By Suzy Strutner, managing editor
⏰ 7-minute read
Ziply, an app-based courier service in L.A., has weathered a recent dip in sales to business customers by promoting its delivery service to consumers.
The company’s creative moves include selling toilet paper and other essentials to individuals for the first time.
Ziply is predicting and preparing for more business as retailers reopen for curbside pickup.
When the coronavirus outbreak escalated in March, Ziply suddenly lacked customers.
At the time, the Los Angeles courier service mostly delivered packages from one business to another or from businesses to homes. On March 19, many of the fabric companies and flower shops that used Ziply to deliver items from their facilities to, say, clothing manufacturers downtown or individuals in quiet neighborhoods temporarily shuttered because of city mandates.
“Out of our regulars — the people sending the most on a daily basis throughout the past year — most of them were closed over the past month or two,” said operations manager Matt Kimel. “Some of our all-time highest senders suddenly had nothing to send.”
“Out of our regulars — the people sending the most on a daily basis throughout the past year — most of them were closed over the past month or two."
Two months later, Ziply has a revamped business model and multiple new offerings. Deliveries are “pretty consistent to where they were before” the coronavirus closures, which are gradually lifting in L.A.
Ziply plans to keep many of the creative changes it made during these chaotic couple of months. Kimel believes that doing so will position Ziply for rapid growth in the near future.
Everything to everyone
Ziply, which launched in 2015, completely shifted its business model after its main customers closed down.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the company did deliveries for the aforementioned fabric companies and flower shops, as well as screen-printing companies that sent finished T-shirts to retailers or customers’ homes. Eyeglass companies would use Ziply to deliver contact lenses or glasses to clients’ doorsteps. Away, the suitcase brand, used Ziply to courier luggage from its store on Melrose Ave. to houses “dozens of times a day,” Kimel said.
? When those business deliveries stopped abruptly, Ziply’s leadership shifted its gaze to individuals. The company was already doing a very small number of personal deliveries: picking up pre-ordered groceries, pharmacy prescriptions and mail. That small subset of the business became part of its main messaging.
“We want to help everyone get everything delivered now,” Kimel said.
Ziply’s Yelp page, an important driver of business, features handfuls of customer reviews praising the convenience of the service: On the Ziply site or app, users enter their pickup and dropoff location, along with the general size of the item they’re sending or would like picked up, to get a price quote. A Ziply driver transports the item in as few as two hours.
“I work in entertainment and have to shuffle around laptops all the time,” reads one Yelp review. “Ziply just contributed to making this the easiest transaction ever.”
“Last week, I sent a 'thank you' bottle of wine to a client 40 miles away,” reads another.
When businesses closed, Ziply marketed its ability to make deliveries for individuals.
According to Kimel, demand for personal deliveries like these grew due to COVID-19. Stay-at-home orders and general worry about getting sick mean folks are more keen to avoid errands.
“In December, I don’t think there was anybody using us for groceries,” he said. “Now, it’s a regular, daily thing. Consumers started seeing [grocery delivery services] were out of drivers: ‘How can we get our groceries picked up?’”
Ziply spread the word about its personal delivery capabilities with good old grassroots marketing.
“We personally called our database of thousands of businesses to inform them we were still open for essential personal deliveries,” Kimel said. “A lot of them liked using us so much for business, they knew we would come through for them at home.”
“We personally called our database of thousands of businesses to inform them we were still open for essential personal deliveries."
The company also sent an email to existing customers and put a banner at the top of its homepage asking folks to send along specific delivery needs: None would be too far-fetched. Inquirers reached out via Yelp, too.
“I had people calling after finding us on Yelp one or two months ago that said, ‘Can you deliver me toilet paper?’” Kimel said. “They literally had no way of finding their own toilet paper. They were searching on Yelp for couriers to find toilet paper.”
Ziply found a distributor of toilet paper, made a purchase, and fulfilled the request. It also stocked up on other essentials like hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. Via its Yelp page, website and email newsletter, Ziply encouraged folks — both small businesses and individuals, new customers and old — to place orders for these items via email. They did.
Kimel intends to keep the project running: “I don’t anticipate that people are going to open up their business and not want to stay clean.”
Drivers: on demand and in demand
Pivotal to Ziply’s survival has been its fleet of over 500 delivery drivers. Much like a ride-hailing app, Ziply onboards drivers who then log into the app and work whenever they want.
? Kimel handles the interviewing and onboarding of Ziply's drivers. He reported an uptick in applications as COVID-19 broke out.
“It seemed like more people wanted to become a driver in March and April then in January and February,” he said.
Kimel postulates this is because Ziply drivers often also work part-time via ride-hailing apps, in construction and as actors, occupations hit hard by coronavirus restrictions.
Ziply welcomed these workers. Its drivers have continued working throughout the outbreak, some outfitted with masks that Ziply got from its customers that manufacture clothing. The company recommends that drivers keep disinfectant and hand sanitizer in their cars and wash their hands after each delivery.
“We haven’t really had any [drivers] express any concerns” about safety, Kimel said.
? Early on in the outbreak, Ziply’s development team built an app feature that allows for contactless delivery.
Instead of knocking on a door and asking customers to produce a finger signature on their phone screens, Ziply drivers can now leave goods on a doorstep and take a photo to confirm delivery.
That feature is here to stay, Kimel said. “It’s what the people wanted.”
Ziply's app developers created a contactless delivery offering, which will stay post-coronavirus.
Kimel created a remote onboarding program to replace the in-person training he usually runs for groups of about 15 new drivers after interviewing them by phone. It’s more efficient than the old process.
“In the normal times, I had to set aside time to meet with the drivers [as a group], so I had to get everybody all in the same place at once,” Kimel said. “With a remote onboarding, you can do multiple days and times. And it’s been a little easier to get ahold of people on the phone during the last couple months. … Everybody’s available.”
“In the normal times, I had to set aside time to meet with the drivers [as a group]. ... With a remote onboarding, you can do multiple days and times.”
That remote program is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, he said, as he doesn’t think folks will be comfortable gathering in groups anytime soon.
Readying for retail’s resurgence
Though individuals now comprise more of its customer base, Ziply still very much aims to work with businesses.
? While most L.A. retailers were closed completely in March and April, Kimel said, some made deliveries to homes. In many cases, their usual couriers had limited service. Thanks to Yelp, along with paid ads on Craigslist and Google, they gave Ziply a try.
“Some couriers in California have cut back days and hours, but we stayed open because we’re an app,” Kimel said. “We were able to stay open because our service is automated.”
On May 8, some L.A. retailers were allowed to reopen for curbside pickup, bringing familiar names back to Ziply’s ordering system.
“It was nice to see that for Mother’s Day, a lot of our regular senders that are flower shops were able to open up and send out packages,” Kimel said. “Some of these flower shops have been using us for three, four years, and they sent thousands of orders, and in the last two months, we hadn’t seen their names or addresses pop up or talked to them on the phone.”
Kimel imagines that as more retailers reopen, they’ll want a courier to make deliveries to customers who prefer to stay at home. Likewise, individuals might enlist Ziply to make curbside pickups on their behalf.
Flat curve, sharp spike
Over the next couple of months, Ziply will focus on developing new app features to help small, local retailers deliver items to multiple customers in one go, Kimel said.
It’ll also continue giving back: At the outbreak’s onset, Ziply co-founder Barry Dadon ideated a program that delivers food donations free of charge. Ziply users buy the food, and Ziply transports it from their homes to an L.A. food bank. The company has also offered discounts for seniors and donated masks to UCLA’s hospital system.
? Finally, Ziply looks forward to the eventual marriage of its former small-business clients to its newfound customer base of individuals.
The latter has allowed the company to weather the era of social distancing — and as Kimel sees it, business can only get better.
Regarding Ziply’s number of daily deliveries, “I would say things have been pretty consistent to where they were before, but the difference is that different people are sending,” he said.
“I think as more businesses reopen, we’re going to see a spike of the old people sending and the new people sending at the same time.”
Sounds like a recipe for success.