Serial entrepreneur Brenda Stoner was 5 years into growing her most successful venture to date when the world turned upside down.
Her shipping and logistics company, Pickup, had made its way into 51 markets, from its Dallas home base to other major cities like Boston, Denver, New York and Las Vegas. In addition to working with smaller companies, she had forged partnerships with national retailers like Buy Buy Baby and Pier 1. Stoner declined to disclose the company’s revenue but said sales for 2019 tripled that of 2018.
Pickup’s specialty is same-day “delivery of items more than 50 pounds going less than 50 miles” coordinated by her 86-strong team of full- and part-time employees. A major selling point, she says, is her delivery crew of military veterans, first responders and other “neighborhood heroes” who need part-time employment.
But in March, of course, everything changed. And Stoner had to adapt quickly to make sure her company stayed open — in part, so she could continue to provide jobs for her “good guys.”
When Disaster Hit
In addition to steering the company through a period of growth, Stoner had been in the middle of a Series B fundraising round when the United States went on lockdown to minimize the spread of Covid-19. The coronavirus crisis, understandably, took all of her focus — especially because, “around March 23, 70 percent of our delivery [partners’] locations closed overnight.”
To make sure Pickup didn’t fold, Stoner first tightened the company budget, in part by implementing company-wide pay cuts (hers included). Then, she reached out to partners like Buy Buy Baby, who were selling essentials, in hopes of making Pickup their final delivery go-to and ramping up orders with them.
But she knew it wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference, since the amount of orders placed to Pickup was 40 percent of its pre-pandemic rate. So Stoner added grocery stores deliveries at lower rates than what she traditionally charges for larger items to her company’s offerings — and it’s made a significant difference.
The move was inspired, in large part, by customer feedback, Stoner says. “We have heard from many existing and new partners that there is a significant need for reliable same-day service on bags and smaller items.” And in some ways, it’s even been easier on the contracted workers who handle her deliveries — “they’re not lugging an armoire up three flights of stairs,” for example.
But adjusting wasn’t exactly a smooth process, she says, especially when it came to keeping everyone safe. “Masks and sanitizer were impossible to find,” she says, and figuring out contact-free deliveries was hardly a breeze. Meanwhile, her executive team had to puzzle out ways to efficiently work from home.
Finding Silver Linings
Despite the hardships, Stoner has found ways to take advantage of this time, while easing her company into its new normal. She says “business development is through the roof,” as they strategize for the purchasing boom she anticipates once restrictions ease.
A Paycheck Protection Program loan of just over $2 million will also help significantly, she says, calling the emergency cash infusion a “godsend.” So far, she has not had to let any of her staff go.
It’s been tough going all the same, but Stoner is doing what she can to stay positive as well as flexible — a struggle in and of itself, she notes. “Being a resilient leader over this amount of time, with this much uncertainty, is a strain. It’s the leadership challenge of my career.”