Unlike many peers, Quality Dairy launched delivery before COVID-19 forced its hand.
The local convenience store chain based in Lansing, Michigan, began small. Customer orders were sent from one of the chain’s 26 locations at first, with an average of about 10 deliveries a day using the company’s own drivers.
“We took a while to build up some drivers,” John Christensen, retail operations manager for Quality Dairy, told C-Store Dive. “I used to, during heavy days, go pick up some products and deliver them to customers myself. Everybody kind of participated at the beginning.”
Delivery made sense for a company as integrated into its community as Quality Dairy. The retailer touts its ability to provide new services to customers in line with their needs, said Christensen. That’s resulted in laundromats at some stores, a bakery, digital EBT payments and its variety of well-known dairy products becoming available, such as its hand-dipped ice cream.
“That definitely differentiates ourselves from other c-stores,” said Christensen.
QD also offers larger bulk business-to-business deliveries for things like cookies and donuts. "That's probably one area that I think we can build the delivery business up," said Christensen.
Quality Dairy is enough of a mainstay in the Lansing area that news of it adding delivery made local news.
“This demonstrates how strong small regional brands like [Quality Dairy] are in their markets, even if people outside those markets don’t know their names,” John Nelson, CEO and founder of Vroom Delivery, told C-Store Dive in an email.
Ramping up delivery
Quality Dairy’s delivery journey began at a NACS convention several years ago.
“Vroom Delivery was at that convention,” said Christensen. “And [Quality Dairy leadership] liked their presentation so much. They were just getting started, and we decided we’re going to get on board.”
The company went live with Vroom Delivery in August of 2018, starting at one location in downtown Lansing. It delivered more than 2,000 items, including dairy products, alcohol, baked goods and more, within an eight-mile radius.
The delivery program grew up gradually, as Quality Dairy got the word out and more of its customers came on board.
“We did advertising, things like that in stores,” said Christensen. “Banners. Social media really took off.”
During the height of COVID-19 lockdowns, Quality Dairy added curbside pickup to all of its stores and expanded delivery to three locations. But as things opened back up, it has pulled back slightly due to labor reduction during COVID-19, among other factors.
“Currently we have two sites that deliver, but the downtown store is open the most hours and receiving the most [orders],” said Christensen.
The site that no longer offers delivery still has a drive-thru.
Some issues on startup
Quality Dairy experienced a few hiccups with its initial delivery rollout. The first was getting everything it wanted available for delivery into the mobile app, since its back-office software didn’t integrate directly with Vroom.
This led Quality Dairy to use Vroom’s import tool, which helps retailers access the delivery company’s CPG database of of images, categorizations and sanitized product descriptions, said Nelson.
But while that helped with the process, Quality Dairy still had around 2,000 SKUs that needed to be put into the system. “Importing those, mirroring up pictures, updating the retails on that product was definitely a challenge in the beginning,” said Christensen.
There was also the important step of getting further licensing from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to make alcohol one of the delivery options. Additionally, Quality Dairy had to integrate the delivery service with its QD Rewards loyalty program.
“Vroom and Quality Dairy worked on a process to import loyalty information into their register so that they process similar to in-store transactions,” wrote Nelson.
But the problems got resolved fairly quickly, letting the rollout proceed.
“You ask for something, and [Vroom] put it on their list,” said Christensen. “And it usually comes to life.”
Keeping things in house
Quality Dairy currently employs six drivers at its main delivery base and two at the second site, who collectively deliver about 400 orders per week. The main site has about 14 hours of delivery coverage per day.
“I definitely think that keeps the customer service at a high level and differentiates ourselves from some of these other sites,” said Christensen.
This in-house approach lets Quality Dairy hear directly from its customers, as the leaders get a lot of feedback through their drivers, some of whom are becoming known faces among its customer base.
“One of the [drivers] that started with us at startup is named Earnest,” said Christensen. “He’s a valuable asset to the company and our customers.”
The company also uses Vroom’s built-in feedback system, and while it hears about strengths and weaknesses of the business, it also hears how much the local touch in delivery can mean.
“Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t leave nice comments about Earnest,” said Christensen.