Dinner has arrived

Camille North, of Café Courier, exits Jalisco’s on Wednesday. North, who also works as a teacher at American Heritage Charter School and teaches English to Chinese students online, says her delivery job offers her flexibility. “It’s nice extra money,” North said. “You tell them the hours you can work and they work around it.” John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Camille North, of Café Courier, poses for a photo beside her car on Wednesday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Patrick Lawrence, owner of Pick Me Up, poses for a photo in his vehicle on Dec. 14. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Patrick Lawrence, owner of Pick Me Up, shows off a digital gift certificate for his company on Dec, 14. Lawrence provides delivery services from Walmart as well as offers rides for customers. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Some days, the stresses of life can stand in the way of everyday duties.

Whether it’s tackling a hamper full of laundry, grabbing your prescription from the pharmacy, or fixing dinner for your family, life can sometimes get in the way.

But thanks to several local entrepreneurs, you can get help with these services and others when life bogs you down.

Since the advent of ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, many companies have been taking that model and applying it to assist customers with other aspects of their lives. From delivering dinner from your favorite restaurant to picking up groceries at the local store, these innovative services have started to change the way many approach their daily tasks.

And they are beginning to make waves in eastern Idaho.

‘Offering variety’

J.J. Barney is the president of Café Courier — a Bozeman, Mont.-based premium restaurant delivery service that services customers across the region.

Since 2014, Barney has overseen the company’s expansion into eight cities across eastern Idaho and Montana. Its clientele includes nearly 200 restaurants across the region.

“The world is realizing that we can create an efficiency out of about anything,” Barney said. “Whether you want groceries or hardware delivered, someone to pick up your mail, or anything like that, there are these new outsourced, third-party, independent contractor — ‘gig economy,’ as we call it — jobs out there.”

The restaurants Café Courier works with range from locally owned small businesses to major chains, although the latter is a struggle for Barney to get on board at times.

“A lot of corporations have decided at the corporate level that they are not going to work with a third-party affiliate,” he said. “At that point it can become a pretty difficult task, but we’ve actually been able to tackle that obstacle as well. And it’s not always been easy.”

Café Courier offers delivery service from any of its affiliated restaurants for a $3.99 fee, and can be accessed through its website www.cafecourier.com, or by phone at 208-385-7000.

“The great thing of what we do is offering variety,” Barney said. “I like to think of it as a shoe store. You walk in and can get any brand or any style you’re looking for right on the spot.”

And it is that idea of convenience and variety that companies like Café Courier offer that is driving up the interest in this unique and rising industry.

‘A good niche’

To help pay his way through college, Scott Adams worked as a delivery man for Pizza Hut in Pocatello.

The experience inspired his eventual career.

“I saw how awesome it is for people to have delivery options for their food and how often it was used,” he said. “That’s where the seed was planted.”

That seed eventually blossomed into the Idaho Falls Food Express — a franchise runthrough Michigan-based company Five-Star Food Express.

Adams’ Food Express locations average 7 to 10 drivers at each and charges a flat rate of $5 for each delivery, of which $4 goes to the delivery driver.

Adams owns franchise locations in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Pocatello. The Pocatello location, which opened in January was his first.

And it has been a successful business model for the young entrepreneur.

“It is definitely gaining momentum and steam as we continue to satisfy customers and spread the word,” he said. “Things are definitely moving.

“We’ve got a pretty good niche.”

That niche focuses on what Adams calls a “premium convenience service.” Online at www.if.express or by phone at 208-357-9800, customers can place an order from any of Idaho Falls Food Express’s 19 affiliate restaurants and have the meal delivered to their doorstep within the hour.

Senior-focused in the technology boom

For some, the idea of online or app-based delivery services might seem discomforting. Because of this, Patrick Lawrence has developed an alternative that can provide the benefits of these popular apps, and even go a step further.

Lawrence is vice president and co-owner of Pick Me Up, a full-service transportation operation, offering ride share services, restaurant delivery, prescription delivery, and grocery pickups, to name a few.

The idea for Pick Me Up came from Lawrence’s time as an Uber and Lyft driver in Coeur d’Alene.

“We started getting a whole bunch of requests for prescription deliveries and services from other businesses that dealt with our senior community,” he said.

Now residing in Idaho Falls, Lawrence, along with his wife and company president Abigail, founded Pick Me Up in February in Coeur d’Alene and has been operating out of Idaho Falls for the past month. One of his goals was to help a senior population that may not be as familiar or comfortable with smartphones.

“Our biggest focus is the senior community,” Lawrence said. “Because a lot of our seniors don’t use the smartphone or they’re not sure about Uber, Lyft, and the different ride share companies that are out there.”

With the rise of convenience services based solely through online or smartphone access, there remain people who don’t have the ability or desire to utilize what many business offer through apps.

Pick Me Up offers access its services through either a phone call or text message.

“It was a need we saw that needed to be filled,” he said. “So doing this, we’ve fallen in love with having the ability to help people who would not otherwise have the ability to have transportation services. “

Pick Me Up doesn’t just cater to seniors, however. Lawrence welcomes any customer, and even offers special event services that include what he refers to as “bar runs,” shuttling customers to bars and then taking them back to their homes at the end of the night.

“We’re available at any time,” he said.

The primary focus of Pick Me Up remains on providing a unique service to those that might not have the transportation needs for every day tasks.

“A lot of the ride share services don’t offer the personalized services such as grocery shopping or prescription pickup,” Lawrence said. “Pretty much any transportation need is what Pick Me Up is all about. We would like to be able to reach and service all of the senior community … and bring awareness to Idaho Falls of such services that are here.”

The industry’s future

According to Esther Eke, southeastern Idaho regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, predicting the future trend of gig economies is tricky.

“It’s a very new industry and we’re not really sure how to track it here,” she said. “These are emerging markets and we really don’t have any answers at this time. Hopefully in a few years (we will).”

Currently, the closest gauge of the industry’s growth lies within regular employer versus nonemployer establishment growth. A nonemployer business accounts, among others, for businesses such as Uber and Lyft operating with no directly paid employees, but also those operating as independent contractors.

From 2005 to 2015, there has been a sharp growth in nonemployer businesses, rising 15 percent in that period compared to 3 percent for regular employer businesses.

“These numbers are a good indicator that the (gig economy) is growing,” Eke said.

And it’s not just individual entrepreneurs looking to capitalize.

Barney has seen major corporations latch onto the momentum in the home-delivery industry.

“Four or five years ago, we were looking at regional players who had established themselves over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “Now, we’re getting guys like Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“All of a sudden we’ve gone from competing with smaller companies to competing with billion-dollar companies. It’s getting really interesting.”

In 2015, Amazon launched an app-based restaurant delivery service, and recently expanded into grocery delivery services after its purchase of Whole Foods in September.

Earlier this year, Boise-based Albertson’s started offering same-day grocery deliveries in 1,800 markets nationwide. (That service is not yet available in eastern Idaho.)

Facebook also has jumped into the delivery industry, announcing a partnership with several nationwide chains the same month to provide similar services.

These multibillion dollar corporations do concern small business owners such as Barney in this industry. But he is not backing down from the idea of added competition in this growing field.

“This is really just the beginning,” he said.

And Barney believes local businesses such as Café Courier can contend with the upcoming corporate onslaught of this service.

“We feel like we’re prepared for that battle, but it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “We have to get crafty and really maintain the fact that we’re local and know the region.”

Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.