Kenan Hopkins has a successful start-up delivery service, well-respected and functioning smoothly. Some business owners would take the opportunity to relax. Hopkins, however, is in the midst of re-branding his company entirely with a new logo, new services for customers and stronger core values.
Hopkins owns Valet Gourmet, a delivery service formerly known as Blue Ridge To Go, open since December 1, 2003. The company has rather humble beginnings, he says; though Blue Ridge To Go was never a home-based business, it wasn’t far off.
“Saturday night, it would be just me and one other driver,” says Hopkins. “Now we have eight to 10 drivers on a Saturday night, with two people working in the office. Things were definitely different then.
It was certainly scary, but exciting,” he says. “I certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way.”
The company has done well, allowing it to expand into a larger office on Broadway in north Asheville with plenty of storage space and nicer equipment. “We’ve got a lot more drivers than we ever had — we’ve had double-digit growth rates annually every year, even all through the recession,” he says.
Still, the company is looking for ways to make a bigger impact on the community — by taking steps to make a lighter impact on the environment, just for starters.
Valet Gourmet already uses biodegradable serving utensils and the delivery drivers, for the most part, deliver the food in fuel-efficient cars. The greener company plan doesn’t stop there, however.
Hopkins is looking into a program to partner with a company called “Trees for the Future.”
“They plant trees in Third World countries, and also create sustainable communities and create jobs,” he explains. “If we partnered with them, we would have a tree planted for every full-priced delivery that we do, which is anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 a month – so that would be quite a few trees by the end of the year.”
Hopkins adds that the company would like to choose a local nonprofit company with a similar program if at all possible — or perhaps pick a different nonprofit to partner with every month. “It’s something that we’ve really been looking into, and that we’ve really been thinking about with this new brand.”
photo by Jonathan Welch
The re-branding, says Hopkins, is not purely focused on going green. Valet Gourmet now offers new services that are beneficial from a customer standpoint — the company, he says, is looking into providing more family-style meals like casseroles or large servings of pastas. A few restaurants, he says, have discussed creating custom family-style menus for the company.
As it stands, Hopkins is pleased with the customer service that his employees provide. He says that he’s awash daily with positive comments from satisfied customers via e-mail and the Valet Gourmet Facebook page. “If you look at our core values, customer service is number one. We try to listen to our customers.”
Regardless, the re-branding process of his company aims to focus on even greater customer service, implementing strategies like providing drivers with business cards with their names on them that they can hand out to customers.
“That way, we can solicit feedback from our customers on how the driver performance was. It’s one thing to say that you’re really good at customer service, and another thing to actually go out there and do it,” says Hopkins. “That was a huge factor in the re-development of our brand.”
Though Valet Gourmet does intend to add a few more restaurants to their service, the focus, says Hopkins, lies mostly on an internal level.
The Hop Ice Cream company, says Hopkins, recently signed on. Though the ice cream is mostly available for catering purposes right now, says Hopkins, it will be available for delivery shortly. The company is also working on beer delivery, says Hopkins, though the state of North Carolina doesn’t make it easy. “It will happen one day, though,” he says.
Hopkins feels the best way to facilitate customer service starts at square one — happy employees mean happy customers, in other words. Valet Gourmet was recently Living Wage Certified by Just Economics.
“It’s a movement to promote a healthy wage in the area. There are multiple reasons why a business would do that, the least being employee retention, though money tends to be pretty far down the list as far as what people want in a job, but the more people get paid, the more they’ll stimulate the local economy, all that fun stuff,” says Hopkins. “It’s just something that we want to be a part of. Anything that could make our place a better place to work is fabulous. That’s why we’re exploring health care, three weeks’ paid vacation and sick leave for our employees.”
Hopkins says that he values his employees and wants to ensure that they stay around for as long as possible. To that end, he’s willing to take steps that many companies with even greater resources available to then might not.
“We try to ensure that our employees are happy. It’s as simple as that. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the past few years as far as entrepreneurship goes — I’ve learned a lot about how to treat people.”