West Lebanon Feed & Supply owner develops delivery platform for small businesses

  • Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply, demonstrates how one of his lockers in a Goober Pick pod works in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Goober Pick pods allow the customer to purchase items they might need for their pet without ordering it online. This pod is set up in West Lebanon, N.H., next to West Lebanon Feed & Supply. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • A West Lebanon Feed & Supply Goober Pick pod sits outside West Lebanon Supply on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2019 10:10:38 PM
Modified: 5/4/2019 10:10:35 PM

WEST LEBANON — Can a pet food supply business in a small New Hampshire town take on Amazon and other e-commerce sellers at their own game and preserve the future for brick-and-mortal retail stores?

Curt Jacques thinks so.

In a bid to help small retailers to meet the demand for convenience in the smartphone era, the owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply is launching Goober Pick, a package delivery system that will bring purchases made online from area retailers to a network of storage lockers at high-traffic spots in Upper Valley towns.

It’s the kind of idea that might emerge from a tech incubator at Stanford or hotshots at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Instead, Goober Pick was born out of Jacques’ pet food and supply business, situated next to a propane tank storage depot and coin-operated laundry by the railroad tracks in West Lebanon.

“We’re trying to get ahead of Silicon Valley here on Railroad Avenue,” said Jacques, who describes himself as “just a farm boy from Northern Vermont” and who envisions Goober Pick becoming a stand-alone business selling a turn-key purchase delivery operation to retailers around the country.

In development for two years, Goober Pick — “goober” is slang for peanut, but the name, perhaps intentionally, rings of a mash-up of two digital-age giants — is meant to help local retail stores like Jacques’ pet food supply business compete against online retailers.

That may sound like a reach, but Jacques is a congenitally optimistic entrepreneur and believes in the role neighborhood owned-and-operated retail stores play in the communities they serve.

“My whole passion has been focusing on local business, the little guy,” said Jacques, who with his wife, Sharon Jacques, bought the 93-year-old feed and pet supply business in 1995. Retail shops, he said, are woven into the fabric of their community and “what makes a community tick is important to me.”

West Lebanon Feed & Supply has grown robustly under Jacques, from six employees 24 years ago to nearly 40 employees today. He put up a new building on the lot near the railroad tracks off Main Street in 2007, and the company’s database has 33,000 registered customers. The business regularly wins best-in-class retail industry awards and recognition. Jacques leads workshops at retail industry trade shows and has a consulting practice, Retail Mechanics, to advise retailers on best practices.

But West Lebanon Feed & Supply, like traditional storefronts everywhere, is threatened by the likes of Amazon and online pet food supplier Chewy — not to mention chain stores such as PetSmart and Tractor Supply that have both opened locations nearby — which are becoming ever faster at delivering to the consumer’s home. (Amazon recently announced it will be launching one-day home delivery for Prime customers, upping pressure on rivals Walmart and Target.)

More ominous, “Amazon recently announced it’s going after 30% of the pet supply market,” Jacques warned.

“We read all about how bricks-and-mortar stores are closing because they can’t compete with online businesses. Two years ago we said we wanted to look at this and how we can better service our community. And we came up with a model that will help not only us but other retailers,” he said.

A survey that Jacques commissioned a California firm to undertake — they got 1,200 responses, plenty to generate a reliable sample — not surprisingly confirmed that convenience was the No. 1 reason people shop online. But the survey also turned up an unexpected finding.

“It found that people want to buy from us online” if they could, favoring the trusted, local retailer over a faceless national online retailer, Jacques said.

Jacques dubbed that local online market “domestic e-commerce,” meaning West Lebanon Feed & Supply customers within a 30-mile radius of the store.

The current holy grail in home delivery of products is the “last mile,” bringing the product from a regional warehouse to the customer’s front door. The U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx have all long done this, of course, but in recent years a slew of startups such as Deliv, Postmates, Hitch, Darkstore and ShipHawk — not to mention “gig” economy drivers signed up with Uber or InstaCart — have been elbowing their way into delivering packages for retailers.

Home delivery of customer purchases would be prohibitively expensive (West Lebanon Feed & Supply actually tried it many years ago) but Jacques reasoned that a middle-ground solution existed by delivering purchases to locations that would be along customers’ commutes between home and work or that would be within easy distance of their homes.

Jacques said he picked “Goober” as the venture’s name because a goober is a peanut, a peanut is a seed, and “from a seed things grow.”

The backbone of Goober Pick will be its e-commerce platform, which was developed by a California software company. The platform will be able to list 1,000 products sold by a retailer. Jacques envisions it working for customers who suddenly remember they need something and are pressed for time.

“You get to work and remember you need to buy dog food. Normally that would mean running out on your lunch hour to the store. This way you go online to Goober Pick, select a location where you will pick it up, pay for the product, we send you a code to open the pod and locker for you to pick up your order at the location you selected,” Jacques said.

To design and build the pea-green colored lockers, Jacques contracted with a Canadian firm that he said invested $100,000 in their design and engineering. Each bay contains 36 lockers of three different sizes. Customers receive an alert via phone or email when the package is delivered to the locker. Jacques said he plans on two deliveries every 12 hours to the lockers.

The lockers are housed inside a white, walk-in pod about the size of a racing car trailer that is manufactured by a Chinese company. Customers access the pods by keying in a code they receive in their package alert that opens the secure glass door. The code also is used to open the locker.

The pods also have an option for purchases from a vending machine setup, letting customers get products they may have forgotten in their online orders or allowing impulse buys at pickup.

The first pod will be placed in the parking lot at Enfield House of Pizza on Route 4 in Enfield. Jacques said he also has plans for pods in Sharon, Woodstock, Windsor, Grantham, Route 120 in Lebanon, Lyme and one of the parking lots of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

A bay of lockers has also been placed inside a building at West Lebanon Feed & Supply, so customers can pick up their purchases in off hours when the store is closed.

Jacques said Goober Pick is designed to be used by any number of retailers or small businesses — customers, for example, could pick up their dry cleaning at the pods. He said the pods also could help drive customers into the businesses where the pods are located. Posters or flat-screen TVs on the pod’s walls will display advertising for area businesses.

Jacques foresees rolling out the pods to other retailers in New England and even across the country, and those retailers would pay a licensing fee to the company that West Lebanon Feed & Supply has set up to manage Goober Pick. The company also would handle credit card processing for licensees at a lower rate than they would be charged if they were running the e-commerce platform on their own.

Licensees won’t own the lockers, but they will have to purchase the pods, Jacques said, who declined to say how much they would cost, but indicated they would be more than $5,000. He said he already has retailers in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York who have expressed interest in becoming licensees.

“I envision 100 lockers in the Northeast within two years,” Jacques said. “It won’t take long.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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