For over 30 years, Lloyd Allen has served Westporters.
First at actual farm stands, now in a Post Road store next to Calise’s, he offers the freshest fruits, vegetables, eggs, bread, meat, fish, baked goods, soups, salads and flowers.
For the past 14 months though, he’s actually had to serve his customers.
COVID dealt a death blow to many small businesses. Food services were particularly hard hit.
But Lloyd knows his onions. As soon as the pandemic shut his doors last March, he pivoted. His Double L Market pivoted immediately to curbside.
“We didn’t dither,” Lloyd says. “We transformed completely into a warehouse.”
Unlike many markets, he did not create a website for customers to order from.
Working with Apple (the company, not the fruit), he devised a text-based ordering system. Rather than clicking items into a virtual “shopping cart,” Double L developed a friendly, interactive conversation-style experience.
Customers texted what they wanted. Armed with iPhones and iPads, employees filled orders. If they had a question — “What kind of berries exactly?” or “We’re out of those potatoes; what would you like instead?” — they texted immediately.
Employees texted again when the order was ready for pickup.
At first, customers simply sent lists: “2 blueberries, 1 strawberry, 3 broccoli crowns, 4 honey crisps, 2 little gems, 1 cauliflower white, 1 baby bok choy.”
Soon, they started adding messages: “2 raspberries, 2 chicken empanadas, 1 piece of salmon. You rock!”
One customer asked Lloyd to recommend items. “Peaches?” he asked. “Sure! 4 is good!” came the reply.
“It felt like texting a friend,” Lloyd says. That makes sense. Most of his customers already were friends.
Vendors got into texting mode quickly too:
Last weekend — for the first time since March 2020 — Lloyd opened Double L Market’s doors back up.
Many customers were grateful. Perhaps 20%, he estimates, had never been inside before. They’re new arrivals to town, who know his store only through curbside.
They are thrilled to finally roam the aisles.
Customers who knew Double L from before were impressed too. The long shutdown proved to be a good time to paint and freshen up the interior.
But other people like the convenience of texting and pickup. They want to keep shopping that way. So Lloyd will continue offering the option.
He’ll also still deliver to local customerx who for any reason cannot come to him.
Lloyd’s quick pivot enabled him to keep all his employees, throughout the entire 14 months. He did not even need a PPP loan to keep going.
In fact, he says, he even hired out-of-work restaurant employees to help.
Lloyd left nothing to chance. During the darkest times, he divided his crews into 2. Each worked separate days. That way, if one was diagnosed with COVID, only half of his staff would have to quarantine.
The “time off” — Lloyd was on only one crew — offered him time to start a blog. He writes deftly about food, in all its forms: what’s at the market, how it got there, and much more.
As he spoke about the past 14 months, Lloyd grew emotional. He’s proud of what he and his employees accomplished, gratified at the loyalty and trust his customers showed, and happy to be back.
All his life he’s watched farmers sow, nurture and reap.
Now it’s his turn.