Some people say lovers can’t be business partners, but in the case of David Thomas, 32, and Rachel Renie, 25, this is far from the truth. In March 2009, the young couple officially launched their company, Market Movers, providing home and office delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, eggs, fresh juices, meats and seafood.
Thomas actually had the idea for five years. Back then, he was still working in the banking industry, but had developed a love for agriculture. However, he wanted to provide customers with quality produce in a convenient way. Meanwhile, Renie was abroad in New York studying international relations, while she “spent all her extra money on phone cards to call him in Trinidad”. Her words, not mine.
Operating online, Market Movers puts a whole new spin on going to the market. Customers can browse their website dmarketmovers.com, and place an order online or via telephone, choosing when and where they want their goods delivered. Payment is collected upon delivery. Between Thomas, Renie and their two, part-time employees, they get everything done.
Describing Market Movers as a small company with big dreams, this entrepreneurial couple chatted with Outlish, online, about their business, and you know we had to maco how their budding romance back in the day resulted in sweet peppers, oranges and more. Check it out.
O: How did you’ll link up?
David: We “linked up” at the bank. Rachel entered as a clerical assistant. Guess who was most eager to train her? Soon…ok maybe not so soon, a budding romance… mostly making fun of each other… occurred. From then on we were inseparable.
O: How did Market Movers get started?
David: Sadly Rachel left for college in New York in 2004, while I remained at the bank. We kept a long distance relationship, just less worse than the Ebola virus, for almost five years. During this time I always spoke of my idea to deliver fresh produce to offices, while Rachel planned on returning home to help me make it a reality. Upon her return, I had begun taking orders at local banks via paper forms, which proved, inefficient and unreliable, then Rachel suggested we go online and from there Market Movers officially started.
We were fully equipped to design and launch our own website through yahoo.com. Needless to say we couldn’t afford to pay someone to do a website for us, so it became one of the longest six months of our lives. Once the website was complete, we launched and told everyone we knew about it.
O: Why food?
David & Rachel (D&R): Mostly because we love to eat…
O: Why did you decide to set up your business on the web?
D&R: We noticed that more people were using the Internet and thought this would be a great time to get on board. Also a virtual office is a lot cheaper than a real live one, plus we know convenience is very important to a lot of people. If you can sit in the comfort of your home and have your produce delivered, you might have the time to prepare and actually enjoy a meal.
O: How did you go about setting up the business? Did you do research etc?
D&R: The Internet is a beautiful thing. We were able to do a lot of online research on how to set up a business. We also utilized government services such as NEDCO’s Y.E.S Programme to learn how to do a business plan. We did surveys… we soon figured out most people hate filling them out, to find out what people wanted or needed and to figure out the best customer profile for a business like ours.
O: You have to source suppliers etc. How do you identify suppliers, and how do you maintain quality control standards?
D&R: We usually identify suppliers by their eccentric appearance and lack of sleep in their faces. But mostly due to the fact that Rachel’s brother is a greenhouse farmer/supplier of Market Movers, and has links to all the other greenhouse farmers in Trinidad; that’s a main source right there.
In the beginning, quality control standards were mostly kept by David who sampled everything, but honestly it was only through experience that we were able to identify the freshest produce, as well as those without disease. In the local, wholesale market, advice is never in short supply. For instance, how to tell your pineapple is ripe? If the leaves are easy to remove…the leaf is the spiky stuff on the top. Our staff also sorts through all items and discards spoilt or damaged items. Nothing is wasted. What we don’t give away, we cook and eat ourselves once it’s not rotted.
O: A big part of buying food is inspecting it yourself. How do you work around this with customers who want to see what they’re getting?
D&R: Most of our customers raise this concern. We usually tell them “truuust me, I doing this long time!” But if that doesn’t work, we assure them that our products are hand selected and if they are not fully satisfied, we will either refund or replace the item within 24 hours. The idea of it being ‘risk free’ appeals to a lot of customers; it’s like having a personal shopper who actually likes you.
O: How has business been going?
D&R: Well we were told by one of our mentors to always answer this question with the response “GREAT! BETTER THAN EVER!” Business has honestly been doing well. Our first ten customers back in March were all related to us, while most of them short paid, but today we can safely say we have over 250 regular retail customers, and quite a few wholesale customers and they all pay in full. We wanted our business to grow at a pace we could handle.
We knew from the beginning that overnight millionaires only occur in a lottery line or at a will and testament hearing. We like growing at a pace we can handle. We like knowing our customers or hearing what they made for dinner with our produce. If we were a huge corporation, we would lose that feeling and I don’t think we’re ready for that just yet.
O: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made along the way and the lessons you learned from them?
D&R: Every ‘mistake’ we made really turned out to be a blessing in disguise as clichéd as that sounds. Learning to accept that you cannot do everything was a great learning experience, because we saw the business as our baby. We never wanted anyone else to babysit. Learning to let go and recognize we needed help made the business more efficient and thus more profitable. We began taking on too much responsibility, and began making mistakes because we were so tired.
O: You’re in the business of agriculture. Do you have a green agenda?
D&R: Market Movers is a ‘green’ organization and so our focus is to promote conscious lifestyles that are healthier for individuals and protect the environment. Simply put, we are in the business of healthy eating. We will continue to seek out farmers of greenhouse-grown and organic produce. Greenhouse-grown produce is not only healthier for our bodies, but better for our environment. Vine ripened, longer shelf life, less pesticides… all these are just a few of the benefits of eating greenhouse-grown produce.
Imagine eating something that was ripened naturally without being sprayed with hazardous chemicals in order to hasten the ripening process. The plan is to eventually provide 100% supply of ‘green’ produce. As part of our support of green conscious lifestyle, customers receive their orders in re-usable, 100% polypropylene bags in order to minimize the use of plastic bags.
O: If you had one piece of advice for young entrepreneurs today getting into online business, what would it be?
D&R: There are millions of websites today maybe even over a billion. Trying to make yours look different is very difficult to do. Keep your website simple and to the point, but most importantly make sure the human aspect remains. Having a great website means nothing if there isn’t great customer service behind it. Take advantage of having a virtual office. Take your laptop/ cell phone outside once in a while. It’s a great feeling when we’re at a café or at Maracas and can send an e-mail, while eating a bake and shark. Even put on the call forwarding from time to time. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it!
O: Individually, do you have any other projects besides Market Movers? Do you full-time or part-time, or hold down an 8-4 at the same time?
D&R: We probably could not have an 8-4 and do this business, but we do have our outside interests. Rachel actually began designing websites for fellow entrepreneurs like herself for a reduced price or even in exchange for their services. Besides trying out different recipes and tastes with our produce, David is also still involved in agriculture, and is interested in making his own butters and cheeses from locally produced milk.
Together, we also do talks whenever possible encouraging other young entrepreneurs to take the chance. One important thing… we never forget our days of sharing one box of food, travelling to classes or looking for free shows in the newspapers. Funny enough we still do some of those things, the great thing now is we do it by choice. We still have a long way to go, but we celebrate the little things.
Photography by Mark Lyndersay of http://lyndersaydigital.com. Mark is a professional photographer and writer working in Trinidad and Tobago since 1976. His column on personal technology, BitDepth, has been continuously published since 1995. He is currently pursuing a photo essay series about how Trinidad and Tobago pursues its culture and festivals called Local Lives. Both series are archived on his website at http://lyndersaydigital.com.