Recently, my beat led me to two North Little Rock natives who founded a startup in Chicago. Their service matches people with pickup trucks and vans to people and businesses that need bulky things "schlepped," on the customer's timeline with reasonable prices. Meet Schlep: the thing you wish you had the last time you moved.
When Hunter Riley decided to help his brother out by hauling art from his North Little Rock gallery to Chicago in his pickup, he didn't anticipate it would lead to an entirely different career path.
While there, someone heard Riley had a pickup and asked for help moving a credenza. Something soon became clear to Riley and his childhood friend John Goodwin, a fellow Arkansan working in advertising in Chicago at the time.
Growing up on Topf Road in North Little Rock, the two childhood neighbors always had a friend with a pickup. Not so for many people in places like the Windy City, they realized.
So they founded Schlep to match people with large vehicles and brawn to customers who had bulky items too big to be easily moved but too small to justify hiring a moving service.
"You're going to call on anyone with a truck and an extra set of muscles if you have something heavy to lift across town," said Riley, who has a background in international development and nonprofit and startup consulting. "We really formed a vision around that ... anyone with a pickup truck, a cargo van or SUV could utilize them in a way to make extra money."
"We consider ourselves part of the 'gig economy,' the idea that anyone can plug in through our platform and our marketplace, the vision that individuals with these resources could make extra money." Short-term rental company Airbnb and ride-sharing service Uber are examples of this kind of marketplace, providing platforms for part-time income to independent contractors.
Schleppers, as the movers/drivers are called, go through three levels of vetting before they can claim jobs: personality, professionalism and full background checks.
"The screening process is the most important part and the reason we've grown in such a particular way," Riley said. "It really boils down to 'are you comfortable with this person? Would you be comfortable with them in your home?'
"We're offering an independent contractor network for people to make extra money with the neighborliness from Arkansas, the idea that the person delivering your things is someone you'd want to have a conversation with," Riley said.
The company's tagline, "Your Neighbor with a Truck," encapsulates this.
"We're just two Arkansas boys bringing Arkansas values to a Chicago-based company," Riley said.
Once the pair started digging into the issue, it became clear that there were individual and business needs for this service. Event planners, interior designers and furniture stores previously had to rely on expensive and large moving companies and courier services often unable to handle quick turnarounds.
"We still Schlep for consumers who have a one-off need like for a move, but we primarily plan to make ourselves part of the local logistical business, insert ourselves into this ecosystem," Riley said.
"Prior to using Schlep, we would contract out our Chicago-area moves to different providers. This was costly and not scalable," said Schlep customer Michael Stone of Interior Define, a Chicago furniture store. "Partnering with Schlep provides us with the security and efficiency to handle any type of move and has really made a huge impact on our business in Chicago."
"Everyone wants to associate our business as the Lyft or Uber of," Riley said. "But we never saw that as the end-all, be-all of the company. We've adopted a hybrid model."
Independent contractors range from people with seasonal jobs and students to Crossfit instructors. These "Schleppers" get first dibs on jobs posted on the Schlep app, planned generally a week in advance, unlike the instantaneous Uber or Lyft. However, also unlike the popular ride-sharing services, Schlep has six full-time employees who do deliveries, promote and work events, and train independent contractors. Full-timers are relied on if no one is able to take a job.
All contractors are paid per move. Each delivery's price is determined based on how far something has to go and how many "obstacles" are involved, like a staircase or elevator. Riley estimates a typical Schlep is a sectional sofa moving about four miles with one obstacle, which costs about $75-$80.
"Honestly, I think it's one of the best workplace environments, because we [Schleppers] create it," said Josue Barrera, who has replaced two part-time jobs with a job with Schlep on his own schedule. "Yes, the standard set by Schlep is high in regard to quality, but I'm practically working for myself. I'm my own boss.
"I think of Schlep as a broker providing customer leads. I just show up and do the easy part -- lift couches, etc."
Since their first Schlep delivery on Sept. 1, 2014, the company raised investment capital and has now set a goal of $1 million. They currently handle hundreds of jobs per month.
"It is a great idea -- simple and beneficial for the community, especially on short notice," said Aaron Wolf, a part-time contractor and full-time outfitter and wilderness guide. "People love it."
Riley and Goodwin hope to expand the company nationwide.
"The ultimate vision is to really define the Schlep niche," Riley said. "We think this is a niche that doesn't yet have a solution. It's too often defaulted to people doing it themselves or having to spend way more money than they should."
SundayMonday Business on 08/14/2016
Print Headline: Boyhood chums find market ready for Uberlike mover