CAMDEN- When Sue Craft started her Camden-based delivery service it was on a vision, she said.
“It was interesting how I got started,” she said. “I get these ideas that sometimes run away with me.”
She explained that about two years ago she approached John McCluskey, co-owner of Camden House of Pizza, about offering pizza delivery for his customers.
“He turned me down,” she said.
That is, until about two weeks later when she ran into him on the street and he asked if they could have a further conversation.
Craft said she had initially offered to deliver just for tips, but was encouraged to have a built-in delivery fee, advice she took, tacking on a $5 charge for delivery within five miles of Camden.
Over the ensuing two years, Craft said she worked with Camden House of Pizza to take payment and made most deliveries for them; one of her two vans bears the logo of the establishment.
Fast forward to October 2018 when Craft said she began talking with McCluskey about expanding her service while continuing her relationship with Camden House of Pizza.
“I thought, ‘it’s working here, so what if?’” She said.
In January, Craft Delivery Service launched more formally and with a model that includes delivery of nearly anything to homes, businesses, lodgings and even restaurants in the area. Craft noted that the delivery service and Camden House of Pizza have always been separate but affiliated.
“We deliver from any restaurant that does takeout, we grocery shop,” she mused, “we work to partner with other businesses.”
Craft Delivery Services also offers prescription pickup. Craft explained that a customer must pay for their medications at the pharmacy over the phone and inform the pharmacy that Craft will be picking up for them.
She discussed a large grocery shopping order that she is making to assist a visitor in provisioning a rental for her stay in Maine. Craft said she believes the client discovered her service online and called her several weeks ago. With large grocery shops, Craft said advance notice is required, however she is happy to grab a few items for a customer on a whim.
Craft said her current partners include the Camden House of Pizza, Megunticook Market, Flatbread, the Lobster Pound and RAYR wine shop.
“The partnerships are designed to help them and help me. I also think it’s nice that people can see that we are working together as a community,” she said.
She added that business partners have been talking with her about getting their logos on one of her two vans.
The only establishments that dispatch Craft directly are Camden House of Pizza and RAYR, she said.
Craft discussed another partnership that is in its formative stages: "Sweet Welcome" is a collaboration between United Midcoast Charities, Red Barn Bakery and Craft Delivery designed to welcome newcomers to the neighborhood with a fresh blueberry pie delivered to their doorstep.
“It is in the process of expanding,” she said.
Orders from other restaurants or businesses are handled by the client who calls in their order and then call Craft for pickup and delivery. She delivers the order and takes payment at the time of delivery, she explained.
“I explain it this way: ‘I am your agent, you call in your order, call me and I bring it to your door.’”
Craft pays up front for customer orders and then receives payment on delivery, she said.
With two vans and expanding demand Craft said the business has branched out to include her husband and two sons.
“We’ve kind of made it into a family business,” she said.
She explained that it works well to enlist the enthusiastic help of her family, especially in an economy where help is difficult to find and the business model not entirely predictable.
“I wake up in the morning and I have no idea what I am going to make,” she said.
Craft said that while she works to stick to the five-mile radius around Camden, she will occasionally perform a delivery that takes her further away.
The cost of longer distance deliveries varies, she used the example of delivering to Thomaston, which, she said, commands a fee of $15.
For large grocery shops she has a different billing structure, charging $25 per hour for time, plus mileage.
She said that she hopes that down the road she will have the ability to station a driver in Rockland in order to offer service to the greater Rockland area on a regular basis.
Currently, Craft Delivery Service operates from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, with hours extended until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
She has some clients who she works with regularly and has customized arrangements with, including a local chef who texts her his grocery list several mornings a week.
Craft said she just set a record for the number of deliveries in a day at 24. That excludes grocery orders and arrangements such as the one she has with the aforementioned chef.
She said her goal is to perform 40 deliveries a day and that her current average hovers in the high teens.
“This has been the best community.” she said.
She visits businesses and hotels, many of which offered to prominently display the rack card touting her service.
“Business after business asked, ‘how can we support you?’” She said. “Everyone was wonderful, it takes all of us to help each other along.”
She said many ask her what the impetus for offering a delivery service was.
“I didn’t aspire to be a delivery person,” she said, noting that she grew up in a home that nurtured her visionary, entrepreneurial spirit. “It’s the contact with people and customers that I love.”
Customers often compare her service to Uber Eats or Grub Hub, but she does not see her brand that way. She hopes she will never run her business off an app.
“It’s all about the conversations you have on the phone, the conversations you have during the delivery; those are important,” she said.
Some customers depend on her service when they cannot leave the home or have a loved one who requires their care.
“I had this realization that sometimes I may be the only face that someone sees all day, their only human contact,” she said. “I hope to use my business to keep the contact and the conversation going.”
A digitized society, while convenient, has detracted from the amount of human contact people experience.
“That is part of why I like to take payment at the door; it gives me a chance to have a conversation,” she said.
Reach Jenna Lookner at email@example.com