While the coronavirus pandemic has pushed everyone’s limits in many ways, one Thermo King customer – Maple View Mobile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was literally stretched to near breaking points during the height of local quarantines and social distancing.
“Before COVID-19, I was servicing 100-125 customers. In a peak 30-day window during the pandemic, I had grown to 540 customers – I literally had to shut down our website for a while because I could not logistically do more,” said Jerry Richardson, owner of the home delivery business that started bringing locally produced dairy-fresh milk to neighborhoods in the fall of 2016.
Jerry is the modern day milkman and we first shared his entrepreneurial story in 2018. The single Thermo King-refrigerated van operator was one of the many Thermo King-supported businesses that found out just how essential his services are in times of need – and how appreciated it was as more and more folks were staying home and in many cases, afraid to go out if not necessary.
“My original customer base consisted primarily of families who appreciated farm-fresh nutritious milk and the nostalgia of front-door glass bottle delivery that also supported environmentally-friendly recycling efforts,” explained Jerry. “As communities adjusted to new norms and were looking for more options in home delivery, they found me and the word spread quickly.”
So quickly that Jerry found his milk delivery sales exceeding total 2019 revenues by the middle of May. A good thing considering the other part of his business, which consists of ice cream sales at local festivals and events, became non-existent because of mandatory cancellations.
Doing what it takes
As Jerry’s milk routes grew, so did his working hours (12-13 hour days were not unusual) and so were the hours logged on his Thermo King V-520 SmartPower electric standby refrigeration unit, which performed like a champ.
“That unit was running nearly non-stop, cycling on and off over and over again with the many stops and did not let me or my customers down,” said Jerry. And neither did Temperature Control Solutions, Jerry’s Thermo King dealer in Raleigh.
“I had two issues with the unit during this busy period and the dealership had everything taken care of within 24 hours. I can’t say enough how vital a guaranteed maintenance program is for peace of mind and uninterrupted service to customers.”
Jerry’s decision to diversify his business from solely ice cream sales proved to be a good one financially – who knew that a pandemic was coming? Even more heart-warming was the way his customers supported his milk delivery efforts and his small business. “I had customers tell me to keep billing them even if they were out of town or sick. When the dairy that supplies the milk ran out of glass bottles for a while, no one complained or asked for discounts. Others urged me to add eCommerce capabilities so they could add tips. That support really kept me going those long days and demonstrated the community support for small business.”
A new normal
Business has leveled a bit and a new normal is beginning to take shape in the community. Jerry expects to retain at least double the customers he had pre-COVID, and while both he and his Thermo King unit are enjoying the return to more normal working hours, there are no doubts about their ability to ramp up again if the demand escalates.
Whether you like your biscuits smothered in gravy or piping hot with a slab of salted butter, they are the quintessential comfort food. Carrie Morey, of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, knows a thing or two about making homemade biscuits.