by John McCurry/contributing writer
Grocery delivery is booming in the coronavirus era. One of many companies that has seen business rise dramatically over the last several weeks is Atlanta-based Roadie, a rapidly-growing startup specializing in crowd-sourced delivery for businesses.
“The crisis is obviously having a profound effect on our business,” says Founder and CEO Marc Gorlin. “Volume is off the charts. We are seeing intense demand for essentials like groceries, pharmacy and home improvement. I think the home improvement part of it is just so that people don’t go crazy while they are at home.”
Roadie, which transforms ordinary drivers into delivery drivers dropping off packages as part of their normal routines, reaches more than 90 percent of U.S. households. Gorlin declines to reveal most of the grocery clients Roadie serves, but says it ranges from Lucy’s Market, a small gourmet grocer in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, to Walmart. He says the grocery sector is among the top three verticals served by Roadie. The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled Roadie to usage increases of “thousands of percent,” he says. The increase has been across all geographies.
“Our activity in bigger cities, which probably started out with already having delivery, is probably more concentrated, but we are delivering groceries in small towns as well,” Gorlin says. “Retailers need to be able to reach everywhere.”
Gorlin says the widespread shelter-in-place environment across the U.S. is transforming the perception of grocery delivery from a convenience to an essential public service.
“What is crazy is that this change almost happened overnight,” he says. “The retailers we work with—including Walmart, Home Depot and Tractor Supply—are opening up delivery capacity at warp speed. New customers are moving at speeds we’ve never seen before. It’s been amazing to see how quickly they can ramp up.”
Grocery has been a growing segment of Roadie’s business and that has accelerated in recent weeks. The coronavirus crisis has compelled shoppers to give delivery a try. Gorlin says it’s a horrible set of circumstances, but people who are used to going to the store are now opting for delivery.
“Delivery is appealing to a wide range of demographics and that may continue even when the pandemic ends,” Gorlin says.
Grocery delivery is not a new concept by any means. Grocers made deliveries long before the internet. Milk deliveries were once commonplace. While younger generations have welcomed online deliveries in recent years, other generations are also turning to the service.
“I think Millennials are good at saving time and figuring out who else can do things for them,” Gorlin says. “This crisis has pushed other groups of people to make the technological leap and go online and order the goods they need. Millennials are early to embrace new technology and services. But older folks now need it and can really benefit from not being in public spaces.”
Helping those in need
Gorlin offers a recent example of how online ordering services can help those in need. He was driving to Athens from Atlanta for an event and a delivery was scheduled from Walmart to a legally blind woman named Lisa in Athens. Since he was already heading to Athens, he offered to make the delivery in person.
“Lisa is legally blind, and she lives with her father who is disabled and her husband works,” Gorlin explains. “She orders groceries from Walmart every two weeks. This is not just a service of convenience for her; it is essential. Otherwise there would be no other way to get those groceries there without a lot of hardship. It really brought to bear with the illustration of a single human being how much this is helping people. There are hundreds of people like her out there.”
Gorlin predicts grocers will increasingly turn to technology and will invest in the optionality of how to get things to their customers. There will likely be a big impact on longtime behaviors.
“Customers have been telling us they want delivery for a long time, so grocers are going to figure out,” he says. “If the customers can’t get to the store, how can we get the store to the customers? Separate from what we are doing, the grocers are going to be looking at the optionality of their whole supply chain and figure out how they are going to find multiple ways to get multiple products. Delivery is not valuable if you can’t get your supplies in to get the shelves stocked. So you have to look at it from top to bottom.”
Gorlin conceived the idea for Roadie in 2014 when he was trying to complete a home improvement project at his Florida condo. He was in Montgomery, Alabama, and trying to have some broken tile delivered from a supplier in Birmingham.
“I was looking out at all the cars going north and south on I-65,” he recalls. “I thought, there has got to be someone leaving Birmingham right now, heading to Montgomery, who could bring it to me, instead of me going all the way there and back to get it. If I just knew who they are, I would give them 20 bucks to throw it in their van, if they are already coming this way. That sort of set the idea off.”
Roadie has since grown into working with large enterprises across multiple sectors. This includes helping airlines deliver lost baggage and making deliveries for small businesses such as flower shops and pharmacies.
What is his advice to grocers during these uncertain times?
“Embrace technology now and figure out ways to bring the store to your customers,” he says. “Crowdsourcing like Roadie is a good option, whether you are a regional grocer or a national grocer. We cover over 90 percent of the U.S., and we have over 150,000 drivers. We give them the option of not only handing your regular deliveries, but we can also scale up when something like this happens.”
Gorlin asserts that in times of emergency, a distributive work force is more powerful and comes with fewer points of failure, which means businesses can be more resilient.
“You can’t make revenue if you can’t get your product out,” he says. “This is especially true for grocers. Not only for grocers, who typically sell to people who live within three to five miles of their stores, but for many other small businesses as well, this is a way to get things out to their people, whether city or small town.”