Zipments: A Simple and Elegant Courier Concept

Garrick Pohl is so busy he forgot to eat breakfast. The 38-year-old Holland resident is a father of four and a tech entrepreneur who is six weeks into launching Zipments, an innovative, hyper-local delivery system in West Michigan. Wearing a T-shirt with the Zipments logo and a pair of jeans, Pohl sits in The Sparrows coffee shop on a Wednesday morning in June, eats an M&M cookie as a substitute for that forgotten breakfast and happily explains how his start-up is turning the standard delivery model on its head.

"Basically, Zipments connects any business or individual that needs to move something across town with a community of local couriers that can do those jobs," explains Pohl. 

The website, which launched May 4, allows customers to post delivery jobs and lets a registered pool of couriers bid on them instantly.  Couriers are paid for the job once delivery has been confirmed, with PayPal being used for all transactions and Zipments taking a 10% cut of the total job price.

Compared to traditional delivery methods, "the big difference is that nobody else lets the customer set the price," Pohl says. "In the first month that we launched, we did 100 deliveries. Every one of those jobs had at least one bid at the price the customer set, and some were for less because couriers outbid each other." Pohl thinks Zipments will make the term "standard shipping rates apply" obsolete, calling the new model "you tell us what you want to pay."  

Not only does Zipments allow the customer to set the price for job delivery, but it also allows the customer to set their time window for delivery to unprecedented speed.  "One of the things we love to tell people is that it's not just same day, it's almost same hour," says Laura Pecherski, 24, the sales and marketing director for the company. Since launch, Zipments has added over 800 couriers to its system and has started using Twitter to post jobs immediately. 

"Now, when a job is posted, we're seeing bids come in within seconds. If a courier is using mobile technology and is already near the location where the item needs to be picked up, they can do it within an hour. That's going to be the consumer's expectation going forward," Pecherski, a WMU graduate currently working on a master's degree at GVSU, says, adding that one recent transaction was completed in just 35 minutes.

The requirements to be a courier for Zipments are simple: a mode of transportation, a text-enabled phone and a simple registration process that verifies email address, zip code and a PayPal account. After registering with the system, couriers are free to bid on jobs that fit into their schedule, a perk that attracted Craig Russell as soon as he heard about it.

Russell, 41, is an Eastown resident and afternoon disc jockey for WSJR 98.7 who has completed several jobs for Zipments. Initially attracted because of the schedule flexibility, Russell has also made new community connections. "I've met a few people I wouldn't have otherwise come into contact with who may want to use my voice services down the road," says Russell, who uses Twitter to watch for jobs to come in during his free mornings.

This is exactly the kind of demographic Pohl had in mind when he conceived the site. Noticing that his wife, ready to re-enter the workforce after years of caring for their children at home, faced a tight job market, Pohl "thought it would be great if someone like her could get up every morning and pick out jobs they (could) do in their own time to generate revenue." Pohl's wife is indeed now a courier for Zipments, along with hundreds of college students, cyclists, retirees, stay-at-home parents and commuters who drive the I-96 corridor on a regular basis.

As for Zipments' customers so far, Pecherski says jobs are being posted from a huge variety of businesses and individuals. "We've had restaurants, major retailers, law and accounting firms, retirement communities, hotels, small manufacturers and people needing errands run or lunch delivered." 

Registering as a customer on the site takes two minutes, says Pecherski.  "User feedback has been that posting a job is super easy -- no measuring the package, no weighing. We simply need to know pick-up and drop-off time."

Customer Brian Edwards concurs. Edwards, publisher of REVUE Magazine, was "stunned" at how simple the process was after trying the service to help with T-shirt delivery on an afternoon when staff interns were busy.

"It's a very simple and elegant concept that would translate well into other cities, and when these homegrown businesses go to the next level and replicate in other markets, that always looks good for West Michigan," says Edwards. He says the magazine will continue to use Zipments on a supplemental basis, noting that it could be more cost-effective than sending in-house staff out to get something.

Pohl, who comes to the project with his previous experience founding mobile application company Crayon Interface, casually confirms that Zipments already has plans in the works to expand to bigger markets as early as this summer, using what they've learned in Grand Rapids to make the service even better. Pohl says that pre-launch projections actually underestimated the amount of inventory that needs to be moved on a daily basis as well as the number of people who would sign up to be couriers. Now that those numbers have become clear, Zipments is seeking to innovate a business that's less than two months old.

"We're seeing a big trend around purchasing online and delivering to home. So many businesses have built up their online presence, but they never solved the problem of the lag time between purchase and delivery. We think there's a strong demand to purchase something online and deliver it to the door in the same day. It should be possible to find a certain pair of shoes online, find out which store carries them locally, and have them delivered that same day." Pohl also foresees more restaurants using Zipments as a delivery method, local Etsy shops using couriers to deliver their wares and businesses such as printers and furniture stores offering Zipments delivery as a value-add for their customers.

Going forward, Zipments is planning to launch new mobile apps and proximity-based selection, so customers who need something delivered within minutes will be able to see which couriers are the closest. The site is also working on a feature that will allow a customer to automatically accept the first bid that comes in at a certain price point instead of having to go back in to the site and choose from among several bids when time is of the essence.

Until then, Pohl points out that in a mid-size city like Grand Rapids, every transaction has a story. A courier goes to Kids' Food Basket to deliver some granola bars, then goes home and tells their friends and family about the nonprofit's mission. A customer posts a job, multiple couriers bid on it and when the winning courier comes to the business to pick the package up, the customer and courier discover they know one another from their sons' hockey team. A stay-at-home mom puts a part for delivery in the back of her mini-van, stops at the bank and then brings it to local manufacturer Pi Optima, allowing them to bring a machine online two days earlier than they had hoped.  Even before Zipments revolutionizes the delivery industry in cities across the country, it's strengthening the community right here in West Michigan. 

Stephanie Doublestein writes and blogs about food, business, and parenting, among other things. She lives in East Grand Rapids with her husband and their two young daughters.

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