By Melissa Repko The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Pick Up", is an app-based delivery service which specializes in last-mile logistics and instant delivery of big and heavy items, such as refrigerators.
The Dallas Morning News
They say necessity is the mother of invention. At least that was the case for Brenda Stoner.
Stoner, a single mom and serial entrepreneur, came up with the idea for a pickup truck delivery company when she had to get some furniture delivered and noticed empty pickup truck beds all around the Dallas area.
Stoner founded Pickup about two years ago. The app-based delivery service specializes in last-mile logistics and instant delivery of big and heavy items, such as refrigerators.
At a time when customers have grown used to getting same-day purchases through Amazon and instant food deliveries through apps, Pickup gives customers and local retailers a way to quickly get an item from the showroom floor to a home or office.
The startup works with eight major national retailers, including Pottery Barn, to help them move inventory faster, especially bulky items that customers might otherwise walk away from.
Pickup has made over 6,000 deliveries, most for items heavier than 50 pounds and drives of less than 50 miles. The company recently began offering guaranteed pricing so customers can quickly get the delivery price for a certain item and distance.
Prices start at $49. All drivers are screened and about half are from military or firefighter backgrounds. Pickup has raised about $3 million from investors, including Perot Jain, a fund formed by Ross Perot Jr. and former Perot Systems executive Anurag Jain. The company has 13 employees and serves Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.
Stoner recently spoke about Pickup's growth at her Addison office. Her answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Question: What inspired you to start Pickup?
A: A few years ago, I bought some patio furniture from Costco. To get it, I had to order it online and then Costco delivered it. The store called me and said, "We're delivering your patio furniture today between 4 and 8."
I went home and went to the driveway and the guy in the Costco truck is writing on his clipboard and he's getting in his truck, but there's a pallet full of stuff on my driveway. I'm like "Wait. I'm a single mom. How am I supposed to get this in the house?" And he said, "That's not my problem." He gets in and drives away. It's driveway delivery. That was a $3,000 purchase, and they just plunked it in my driveway.
A year later, the sectional was falling apart and I called the Costco buyer and said, "Just thought you'd like to know, this stuff isn't holding up." And she said, "Oh honey, we know about that. We discontinued that line. Just bring it back to the closest warehouse and we'll refund all your money." I thought, "How am I supposed to get it back to the warehouse?" So I had to borrow a pickup truck from a friend, and it was her boyfriend's truck and it was Saturday morning. I inconvenienced the heck out of that poor guy.
Question: How do you make money? Explain to me the split between you and your drivers.
A: We did it a little bit different than a lot of the on-demand economy businesses. They all said, "Here's what we're charging. The driver gets X percent." Early on, we decided that's not a way to build a sustainable business.
We have three objectives from a business perspective: One is to create a good living wage for the person who is driving the truck. We try to get them around $35 to $40 per hour. Then we have to create a good value for the customer. And then we have to have margin in between.
Question: What are your top items?
A: Couch is No. 1. Appliances are No. 2. If my refrigerator goes out, I don't want to wait until next Wednesday between 4 and 8. I want it right now. So retailers are seeing a big demand for the immediate replacement items.
Question: What are some of the strangest or most memorable items you've delivered?
A: We've delivered a couple of 8-foot-tall cactuses. We've moved tuxedos. We've moved boxes of stationery. We've moved a necklace. A Greek fountain.
Question: What was the reason for a tuxedo? You'd think someone could easily fit that in the back seat.
A: The tuxedo was a wedding planner. Her bride and groom went off on their honeymoon and didn't have time to return the groom's tux. They gave it to her, and she said, "I don't have time for this." So she called, and the guy delivered the tuxedo back to the tuxedo shop.
Question: One of the most challenging parts of an on-demand model, I would think, is having enough drivers to sustain it.
A: The balance of supply and demand is the biggest challenge we face. We're a little bit different than a GrubHub or a Postmates or a Favor [companies that deliver on-demand food] because they're doing all of that for a $5 charge.
In our case, the driver can make $100 on something that's a significant amount of work. He can get paid for time, for extra mileage. When you're talking about a high-value service, they're willing to drive a little farther, do a little bit more, and so you can request a little bit more from them than you can in the traditional on-demand model.
Retailers tend to cluster. The big and heavy retailers tend to be in locations together, so the guys learn where all the work is and they gravitate to where it is.
Question: How did you come up with the concept of hiring "good guys," such as firefighters and veterans?
A: That comes from my personal experience. I'm a single mom. I've got a young teenage daughter at home. For us, it was about creating something that had trust associated with it already. I trust the teachers at my school. I trust the nurses who work at the hospital. I trust the military veterans who were fighting for our lives. So I can trust them with my couch.
Question: Besides the on-demand aspect of your business, what have been some of the other challenges of starting a company?
A: Raising money. If we were in California, we'd get a valuation that's probably two to five times higher than we can get in Texas. We struggle here to get the same kind of valuations, and then we have to compete against startups that are getting those valuations, so they have more capital. We have a cost-of-living advantage here, so it's less expensive to operate our business, but getting capital is hard.
I have probably met with, talked to or pitched 175 different investors over the course of two years. Many of them are from Texas because I want to make this a Texas-funded business. I want to prove we can do it. If we can't raise money for a pickup truck business in Texas, there is something wrong with Texas.
Question: What do you think of Dallas' startup scene? What could make it stronger?
A: I try to stay out of the startup scene because there's a lot of scene and not a lot of starting up. We are running a business, and there's a lot of noise around startups that is distracting. But there's a lot of great stuff going on, a lot of great businesses that are going. You have to work the edges of that without getting too distracted by what's going on. -- Brenda Stoner Age: 50 Hometown: Grew up in Kansas, lives in Plano Education: Bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Kansas State Family: 15-year-old daughter, Casey, and two cats named Cupcake and Midnight