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Special delivery.

Special Delivery

Carting dairy products and more door-to-door, Mat-Su Milkman has discovered new avenues of opportunity.

WORD OF MOUTH HAS some Anchorage area residents benefiting from a small business with a retroconcept more familiar to their grandparents - door-to-door deliveries from the milkman. And these days, milk isn't all he delivers.

The Mat-Su Milkman Co. is a home-delivery service specializing in doorstep deliveries of mainly Alaskan dairy and bakery products. Competitively priced with local grocery chain stores, the company offers more than 200 items, including chocolate milk, popsicles, eggs, gourmet coffee, bagels, smoked duck, salmon, soda pop and film developing.

Duane Bower and Ron Maclure started Mat-Su Milkman with a small truck and big dreams in June 1986. Tight budgeting preempted advertising, but innovation won recognition. The pair printed 25,000 flyers listing their grocery items and hand-delivered the flyers in various neighborhoods.

Bower and Maclure offered to bring what they call "mundane" items to the customers doorstep for a 50-cent delivery fee. The milkmen require a minimum grocery order of $5 before a customer can be added to the delivery route.

"People don't get much fun out of shopping for Tide or eggs - boring stuff - so they let us guys deliver it and they wake up to find it in a cooler on their doorstep," says Maclure. "In some cases, the customers have us come in while they're sleeping and put the stuff right in the fridge."

Freshness is the partners' key selling point. In the beginning, Bower and Maclure negotiated wholesale prices for goods from Sunrise Bakery and Matnuska Maid Dairy, so they could provide fresh local dairy and bakery goods to customers and pocket the markup. Since then, distributors such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cafe Del Mundo, The Bagel Factory, Alaska Supreme Ice Cream and Europa Bakery have added to Mat-Su Milkman's line of products.

Becoming middlemen seemed like a good idea, says Maclure. He admits the idea for the service company came while watching a television program on a Denver, Colo., home-delivery service that had grown into a multimillion dollar business with a fleet of 110 trucks in just 10 years.

"At that time, the Mat-Su dairies were in the news for dumping excess milk that couldn't get shipped out in time," says Maclure. "So phone calls were made and we found that a home-delivery service would work."

Maclure says the idea also has helped to preserve domestic harmony in his own household as well as in those of his customers. "In may case, my wife would ask me to stop after work and pick up some milk and eggs, but I'd forget or buy too much and get chewed out for buying candy bars and potato chips," he explains. He says most of the more than 1,100 residences the company delivers to are families in which both parents have jobs outside the home.

Maclure cites two reasons customers like his service: "First, they save money by eliminating the impulse items; they don't go home with $15 or $20 worth of extra goodies. And second, the freshness of the products is hard to beat locally."

Bower agrees: "The majority of our customers do their major shopping once or twice a month and we fill in the gaps."

The two partners became friends years ago while working for the same furniture-moving company. Describing himself as a "speedboat" in business ventures, the 34-year-old Maclure says he appreciates Bower's conservative attitude. "Duane is the company's anchor. He slows us down when I get going too fast."

Bower, 53, says he wasn't sure what to think when Maclure approached him to invest in the company. "`Oh,' I thought, `what's he getting me into now!' But I though about it and it sounded like a good thing to do."

Armed with $150,000 in bank loans and personal savings, the two began small and cautiously. Yet, in the last year, the Mat-Su Milkman Co.'s clientele has more than doubled, giving the pair an optimistic outlook and surpassing the goal of just breaking even.

Since the business began three years ago, Maclure has continued to drive many of the delivery routes himself, while Bower maintains the office, orders grocery supplies and handles bookkeeping. Three additional truck drivers complete the staff, making deliveries from midnight to 8 a.m. Roadside Attractions. Some days, delivering the goods is an adventure. Bower chuckles about an incident in the Anchorage Hillside neighborhood when a new driver was too busy filling a cooler to notice the "dog" in the yard was a black bear. "It wasn't till he got back in the truck and turned on the headlights that he realized how close he passed by the bear," Bower says.

Once a case of mistaken identity put Maclure on the wrong end of a rifle. "Some residents like us to put their stuff directly in the cupboards," he explains. "So there I am in the middle of the night shuffling around in this guy's kitchen, when his visiting mother-in-law ran into me on the way to the bathroom. She screamed, I dropped the cottage cheese, and out came her son-in-law with a gun! I can laugh about it now, but that was a scare."

Expanding slowly, the company has increased its fleet of delivery trucks by one vehicle a year. Mat-Su Milkman logs about 7,000 miles a month. Delivery routes have been expanded from Anchorage south to Girdwood and north to Thunderbird Falls. Most routes are covered once a week, but some areas require two or three deliveries a week. "That makes for one tremendous gas bill," says Maclure.

Customers run the gamut from doctors and lawyers to North Slope workers and gas station attendants. Day-care centers make up a major portion of the clientele. "Yuppies are a big part of our business," muses Maclure.

In addition to offering door-to-door service, Mat-Su Milkman guarantees the freshest milk in town. By delivering the product directly from the dairy's conveyor belt, consumers receive the milk much sooner and benefit from a longer spoilage date than grocery store distribution allows, according to Maclure.

Mat-Su Milkman's narrow profit margin has made the past three years an uphill battle. Based on most recent growth, Maclure says 1989's fourth-quarter projections point to the company's first climb out of the red.

"The cash flow at times has been rough. Duane and I have looked at each other at times and wondered why we still keep at it," he says. "We have to pay our distributors up-front for the grocery items we deliver, but our customers have the advantage of a billing system."

Roy Briley, general manager of Sunrise Bakery, says Mat-Su Milkman is service oriented. "Because they were doing very well and were so reliable, I called them and asked if they'd be interested in being our Matanuska-Girdwood distributor. They've been wholesale and retail distributors down there for more than nine months and it's worked out well for Sunrise."

Lissa Briley, Roy's wife, has used the service since its startup and says the convenience is invaluable. "I have four kids and we go through a lot of milk," she says. "It actually saves me that extra trip to the grocery store every week. It saves money and I think it works out really well for families. I've recommended them to just about everybody."

Rural residents also have begun to take advantage of the delivery service. More than 30 Bush residents now call in their orders weekly and have their items packed in ice, shipped and received in less than 24 hours. "It's a new arena with a lot of potential for us, and we're doing it cheaper than those rural grocery stores out there. Plus, the freshness makes it more than worthwhile for Bush customers," notes Maclure.

Bower says their service is simply a new twist on an old idea; an old convenience that has been modified and modernized. "Besides a major grocery selection, the only difference now is that cardboard has replaced the glass milk bottles so you can't see the cream rising to the top anymore."

For the partners of Mat-Su Milkman Co., rising to the top means slow and steady growth, capitalizing on a rich future as more customers discover the convenience of home delivery-a service their grandparents once took for granted.

PHOTO : Ron Maclure, partner and co-founder of Mat-Su Milkman Co., greets a customer while making

PHOTO : morning deliveries.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Mat-Su Milkman Co. home-delivers dairy and baked goods
Author:Evangelista, Catherine
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Words:1400
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