Ed. Note: Today we begin a new series focusing on bicycles and business in Philadelphia. Many businesses (besides bike shops and bicycle manufacturers) incorporate bicycles into their products or services. Others have realized that it makes good business sense to attract customers or employees arriving by bicycle. Our summer communications intern Max Hayes will be profiling these businesses and why, for them, bicycles are good business.
Unless you’ve been residing under a rock for the last 30 years or so, the name “Whole Foods” likely evokes images of clean, well-lit stores, wholesome organic food choices and friendly staff. The chain – founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas – has been present in Philadelphia since 1996, and now has eleven stores in the Greater Philadelphia region. The South Street location in particular, which opened its doors in 2001, is extremely popular with Old City and Center City residents due to its 10th and South positioning. In recent years it has become ever more prominent for another reason: it offers delivery of groceries via bike.
Launched in 2013, the Whole Foods Market – South Street Bike Delivery service is made up of 10 delivery cyclists, performing 50 deliveries per week on average. It boasts an impressive delivery range, from Arch St to Tasker St and Front St to 20th St. The dedicated delivery cyclists can haul up to four full grocery bags, meaning that a one or two-person home may be able to have their entire week’s worth of groceries delivered; convenient and eco-friendly. A “Prepared Foods Express” menu is available as well, allowing customers to call ahead and order ready-made meals along with their groceries.
According to Marketing and Community Relations Manager Kerry Shepski, the service was inspired by a commitment to both customers and the environment. “Incorporating bicycles into our business model has allowed us to serve new customers in a unique way,” she says. “This service is invaluable for many of our customers that are unable to make the trip to our store. By utilizing bicycles, we are able to serve our customers efficiently and without any additional carbon footprint.”
Marcus Contonikolas, Bike Delivery Team Lead, elaborates on the reasons behind the service. “Cost effectiveness [and] the ecological impact … I mean Philadelphia is such a bike friendly city that it just makes sense,” he says. He highlights the wide variety of people who make use of the service – some of whom use it exclusively. “The elderly, disabled people, new moms … There’s people who have never been here before that get bike delivery.”
The business reasons for such a delivery service are evident: providing a convenient alternative for current customers, opening up an entire previously untouched customer base, reducing overhead costs (compared with vehicle delivery) and minimizing environmental impact. The service also dovetails with proclivities found in the store employees. Around 20 percent of the store’s employees bike to work, taking advantage of bicycle parking spaces in the employee parking garage. And the bike friendliness is by no means limited to employees. Whole Foods Market – South Street has ample bike parking available directly outside, including a large bike corral, a rack, and other individual racks dotting the sidewalk, providing plenty of space for cycling shoppers.
For other businesses looking to incorporate bicycles into their business model, Shepski offers up some advice, noting the Bicycle Coalition’s assistance in getting their project up and running. “When integrating bicycles into any business, the most important place to start is safety. Prior to launching, Whole Foods Market – South Street brought in the Bicycle Coalition to train team members on how to safely make deliveries, from wearing proper equipment to following the rules of the road.”
As a testament to the success seen by Whole Foods Market – South Street’s Bicycle Delivery initiative, the Callowhill store on Pennsylvania Avenue is preparing to launch its own Bike Delivery program this summer, which will serve the Fairmount neighborhood and surrounding community. The multiple benefits already proven by its sister store – monetary, environmental and health-related – are sure to pay off for Callowhill as well, and together the stores serve as a model for bicycles’ usefulness in the urban grocery store business model.
Does your business cater to customers or employees arriving by bicycle? Do you use bicycles in your business or service? Let us know and we may feature you in this series.