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Bottom Line: Car maintenance service maintains with at-home service; Co-op voters don’t cooperate

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 5/9/2020 9:00:14 PM
Modified: 5/9/2020 9:00:09 PM

They’ll show up at your house wearing face masks and gloves. But relax. Your home is not a COVID-19 hot spot. And you’ll be happy to see them.

In one of the more inventive ideas in how businesses are adapting to customers staying at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Upper Valley-born workplace location car maintenance company Zippity is now offering to send out a tech to your home to swap out your car’s tires, change oil and even do brake jobs.

“Demand for our location work is lower because of COVID-19, so we’ve had to come up with some creative ways to continue our service,” said Ed Warren, the Lebanon native (LHS ’04) and co-founder of Zippity, which provides auto maintenance service to customers at their places of work such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Hypertherm and Dartmouth College.

Customers can still schedule appointments online or via an app — but now in addition to sending a Zippity trailer or truck to their workplace, the company will also come to their home to do the job. Prices, at least for now, are the same for at-home service as they are for at-work service.

Launched in the Upper Valley in 2017 when he was a student at Dartmouth Tuck’s School of Business, Warren has subsequently expanded Zippity to the Boston market and received two rounds of venture capital funding totaling more than $5 million.

The company is part grease monkey and part code monkey: In addition to engineering on-location car maintenance service — think of the challenge in squeezing a car repair garage into a mobile trailer — Zippity is also developing software for an online platform to license out to other operators.

Warren said at-home car service was the logical next step in Zippity’s evolution but the pandemic made that happen sooner rather than later.

“COVID-19 has forced us to accelerate innovations we had in the pipeline,” Warren explained, adding that “the Upper Valley has always been our test bed.”

Although Warren said Zippity’s techs are qualified and can perform the vast majority of car maintenance services, offering at-home seasonal tire changes was a no-brainer.

“Everybody in the Upper Valley knows how miserable it is to get your tires swapped,” he said.

Co-op voters opt out of voting

Turns out Town Meeting Day is not the only Upper Valley election to suffer from low voter turnout.

The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society recently held its annual election of new board members, who are elected by the Co-op membership.

Members also voted on whether to approve borrowing up to $3.6 million plus an additional $1 million line of credit for “strategic and critical upgrades” at the Co-op.

But in both votes big decisions were decided by only a handful of eligible voters.

The financing package, which the co-op said will pay for “infrastructure needs” such as an upgrade to the refrigeration system, improved IT networks and “extensive building improvements throughout the organization” over the next five years, was approved with 1,079 members voting in favor and 81 members voting against.

The newly elected Co-op board members are Marta Ceroni, of Enfield (901 votes); Peggy O’Neil, of Cornish (770 votes); Nick Clark, of Thetford (732 votes) and Manish Kumar, of Lebanon (638 votes). They succeed outgoing board members Tom Battles, Liz Blum, Benoit Roisin and Ann Shriver Sargent.

The Co-op trumpeted that members “overwhelmingly agreed” to pass the financing package with 93% voting in favor.

Yes — but that’s 93% of the members who voted. As often happens at Town Meeting, results are determined by a small portion of eligible voters.

The Co-op has about 24,500 members, and each member gets to cast one vote. (If the Co-op was its own municipality — let’s not give them any ideas — it would have almost as many residents as Lebanon’s and Hanover’s combined population of 25,100.)

So only 4.4% of the total membership voted to approve the loan package. And no board member candidate received more than 3.7% of total eligible votes.

That low “voter turnout” is not as abysmal as it might seem, according to Co-op spokesman Allan Reetz.

He noted that a total of 1,255 Co-op members “participated in the voting process” this year — not all voted on the financing package article — and that is an increase from the 799 members who voted during the 2019 board elections.

“And that’s with everything that’s been going on,” he noted, as people have been preoccupied in dealing with the pandemic. Reetz also said he believes a sufficient number voted to provide a representative sample of the overall membership.

“Once you get over a certain number, 1,000 to 1,500, there is a statistical correlation and you pretty much have a firm focus on what people feel,” he said.

Woodstock farmers market kicks it to 2021

There are 65 to 70 farmers markets in Vermont and some of them are still deliberating about whether they will open this summer.

But at least one in the Upper Valley is saying “see you next year.”

The Mt. Tom Farmers’ Market in Woodstock, which has been around since 1982, announced that “COVID-19 restrictions” are making it financially untenable to open this season.

Neil Lamson, manager of the Mt. Tom Farmers’ Market, reports that the lower than usual number of vendors this season makes the rent unaffordable and the small market does not have enough volunteers to monitor health and safety requirements mandated by the state.

After Vermont farmers markets were initially told that they couldn’t open because they were not deemed “essential businesses,” state officials relented and are allowing markets to open providing they follow social distancing protocols and other measures. Vendors are being encouraged to have their customers call in ahead of time to place their orders and then pick up their packages at the market.

Lamson said the Mount Tom vendors will be reaching out to their customers to let them know about how to place advance orders and make arrangements for deliveries.

The Norwich Farmers Market opened Saturday under the new guidelines and the Lebanon Farmers’ Market is set to open Thursday, with rules that require visitors to wear face masks.

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My business is knowing your business. Contact me at jlippman@vnews.com.




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