Sunday, January 1, 2012

Relay Foods

An e-mail arrived in the mail at some recent point announcing that Relay Foods has attracted a big injection of venture capital, owing in part to the enthusiasm of its customer base.  Relay Foods, since you ask, is a grocery delivery service based in Charlottesville, VA, with a recentish expansion to Richmond; the core of the service involves taking orders for groceries (mainly) from local businesses (including local farmers), packing them in appropriately insulated boxes, and delivering to local pick-up points. (It's also possible to arrange home delivery, free I think with minimum order of $50.)

I watch with interest, since RetailRelay,com, to use the firm's original  name, figured in a book I was working on in 2008-9, immediately prior to signing on with Bill Clegg.  The ms was up to a respectable 61,253 words, but it was not clear that this was the best book to finish and publish next. 

With the wisdom of hindsight, life would have been incomparable simpler if I had forged ahead and finished the book, whether or not it was best for #2, during July-September 2009, before talking to an agent and having LR sent out by default because it happened to be finished.  (The problem was that there were difficulties with film rights which I somehow imagined an agent might help to resolve.) 

(I DO rather wish I had gone down to C'ville to give a reading of LR, as one reader suggested; I could have talked to local participants in Relay Foods! It would have been helpful for research!)

In any case, as a tribute to Relay Foods I excerpt the section relating to this excellent service below the fold.  (Needless to say, Relay Foods bears no responsibility whatsoever for the reflections of the character.  For what it's worth, it is the view of pp that anyone in the Charlottesville or Richmond area who is not already making use of the service is missing out on a good thing.)
He goes back online because what do we ever do these days except go online?  No doubt he had reasons.

And he runs another search for Pepperidge Farm Brussels, and this time he finds a place that is selling them for $3.39.  Which is exactly what the Internet is for, it helps you scout out the cheapest price nation- or even worldwide.  The question is, obviously, what they charge for shipping, given that the other place offered free shipping on orders over $100.  He fills in an order form for 25 packages, bringing the total to $84.75, and he then fills in his address in hopes of discovering what the shipping charges will be.  They offer free pick-up twice a week, that is you can go and pick up the order; as it turns out, the first delivery is also free.  So this is definitely a good deal and is definitely the place to go, except wha-?

Apparently they will only deliver if you live within a something-mile radius of Charlottesville. So. Right. When they deliver they deliver personally to your home, it seems, in their own personal delivery vehicle. The next question being, naturally, OK, where is this place?

He runs a search for Charlottesville and unsurprisingly gets hits in 23 states. He returns to  He clicks Home. He clicks About. He clicks Contact Us. He clicks every damn place he can think of, but he is unfortunately unable to narrow down the location of the firm, not that he doesn't pick up a lot of other information in the process. 

What the firm does is, it takes orders online for a wide range of groceries and other retail items, and two days a week customers can stop by and pick up their bagged orders which will in fact be carried to the car on their behalf.  Or, if the customer lives within the designated radius, they can have a delivery to the home.  Either way, saving the customer the hassle of going to the store and picking stuff out and standing in line at the check-out.  They're advertising, interestingly enough, for what they call an operations manager, or rather operations team member, which turns out to be a combination of retailer liaison rep and delivery truck driver, 20 hours a week, $11 an hour.  Which is not without its appeal, though probably better suited to someone with a valid driver's license.

In its way, actually, the whole thing is not without its appeal. If he moved to Charlottesville, wherever that might be, he would not be eligible for the gig as operations team member for another 4 years, but in the meantime he could definitely avail himself of this seemingly cool service. You could definitely make a case that a man without a driver's license would be better off in an area where groceries can be home-delivered at no or negligible cost.

He clicks around some more and ascertains that the Charlottesville in question is, in fact, in Virginia. In fact the place he clicked turns out to be the Contact Us tab, so he can't see any obvious reason why this would not have been obvious the first time around.

One thing that occurs to him is, this could actually be a different way to socially engineer your life.  AA has way more than the national average for suspended or endangered licenses, because a DWI is often the wake-up call that brings people to the program in the first place, whether on their own initiative or because a sympathetic judge thought it would be good for them. So it could be that members would give themselves a better chance of a manageable life if they moved somewhere like C'ville.  Given that, as previously noted, AA does not go in much for orchestrating van rentals, deliveries, bulk buys.  You can imagine the security you would feel in a place where you could stockpile your 7-year-old cheddar and your Pepperidge Farm Brussels, but where the other stuff, the impulse buys, could be conducted online for convenient home delivery.  Plus, it specifically says in the ad that the Operations Team Member needs to be highly-motivated, flexible, hard-working, able to solve problems quickly and under pressure, detail-oriented and organized, as well as extremely friendly and personable.  Think how great that would be to live in a place where just ordering in your groceries gave you face-to-face interaction with a friendly detail-oriented Operations Team Member.  (And not just ordering in your groceries; all kinds of local retailers participate.  Dog and Horse Lovers Boutique.  Pandora's Chocolatier.)

There's a dim image of a pleasant possible life projected on the mental screen. He can dimly see himself in some local level of job, putting in time, maybe, at a McDonald's, building up credentials, showing that he can be personable and friendly without alcohol, without a kilt, as well as hard-working, highly motivated and detail oriented, to the point where somewhere down the road the current OTM gets a promotion. That or the company expands and needs another OTM. At which point Scotty, with his driver's license, can put in an ap. Be part of a team which is part of a business which is part of building a community.  It could happen.

The only thing is, though, that images of future lives and plans always come to him dimly now.  They don't come zapping into the brain with the flare of certainty and immediacy, the call to instant action, which had characterized bright ideas in the Day of the Kilt.  If something has the capacity to come about by being drifted into, it may well come about.  If it needs decisive action - but see, just the phrase "decisive action" makes him feel tired. (Which, be honest, is not what they seem to be looking for in their Operation Team Member, quite apart from the missing license to drive a motor vehicle.)

(And, be honest, even if the eminences grises of Charles Chips could be tracked down, the hirers and firers who take on local distributors and cast them aside, they too are probably not looking for the kind of local distributor who wants to lie down as soon as the phrase "decisive action" surfaces in the meat in the bonebox.  In fact, the reason their contact details are not readily available through is probably precisely to put off the kind of idle speculator who goes online in search of his grandmother's potato chips and then casually thinks it would be totally wild to drive a truck delivering potato chips and pretzels and cookies with proprietary tins.

RetailRelay is a start-up, and they have a single local base in Charlottesville VA; they can safely advertise for an OTM online without fearing hordes of the idly curious. If they had been in business for over 60 years, operating nationwide, they too would probably make it harder to find out how to get a job with them.  Charles Chips, he reckons, is probably deliberately playing hard to get so the people who do manage to seek them out will be a self-selected pool of genuine contenders.  He sees that, he acknowledges that, but this too is merely a dim recognition, it's not some kind of call to resolute action. Not that he has a driver's license, anyway.)


Anonymous said...

FT. Nice start to the year!

Anonymous said...

Haha just realized I absent-mindedly bought the NYO instead of the FT. Way to go me. 2012 off with a bang.