Eating out, in

 

After working as a manager at Progressive Insurance for four years and earning an MBA, at the end of the day, Mike Sarjeant’s favorite job was working as a delivery driver.

So he found a way to make it his full-time gig.

 

Tired of working for other people and wanting to work together, Mike Sarjeant and his wife Alice Sarjeant, an attorney, established Turbo Eats, an independent restaurant delivery service.

One month into business, the couple said they’d like to be busier, but are confident about the business model.

Turbo Eats partners with local restaurants that don’t deliver, buys their food at a discount, then charges a $6.50 delivery fee to drop it off anywhere in Vancouver or Camas.

Customers get more choices for delivery than pizza or Chinese, and restaurants get to outsource their delivery business, expanding their customer base while eliminating the hassle and cost of doing it on their own.

By no means is it a new concept, Mike Sarjeant said, but it is new to Vancouver.

“We found a need and filled it,” he said.

They knew the need firsthand.

While Mike Sarjeant was at Progressive, Alice Sarjeant worked at New Edge Networks. If they wanted to meet for lunch, food choices were limited around the office.

They usually ventured to the 164th corridor, which ultimately slashed their lunch hours and defeated the purpose of sharing lunch in the first place.

Not an uncommon occurrence, the Sarjeants are planning to market Turbo Eats to local businesses.

The company already has a client who makes large orders regularly for business lunches. The service has also proven popular with salon workers and people who can’t leave their posts when they’re hungry.

But Sarjeant has been surprised by the variety of individuals who’ve used the service so far, such as busy moms.

Customers can place orders online or over the phone, and there is a $20 minimum order.

Kim Meadors, who owns Juliano’s Pizzeria, said the 20-year-old Vancouver restaurant has lost business in the past because it doesn’t have the capacity to deliver.

Calls asking whether the restaurant delivers were common, and Meadors perfected a response: “You know, we don’t. But our pizza is so good, people come on down and pick it up.”

“Our cute little line would work on some people, but only about two out of 10 people would chose to pick it up,” Meadors said. “The other eight would call somewhere else. When people want delivery, they want delivery.”

Meadors signed on with Turbo Eats because it provides a venue for delivery she hasn’t had before. The service makes sense, and Meadors is confident in the system the Sarjeants have set up – when Turbo Eats receives an order, it’s faxed to the restaurant, then Mike Sarjeant calls to ensure the order is received.

“For us, if we can pick up those eight people, that’s extra business,” Meadors said.

Mike Sarjeant said the partnership is appealing because the restaurants share in Turbo Eats’ success. When the service advertises, it advertises for the restaurants. And its growth is dependent on the restaurants’ success.

The start-up costs were minimal – a small, out-of-the way office, two phone lines, computers, a website, menus and insulated delivery bags.

The couple did not wish to disclose actual costs.

Financing came from the “old bank of Mom and Dad” and personal savings.

In total, it took  about four months to set up shop.

“I’ve not had a single person say this is not a good idea,” Mike Sarjeant said.

But he added that his is the type of business that often fails because it is relatively easy to set up.

“We’re really focusing on customer service,” he said. “What’s going to make or break us is repeat business.”

Ensuring that means getting every order right the first time.

Meadors appreciates that customers are followed up with after their orders are complete.

Currently, the company has two drivers and he is one of them. Eventually, the Sarjeants envision a fleet of delivery vehicles that can act as rolling billboards, but for now, two drivers in their own vehicles will do.

In the first month, the company processed about 50 orders.

“We’d love to be busier,” Mike Sarjeant said.

So far, the Turbo Eats roster includes Samurai Sam’s, Azteca, Eastland Sushi and Asian Cuisine, Pasta Cucina, Patrick’s Hawaiian Cafe, Philly Bilmo’s, Rib City Grill, Juliano’s Pizzeria, Quizno’s and Thai Lotus, but Sarjeant said he is looking to add more.

Sarjeant approached the new Marriott Springhill Suites at Columbia Tech Center only to find that Director of Sales Amy Polak already knew about the service.

Polak heard about the company from one of its loyal customers at Underwriters Laboratory. The hotel has agreed to put the Turbo Eats menu book in each of its 119 suites.

“I think it’s awesome,” Polak said. “We don’t have a restaurant on the property, so it gives guests another option if they don’t want to go out.”

The hotel serves breakfast, but guests are on their own for lunch and dinner. Front desk staff will pick up food for them, but a delivery service is more convenient for everyone, she said.

“Having an option for lunch and dinner is really nice to have,” Polak said.  “I think it’s a great idea, and I’m glad there’s something like this in Vancouver now.”

Insurance has been a struggle. On the business’ third day, a driver got into an accident and had to be let go.

Gas prices also have been interesting, as they’ve been for any delivery-centered business, but Mike Sarjeant said it is a double-edged sword.

“We can use that (to market) because it means customers don’t have to drive to pick up food,” he said.

“You don’t have to eat the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day,”  he said. “We want to give people a choice. Until now, if you wanted delivery, your options were pretty limited.”

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