COVID-19 is the ultimate disruptor, forcing businesses around the world to make drastic changes to their ways to doing business. This is the story of how one company was able to pivot its entire business model and help its community at the same time – by pivoting to harness the internet.
In 1978, Keany Produce was founded with a man, a van, and a customer. By 2020, the company had swelled to a fleet of over 170 refrigerated produce trucks, providing fresh fruit, vegetables, and dairy to hotels, restaurants, and other business customers throughout Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.
But when COVID-19 hit, the company faced a major problem: restaurants and hotels had shuttered their doors and no longer needed to order food. “When everything shut down, so did our operations,” says Marketing Manager Cassidy Williams. “And we’re in a perishable industry, so we can’t sit on our products for long.”
At the same time, regular consumers were having trouble procuring fresh food. “At that time, grocery stores were empty,” Williams notes. “People couldn’t find anything and were worried about going out to shop.”
How could Keany Produce keep its business afloat and staff employed, while getting its produce to people who needed it? General Manager Anthony Cargiulo came up with an idea that could solve both problems: offer curbside delivery service directly to consumers. But to do that, they would have to harness the power of the internet.
An Internet-enabled Pivot
“Historically, we had not been a pay-with-a-credit-card type company,” says Cargiulo. As a company that serves businesses, Keany Produce was used to dealing with clients in terms of negotiating long-term contracts rather than handling same-day transactions. This had to change quickly.
The first step was to get an online infrastructure in place: at first, nothing more than a simple website form linked to a PayPal account. Then began the process of spreading the word. Here, Keany leveraged its years of local involvement by contacting churches, schools, and YMCAs, both to promote its curbside service and to establish a network of delivery points. From there the internet took over, spreading the news organically through social media.
Switching to Shopify
But things really began to take off thanks to a chance encounter with a local news crew at a pickup point. On the spot, the crew decided to film a piece on the curbside initiative; once it aired, orders shot through the roof. That same night, Keany’s rudimentary web-ordering system crashed, something Williams describes as “a good problem to have.” The company quickly launched a second system to handle a larger volume of traffic but even that was not enough; soon they made the move to the external app Shopify, which allows businesses to set up and market their own online store. Thanks to the move, Keany now has an attractive page of pre-stocked boxes to choose from, together with a user-friendly menu of pickup locations and a wide variety of payment options.
Paying it Forward
The creation of the online system has also allowed Keany to premiere a “Pay-It-Forward” initiative, allowing customers to buy gift boxes for families in need to be distributed through community and charity programs, with the company matching donations for the first 200 boxes. The pre-stocked boxes have also been a boon for charities, which due to COVID-19 have had to adjust to new realities of acquiring and preparing food.
In addition to helping outside communities, the curbside project has benefitted the inner world of the company as well. “We’ve been able to give our staff more hours and go back to what was a normal workweek,” Cargiulo notes. While the initiative may not have made up for all of the company’s revenue losses, “it’s been beneficial across the board. From a morale perspective, it’s gotten people back to work.”
A Broader Business Model
Keany plans on continuing its curbside delivery service for the duration of the pandemic. From there, says Williams, they are “hopeful and confident” that they will be able to continue providing the service in some form, whether through partnering with local institutions, continuing the community drop-off model, or evolving to a full-fledged delivery service. The discovery of a new business model has been eye-opening for the company, so much so that they are looking at applying some form of it to their original business model, as well. Necessity may be the mother of invention; in the case of Keany Produce, and thanks to the power of broadband, it has also been the mother of innovation.
Businesses have had to get creative in how they serve customers during the pandemic – and the internet is making it possible. To read about how a local CrossFit gym is keeping its membership healthy by moving online, check out our article here.