New Crop of TC Delivery Businesses Will Bring Everything From Shampoo to Cocktail Mixers to Pepperoni Rolls to Your Doorstep
Forget stationary locations: The latest generation of Traverse City companies are defying tradition and starting with delivery-only models that bring products as diverse as cleaning products and personal care products for cocktail mixers and baked goods right to customers’ doorsteps.
The Refillery Traverse City’s owner Sarah Lange is one of the newest entrepreneurs on the scene focusing on a delivery-only and shipping-only model. Her company, founded on March 1st, focuses on sustainable, natural products that range from bamboo toothbrushes and plastic-free hair ties to biodegradable napkins and eco-friendly pet toys. While these products can be shipped anywhere, at the heart of Lange’s business is a local delivery-only category called Refillables.
Customers within 12 miles of Lange’s business base on Grandview Road in Traverse City can purchase products such as all-purpose cleaning spray, shampoo and conditioner, laundry soap and body lotion in a variety of different sizes of glass and aluminum bottles. Initial orders require a flat $ 2 deposit for bottles. When customers run out of products, they order a refill online and place their empty, rinsed bottles on their doorstep, which are exchanged for new, filled product bottles.
“It’s basically the milkman, but only with soap instead of milk,” explains Lange. “These refill stores are popping up everywhere, especially in California. I thought this would go down very well in Traverse City and I just went for it. “Lange says the goal is to eliminate single-use plastics – she herself receives products from suppliers in reusable 5-gallon pails and balloons in what is known as a” closed-loop system “- and provide natural alternatives to chemical-filled cleaning and personal care products. An overwhelming response to their launch prompted Lange to consider additional pick-up locations. She will be a sales clerk at an Earth Day event on April 24th at Jacob’s Farm TC and is working to secure a store front where customers can bring in their own containers to refill products.
Lange cites increased detergent demand and customer preference for contactless delivery during the pandemic as some of the factors likely to contribute to their early success. These comments are echoed by other business owners in Traverse City with delivery-only models who have had similar success with quarantine-friendly products like cocktail mixers and convenience foods. Adrian Juarez, a long-time veteran of the Los Angeles hotel industry before moving to Traverse City with his partner last year, helped run a pasta and pantry delivery service during the early months of the LA pandemic. The experience inspired him to launch Iris Cocktail Co. in Traverse City in October.
Drawing on his background as a bartender, Juarez uses local ingredients and handcrafted bitters to create a variety of cocktail mixers – or liquors – including a seasonal margarita, old-fashioned cherry cosmos, apple sour, and a handful of other flavors, including changing seasonal flavors specials. The non-alcoholic liquors can be enjoyed for yourself or customers can add their own spirits at home to make artisanal cocktails. Iris Cocktail Co. delivers the liquors in neatly packaged glass bottles within a 20 mile radius of Traverse City every Sunday. A selection of products are also for sale at EB2 Vintage on Eighth Street.
“Cocktail bars were something that many of us hadn’t been able to experience for a while. That’s why we wanted to make a drink with a similar taste accessible to everyone while offering comfort and safety, ”says Juarez. Sales have been strong enough for Juarez to switch manufacturing facilities – orders will be paused during the transition this week but will reopen on Monday – and is in talks with local distillers about including the liquors in takeaway cocktail kits. He hopes to expand his range of liqueurs and to introduce cocktails with alcohol in the future.
Grocery products have also been a hit with customers’ homes. For a school project, Brooklyn Hall, a local senior high school woman, worked with her mother, Megan Hall, to launch a home-made pepperoni bun delivery service, a West Virginia snack Megan Hall grew up in. The soft, fluffy dough rolls with center-baked hot peppers “are in all bakeries, grocery stores, and gas stations in West Virginia,” says Megan. “It’s a staple, but it’s extremely difficult to find (outside of West Virginia).”
With Megan helping Brooklyn learn all aspects of business operations – from marketing to inventory to customer service – the Halls launched the Brooklyn Pepperoni Rolls in late February. The company sells six-packs of pepperoni rolls for $ 10 and delivers once a week in a wide radius around Traverse City. The first editions of 75 rolls sold out quickly, prompting the halls to double weekly production to more than 150. The popularity of the roles has led the duo to negotiate a shared commercial kitchen area on the east side of Traverse City – which will be a retail component – and a presence at the Red Dresser Barn Market on May 28th and The Village on the Plan Grand Traverse Commons Farmers Market this summer. “These buns have always been a part of our lives, but it was really amazing to share with the community,” says Megan.
Ponyboy Bake Drop and Lost Village Pierogi have also cultivated cult followers in Traverse City without the benefits of a local retail store. After Alicia Manson and Lyndsey Egli closed their Gold Baby Biscuits restaurant in Suttons Bay last spring, they started the Ponyboy Bake Drop. The couple posted tantalizing photos of weekly rotating goods like chocolate cake, cinnamon rolls and sticky buns on Instagram. Customers write their orders by SMS, pay via Venmo and secure their free delivery (Ponyboy occasionally also offers meeting places). Meanwhile, Lost Village Pierogi, located in Petoskey, has hosted several special drive-up events in other communities, including Traverse City and Cheboygan. Customers order a range of home-made Polish staple foods in advance – including 20 different types of pierogi, potato pancakes, kapusta (fried cabbage and sweet onions), sauerkraut and kielbasa dogs – and choose a time to pick them up on the date of the event. Upcoming popup events will be advertised on the company’s Facebook page.