Candice Williams The Detroit News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As the pandemic has boosted demand for deliveries from Amazon, small business owners have launched delivery businesses from amazon delivery stations to fulfill the need for timely dropoffs.
A steady crush of packages large, small and piled high equals money to Jacqueline Nelson, whose company employs 40 people to deliver thousands of parcels each week to homes across Metro Detroit.
A retired registered nurse, she is one of Amazon's Delivery Service Partners operating out of the online retailer's delivery station in Pontiac, which opened in the fall. Her company: NW Premier Logistics LLC.
"We've always been essential workers," said Nelson of herself and her husband, Abdullah, a retired first responder. "This has been an opportunity to spend more time with family and also become an essential worker in another area that I would have not even thought was an essential worker until I realized what we're doing and the service we're providing."
Each day gets off to an early start for Nelson and other DSP business owners as they make sure that they have staff in place to cover the day's deliveries, placed on carefully sequenced carts. By mid-morning crews are loading up their vans with packages placed in the proper order to ensure timely deliveries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted demand for deliveries from the online giant amid an already accelerating shift to online sales. And as Amazon.com Inc. expands its physical presence in Metro Detroit, one segment also has grown locally — small business owners who have launched delivery businesses from its delivery stations.
In 2018, Amazon debuted its Delivery Service Partner program enabling independent businesses to contract with Amazon to deliver packages. It's part of the Seattle-based retail giant's overall plan as it departs from nationwide delivery services like UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.
The number of Delivery Service Partners operating in Metro Detroit has grown to 43 with the addition of 15 in 2020, said Jessia Pawl, an Amazon spokeswoman. More than 2,000 delivery personnel are employed by these independent Delivery Service Partners.
Amid the pandemic and America's heavy reliance on online shopping and home delivery, "it's a perfect time for it right now, and it's an industry that's growing immensely," Nelson said.
Amazon's delivery capacity is expected to continue to grow, said Marc Wulfraat, a logistics expert and president of Montreal-based MWPVL International Inc. His firm has tracked Amazon for 14 years.
At the end of 2019, Amazon said it had 150 delivery stations across the United States and as of this month, there are more than 250 locations, Pawl said.
Amazon will have 566 delivery stations in the United States by the end of 2021, Wulfraat projects: "They're working their way down all the major American cities right now building these delivery stations."
Drivers can deliver nearly 200 packages daily because they're going into markets with high density, Wulfraat said.
Amazon benefits from the program because the company does not directly hire or manage the delivery drivers, he added. Instead, business owners run their own companies providing thousands of jobs.
The initial investment can be as little as $10,000 to get started, according to the Amazon Logistics site. Amazon provides training as well as discounts on vehicle leases and comprehensive insurance.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for somebody who would have never had that opportunity otherwise," Wulfraat said. "They can become an entrepreneur, a business owner, they have a lot of responsibility and people's salaries to pay and so forth."
For many of the Delivery Service Partners, their companies serve as a new career path. That is the case for Nelson. A couple of years into retirement, she was prompted to check out the program at the suggestion of her daughter, Lori Williams.
"She had been talking about this for about a year, thinking that it was something that we might get involved in," she said. It's been a family affair for Nelson whose husband, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter work in the business.
Her daughter recalls the early days of setting things up, Williams said: "We literally turned my dining room table into a boardroom. We sat there, all four of us, and went through training together. Setting up paperwork.
"It was a really grueling experience, but we had to get it done. We were bouncing ideas off each other. It's been a really great opportunity to work closely with our family, but it also gave us an opportunity to learn everyone's strengths and weaknesses."
Annis Brown-Stubbs, an educator, runs her company Stubbs Logistics out of Amazon's delivery station in Wixom. She said she and her husband Kendall, an engineer, decided to launch their own business to work together.
"I signed up on a whim and got selected," she said. "Amazon did all the things they did to train us and get up to speed on logistics. My husband had some of the transportation and logistics experience. I just brought up my willingness and need to help folks, especially in Detroit to serve in Detroit."
The Stubbs launched the business in the Romulus, Mich., delivery station in 2019 before moving to Wixom, Mich. They now employ more than 100 employees and have 50 big blue Amazon Prime trucks on the road daily, she said. The couple now works together full-time.
"We have a team of incredible people, Detroiters and Metro Detroiters, who are just committed to serving the community where they deliver seven days a week," she said.
Brown-Stubbs said pay for drivers ranges from $15-$20 depending on experience and includes full benefits. She said she feels good being able to "provide a pathway for folks to get hired."
Nolan Kaliszewski of Warren, Mich., long wanted to own a business. After graduating from Western Michigan University with a degree in sales and marketing, he worked for ADP in the small business services unit to get exposure to a variety of small businesses.
After reading about the delivery program, he said he applied and went through a six-to-nine-month process. He launched his business, NK Intelligent Transportation, in Amazon's Hazel Park, Mich., delivery station in November 2019 before moving to the Sterling Heights delivery station, which opened in late summer. His crew started with six people the first day and has grown to 70 employees.
"It's definitely a rapidly growing business," he said. "I expected to be super busy, (that) it (would) be my life for about a year to get on top of things. In that aspect of being busy and having the dedication to work long hours and work hard every day — that is about what I expected."
In addition to his administrative tasks, Kaliszewski said he'll hop in a van to deliver packages when needed: "Delivery is not an easy job. Sometimes, I think it's fun because you're very active and you're problem-solving. It's a good change of pace for me.
"It's not an easy job, but it can be a rewarding one when you get interaction with customers. That's definitely the best part for me is when I get to interact with customers and see their smile or see that they had been waiting on something they've been really excited to get."
Nelson said when she does deliveries, seeing happy customers is the best part of the job for her. She sometimes takes a ribbing from her colleagues. "They do think I am corny because I say 'Thank you for shopping at Amazon,'" Nelson laughed.
Days start early for the delivery businesses, usually around 7 a.m., with administrative tasks from home and trips to the delivery stations to make sure drivers are prepared for the day. Then there's the continual monitoring of deliveries throughout the day and well into the evening.