Phil Smith’s road into the personal shopping space started with a BANG, quite literally. In November 2016, Phil was navigating a snowy rural road, heading out of town. The radio was on, and he was enjoying the drive until his vehicle drifted toward another car. Phil overcorrected and rammed a tree—head on—at 60 miles per hour.
The crash was bad. Phil suffered terrible injuries, including a broken neck and back and two collapsed lungs. But once the initial trauma was treated, the real journey toward recovery began. Doctors told him he would have to be on a strict rest regimen for at least a year.
Phil’s a tough guy. The injuries he could deal with. But “rest” was a word Phil wasn’t used to hearing. And, as a single parent with two young children at home, he initially couldn’t fathom how he was going to manage that.
“They told me, ‘Don’t lift anything. Take it easy. Don’t drive.’ And that was kind of a problem,” Phil said. “My kids were very young at the time, and I didn’t know how I was going to pull off shopping and keeping the fridge stocked.”
That’s when Phil discovered delivery apps like Instacart and Doordash. Phil told us these services really helped get him through his year-long rest period. And after recovering, Phil tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit and started delivering for Instacart himself. After all, he had always taken pride in helping people and thought getting into personal shopping would be a perfect way to give back and make a living in the process.
A Learning Experience: Making the Move to Dumpling
However, during his tenure as an Instacart worker, Phil realized the company had a lot of shortcomings. He began to notice transparency was a huge problem at Instacart and that many of his customers didn’t realize how much of a markup was placed on some of the products they were having delivered.
“I delivered groceries to an older woman who had no car and no family to help out. She depended on deliveries,” Phil said. “On one delivery, the cost of her groceries totaled $53 at the store. But Instacart was charging her $108. It was a double markup, and it made me furious!”
Ethically, Phil couldn’t let this slide. Though it’s against Instacart policy to show customers receipts, he let her know the disparity between the price she was being charged and the actual cost of the products.
“Needless to say, I don’t think she ever used Instacart again,” Phil said.
Phil thought he could likely come up with a superior (and more ethical) business model, and then he stumbled upon Dumpling. And a lightbulb popped above his head.
“During the course of my lifetime, I’ve always been in either public service or order fulfillment, and I thought there’s got to be a better way of providing this service,” he said. “Dumpling is completely different from Instacart. You still have the phone and pick up orders, but you have full ownership of the business.”
Around the same time, Phil moved to a small town north of Cincinnati in Preble County called Eaton. The population of the city is roughly 10,000, and Phil discovered that there were no grocery or food delivery companies serving the area. He knew there was a need in the community, and, as always, Phil was ready to serve with his newly branded business Store2Door/Preble.
Why Store2Door is Destined for Continued Success
Phil told us the Eaton and Preble community welcomed him with open arms. He guessed that part of his initial success was due to the novelty of personal shopping in the area. But the lion’s share of his customer acquisition and retention can truly be attributed to Phil’s business strategy and commitment to good old hard work.
Legitimizing the Business and Developing Strategies
One of Phil’s first steps as a business owner was to register his company with the local Chamber of Commerce. Phil told us there shouldn’t be a difference in perception between Store2Door and, say, another local business or brick-and-mortar shop. Personal shopping businesses should be viewed the same way as any other local entity.
“I wanted to legitimize by business,” Phil said. “Joining the Chamber of Commerce was one way to do that.”
Phil also noted that, while Store2Door is a sole proprietorship, there are many moving parts. Just like any other SMB, Store2Door needs support. Running a personal shopping startup entails more than just going to the store and delivering products. It also requires accounting work, customer relationship management, and a host of other duties.
“I work for me. I’m my own company,” Phil said. “But Dumpling is definitely a part of that plan. They do all of the financial stuff and have this wonderful way of order processing and sending orders. So I don’t have to think about that.”
Phil shared a diagram he composed that illustrates how he sees Dumpling as an essential component of his business.
“My grandpa used to milk cows and he would sit on a three-legged stool doing so,” he said. “In this graphic, each leg must function in order for the stool to be useful. All four components must work together to give value to the stool.”
Best Practices and Focused Customer Service
Phil shared a number of best practices he employs to help Store2Door thrive. And first on the list is service. Phil aims to see the world through his customers’ eyes, and this really helps him deliver what they need.
“I’m an empath, and it’s part of my personality to be a giving person,” he said. “I always ask myself, ‘If I was my customer, how would I want this business to work? What would I want? What would I expect?’”
This perspective shift has allowed Phil to develop strategies that not only keep his customers happy, but also assist in marketing and client acquisition. For example, when Phil onboards a new customer, he begins the experience with a small gift. For many, that’s a bouquet of flowers.
“On the first and tenth order, I include flowers with the delivery,” he said. “A $5 bouquet is nothing to invest compared to the lifetime value that customer will bring to your business.”
Phil also offers a number of discounts. Customers ordering on their birthdays and anniversaries get a reduced delivery charge. Essential workers and veterans also receive a reduced rate. And, if your child makes the honor roll, you’ll also get a discount from Phil.
A Short List of Phil’s Best Practices:
- Long lines? Tip your cashiers. Next time you visit the store, they may open a register just for you.
- View marketing efforts as an essential investment in your business.
- Give small gifts to new customers. It will keep your business top of mind.
- Create an effective web and social media presence.
- Provide discounts for birthdays, anniversaries, honor roll students, and more!
Store2Door also attracts a huge number of customers via its website, which, again, is a result of Phil’s marketing ingenuity.
“I make my own fliers that include my logo, phone number, and a QR code that leads to my website,” he said. “I leave these at restaurants, and people will just scan the code. This brings them to my site, and so many of them download the app from there. It’s an instant lead.”
And, as Phil noted, all of his costs printing out fliers and other marketing overhead can be written off in his taxes.
Giving Back to the Community and Business Diversification
After spending a few minutes with Phil, anyone will see that he’s a caring person, always concerned about the needs of others. This trait is made abundantly clear in his approach to personal shopping.
Through his work, Phil noticed that there are many underserved segments of his community, and nursing homes represent one of these. During the pandemic, many nursing homes were given strict lockdown guidelines, which created issues not only with receiving deliveries, but also with visitation of loved ones.
During one of his trips to a nursing home, Phil was asked to deliver a birthday cake. His client wasn’t able to visit her mother due to COVID restrictions, so Phil ended up going above and beyond to make the resident’s day special.
“It was one of the most exciting stories I ever had,” he said. “I took photos of the different cakes at the store so my client could pick out the one she wanted.”
The delivery seemed pretty routine, but Phil had the idea to make this drop off unique.
“When I arrived to deliver the cake, I called my client and told her ‘We’re going to sing Happy Birthday to your mom,’” Phil said. “It was such an incredible experience to share. We had a live video chat, and everyone’s faces and hearts just lit up.”
In the same spirit of giving back, Phil has begun to accept SNAP and EBT orders from those on food assistance programs. If one of his clients request an order with SNAP or EBT payment, Phil will go to the customer’s house and retrieve their credentials and order.
“At checkout, I run everything through, pay for what they will take with the EBT card, and add the rest as a regular payment,” Phil said. “I get my delivery fee. They get their stuff, and I take their card back to them. People are so grateful for the service, but it’s really the least I can do to help out.”