West Michigan entrepreneur plans new grocery pickup, delivery service

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – As the coronavirus pandemic continues and changes the way consumers shop and eat out, a West Michigan entrepreneur plans to try out a new approach to food delivery and restaurants in Grand Rapids and Holland.

Garrick Pohl, head of the company founding SpinDance Labs, plans to start testing the new Cubi Market concept in January. The store would allow customers to order groceries or meals from local vendors and collect them from a bank of temperature controlled lockers.

The idea is to give small food businesses another way to get their products to customers amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pohl said.

“Today, not only with the advent of online shopping, but also with the pandemic, you see more and more big box retailers picking up at the roadside,” said Pohl. “Our goal with Cubi Market is really to give these local vendors – the farmers, the food artisans – the same kind of fulfillment.”

In Grand Rapids, the first bank of lockers is expected to launch in January at 1201 Wealthy St. SE. The property, an empty lot on the corner of Wealthy Street and Fuller Avenue, is in the middle of an otherwise busy section of Wealthy Street that is full of restaurants, bars, and small businesses.

The second locker bank is planned for 430 West 17th St. in Holland.

Customers who use the service can place their orders through the Cubi Market website. You will then receive a notification as soon as your items have been delivered and are available for collection.

Pohl said he has agreements with about 24 vendors, many of which are types of businesses that typically sell their products at farmers markets or other community events. He declined to identify the companies, but said more information would be available closer to the Cubi Market launch next month.

Cubi Market is in a pilot phase when it is launched next month. Pohl and his colleagues will use the two test locations to determine whether the concept is in demand – both from customers and dealers.

“At the moment we are entering a phase in which we want to learn as much as possible over the next six months,” said Pohl. “Ultimately, the two municipalities – Grand Rapids and Holland – will give us the feedback so that we can really sharpen our focus.”

There are around 15 lockers at each Cubi Market location.

The vacant lot in Grand Rapids where the lockers will be located is owned by Metric Structures, a Grand Rapids-based construction, design and development company. Jacey Ehmann, who founded the company, wanted to build a grocery store in the neighborhood. However, these plans have stalled in part due to the coronavirus pandemic

Ehmann has since partnered with Cubi Market and received approval from the city of Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission for the company to use their property for a year-long trial of the food locker concept.

“The springboard would be to do something with them in the long term that is a grocery store and not necessarily leave it as a fulfillment center,” said Ehmann. “It’s a stepping stone for their pilot program and for us to test the food market here.”

Looking to the future, Pohl said he was confident that the Cubi Market concept would be in demand. He points to the growth in online shopping and roadside pickup during the pandemic. “One of the nice things about the Cubi stations is that they are temperature-controlled, refurbished and don’t have to fight the crowds in the shops,” he said.

He also believes the concept will continue to work once the pandemic subsides and people can gather again in large groups. He wants the locations where his food cabinets are housed to one day serve as meeting places where customers can take educational courses on topics like urban agriculture or cooking classes.

“We have a professional chef on the staff who will help develop many recipes with many of the products that are sold on the platform,” said Pohl. “It’s really about education, it’s really about bringing the community together for different events.”

However, questions about the service remain open. Above all, what do customers think about the option to collect groceries? Many people are used to picking up groceries in stores or having them delivered to their homes. What do customers think of going to another location to pick up groceries?

“One of the things we really want to find out from customers is what they think of that third place,” he said, referring to the websites where the grocery lockers are located. “One of our catchphrases is that we meet halfway. We want to find out if they can meet us halfway. “

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