have a backup source for inventory. I don’t go shopping. I am not a shopper. I hate shopping. I use it as a warehouse. I know where the products are on the shelf, so basically I go to that store/warehouse, pick an order, pack it up and deliver it to a customer. That’s easier for me to think about it that way, because I don’t like shopping. I am not going to go into a store and pick this price or that price; I know what I want.
Richard: Is there anything else that you want to share with us about running a grocery delivery business, especially that you think would be helpful for someone just getting started, or in general.
A couple other items that I think are needed to provide a good service to clients is, have a freezer in your vehicle. They’re not that expensive. Actually, get a freezer, they have little portable ones now that hold 30 frozen dinners maybe and ice cream.. You don’t want your ice cream to be melted by the time you make a delivery. If you have a freezer, it’s like $160 for the one I have, works great, people get their ice and ice cream frozen, which is a good service you are providing for the people. Because they can’t even do that themselves. They go to the store and buy ice cream; by the time they get home it’s melted. So if you can tell them that I don’t bring your ice cream (melted) to you, it’s a plus. .. I don’t use the store’s bags, I use cloth totes that I reuse, so they don’t know where I am buying the products from.
Richard: I would suggest that. We use now both folding crates and we have totes with covers that you can typically get at Lowes.
Don: I use totes too. I got them at Lowes, actually.. The lid is part of the tote. I use them whenever I can, because I have a dolly that folds up real small, like 180 lbs., and you can put a lot of groceries on those totes. And today I had one order for $380. If I had to carry all of those bags in I would be beat.
Richard: I would definitely recommend using a flat cart or fold up cart for apartments and office buildings.
Don: A lot of times if you go into houses or apartments that don’t meet ADA requirements, you have steps to deal with, so you can’t always use your totes as much as you would like. All the senior high rises have to have ADA requirements, so you can take a tote in there. You can also make a lot of deliveries using cloth totes.. I usually pick between five and seven orders at one time. That’s confusing sometimes, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it so whenever I do check out at the checkout I take advantage of having everything already organized. One thing you want to definably have is a tax ID number so you don’t have to pay the sales tax, that’s important, to save you some money up front, because it’s hard to get reimbursed on taxes from the government. ..
Richard: Right, I would recommend that, and then the Urban Grocery Delivery System charges the appropriate tax and you can pay it that way.
Don. Right, right, and the system provides you with a lot of information at the end of the year. It gives you all of your sales totals, all your tax totals; everything you need to file your taxes.
Richard: That’s interesting, you mentioned about multi-picking versus single picking. I’ve tried both, I prefer single picking, but I see you are making it work. Are you keeping the orders separated all the way through checkout, or are you aggregating stuff and resorting it after checkout?
Don: all the way through checkout.
Richard: Because if you don’t you will have to re-separate it.
Don: I’ve been known to have two shopping carts so I can keep separate better.
Richard: How do you separate the orders while you are shopping for multiple orders?
Don: I use on the top of my (pick list) page, depending on the size of the order I might put an arrow pointing to the right, arrow pointing to the left, arrow pointing down to the right and down to the left, that’s four orders right there, and for an additional small order I may put it on the top shelf of the buggy. It takes a mind picking it and remembering what people buy. Most people buy the same product over and over and over again. With the Custom Order form that is part of your software package, it’s great because I can go there, I don’t print it out but it’s easier to pull the numbers off that; I pull the product number.
Richard: Do you use the combined order form, I guess not, because that combines everything together. You have like four, five, six separate order forms?
Don: Yes… I use separate ones. When I first started I had a little office away from the house here that I was paying rent for. I would buy everything, take it to the office and sort it. That’s not the best way to do it. It’s a pain in the butt. To me, anyway. I like keeping the orders together. I sort them one time as I’m picking them. I actually do all the bagging of the products myself into my sacks. Because I can check in my mind, because when I get these orders I know what’s on them. The cashier likes having that feature. It’s my mental way of checking things out.
Richard: It would also depend on the size of the order. If it’s a very large order you probably would not do a bunch at once, I would assume.
Don: Right, right, it’s not practical because it might take up a whole cart with one order.
Richard: so you’re putting things in the front and back of the cart and if it’s a real little order in the top of the cart?
Don: Yes. I can usually get three to five orders in a cart, depending on the size.
Richard: So how do you separate them?
Don: It’s a challenge, so I use my (cloth) totes. So it’s in the sack already, so when I go to checkout I empty the totes and put them back.
Richard: So the (Urban Grocery Delivery) system can help you with logistics..Thanks for coming on today. Any other advice for starting the business out? Sometimes people think that if you just put your website up people will start ordering, but I don’t think that’s true.
Don: I don’t think that’s true either. You’ve got to do some leg work. Go out and meet people, or make a phone call to an agency. If you want to get involved and help people out with groceries, put forth a little effort in, it pays off in the end…
Richard: We now have an app on the Google Play store and soon in the Apple App store.
Don: If anyone has any questions about what I do or how I do it, give me a call.