When restaurants were forced to change how they did business during the pandemic, Garrick Pohl saw an opportunity to test the market for a curbside service that focused on local small businesses.
Pohl, a serial entrepreneur and executive director of West Michigan startup support firm SpinDance Labs Inc., launched a pilot project that provides a centralized curbside delivery method for local farms, restaurants and products. Known as Cubi Market LLC, the company launched two locations earlier this year at 430 W. 17th St. in Holland and at 1201 Wealthy St. SE in Grand Rapids.
Residents living near Cubi locations can order groceries or locally sourced goods online and have them delivered to the centralized locations, which include temperature-controlled lockers for specific orders.
Pohl said the concept has evolved to focus on helping these local producers and suppliers reach more consumers.
“This idea came at the same time when we were all experiencing a change to how we buy food, buying food online, and getting more familiar with curbside pickup and delivery,” Pohl said. “Our team said curbside is working for big-box retail, how can we deploy that for local businesses?”
Cubi is now an outlet for 32 vendors, including a range of restaurants, farms, bakeries and businesses offering home goods.
Eliminating the last-mile delivery to someone’s home saves on packaging and additional transportation costs that are passed on to the consumer, Pohl said. The secure, temperature-controlled lockers also account for quality control, he added.
“Initially we were just looking at food in general and where we could add some value. Where we ultimately landed was how people were shopping for food online and how they were picking it up,” Pohl said. “Home delivery was the traditional way, but there is so much waste with home delivery.”
Cubi’s model caters to small vendors that may lack a brick and mortar storefront or rely on weekly farmers markets. Cubi makes these businesses more accessible and gives vendors a platform to sell throughout the week, said Paul Mixa, Cubi Market’s marketplace director and chief curator.
“People can get local, quality, fresh produce multiple days of the week and don’t have to wait for one day out of the week or have to wait in long lines,” Mixa said. “It’s easier and more accessible for many days throughout the week.”
After launching a few months ago, Mixa and Pohl expect Cubi activity to pick up as the weather gets warmer and more produce is available. The average size of orders has also grown since the concept launched, Pohl said.
“Our road map and vision for this is to not just be in a couple locations — we want to be where the traffic is,” Pohl said. “Sometimes that might be literally foot traffic and vehicle traffic, but sometimes that could be a multiple tenant dwelling, or employer or college campus.”
The centralized concept can also support small businesses that may be struggling with high overhead costs such as rent at a brick and mortar location, Pohl said.
“Ultimately, with the merchants we want a very predictable sales channel,” Pohl said. “It’s the uncertainty of demand that makes it difficult to build those businesses in the early years, and this can be a way for us to increase that consistency.”
The Grand Rapids Cubi location is at a vacant corner lot at Wealthy Street SE and Fuller Avenue SE. Grand Rapids-based construction and design firm Metric Structures LLC was eyeing the property for a two-story mixed-use development that included a small grocery store. However, the timing of that plan has been delayed because of the pandemic.
“We’d been working on striking a partnership with local vendors for a market there. Cubi came to us and it seemed like a good test fit,” said Metric Structures founder Jacey Shachter. “Cubi has aspirations for expansion down the road, and we’re open to a partnership with them. We’re keeping our opportunities open.”