When James Farmer launched EasyBins in 2018, the thought of it being a lifeline during a national crisis was one rationale for creating the grocery home delivery service. But it wasn’t the only or even the primary one.
“The model and the business of EasyBins was built from the beginning to be a very fluid, dynamic model that could adapt into a lot of different things,” Farmer says. “The underpinning of this business we’ve built is a very flexible model that we could do a lot of different things with and plug a lot of different things into.”
The Springdale-based company began in Northwest Arkansas and then expanded to Conway in 2019. Deliveries grew steadily until the first quarter of 2020 when the pandemic turned a disruptive concept into a necessity service.
“We had a brand commitment, a brand position and a value proposition before (COVID-19) and we had a lot of volume before this,” he says. “Before corona hit, I think we’d done over 12,000 deliveries and pickups in Arkansas.”
Still, Farmer admitted, “Our brand value and proposition as to why people are using us today is probably different than a month ago.”
EasyBins’ model already checked a lot of consumer boxes, combining the ease of online grocery ordering with the convenience of overnight delivery. There’s even an environmental component in that groceries are delivered in reusable plastic bins instead of the excess packaging that usually comes from online retailers. And, of course, you don’t have to drive to the store to pick up your order, merely poke your head out the front door.
But in March when more and more people were ordered to stay home to help flatten the spread of the virus, EasyBins went from nice to necessary, spiking deliveries more than 200 percent and hastening the the company’s expansion.
Farmer says it’s a fine edge to walk between opportunity and maintaining the strategic discipline to stick to the smaller communities and suburbs where the model currently works best.
“We’re like FedEx, we route everything,” he says. “A big city like Little Rock is just a little bit more difficult to get our arms around versus a Conway, a Searcy, a Broken Arrow (Okla.), an Overland Park (Kan.), those types of places.”
EasyBins’ expansion – by the end of March the company website reported service had rolled out in Arkadelphia – means aggressive hiring. EasyBins jumped from about 27 employees to 40 in March, to include order fillers and drivers with prescribed routes who make delivery by 6 a.m. and return later to pick up empty bins.
The health crisis forced some adjustments on the fulfillment side, as the general public’s COVID-19 buying habits put a kink in the company’s sourcing strategy for groceries and other items (toilet paper, for instance, is an item listed under the menu “Whatever We Find”). Farmer says diversity of sourcing is one element of the program that helps guard against excessive outages, at least under non-pandemic conditions.
“We’ve pulled from different places based on an algorithm we use,” he says. “Today it’s a little bit different because of corona.”
“We do want people to know if they want to buy organic produce or organic chicken specifically from Whole Foods that they can. We get customer requests like, ‘I want my meat from Harp’s.’ Nobody really asks, ‘Where are my Cheerios from?’”
Farmer has also leveraged EasyBins’ platform to perform altruistic work. The company held a canned food drive a while back to stock a local food pantry, the success of which led EasyBins to form a partnership with Potter’s House, a Fayetteville nonprofit serving economic- and food-challenged families. A page on the EasyBins website makes it easy for people to donate money or needed groceries to the organization.
“Our flywheel, if you will, for Easy Bins is order density. The more things we deliver, the more stops we have per morning, the more efficient our drivers are,” he says. “Being aware of the issues around food insecurity, I like to be a person of action. There’s a lot of people contributing to the food insecure scene and doing lots of great work and I was like, ‘Well, I think Easy Bins has customers who would buy people’s groceries.’”
“We’re all about removing friction from the transaction; if I remove friction and just make it easy to buy a package of lunch meat and then we take care of the delivery side of it, we’re aggregating lots of people helping one person and the cost to do that is incredibly low. So, we just called up Potter’s House and said, ‘Hey, we have this crazy idea for y’all.’ And kudos to them; they jumped on board.”
Find EasyBins at easybins.com. To learn more about the Potter House, visit pottershousekids.com.