The direct-to-consumer delivery rush, in full swing

Frayt Inc. is a sign of the times. Until recently, the Cincinnati-based tech startup was chugging along as a business- to-business delivery firm, primarily serving contractors in the field. Then the pandemic hit, and the two-year old firm started to get requests for direct-to-consumer (D2C) deliveries. 

“As some of our business-to-business started to slow down, we got inundated with telephone calls and text requests to deliver to consumers,” Lawrence McCord, CEO and co-founder of Frayt, told FreightWaves. “It happened very quickly.”

By now even the lay person knows how important fast, efficient home delivery has become to retailers, be they big, small or somewhere in the middle.

As consumers hunker down at home, dedicating their purchasing power to online shopping, companies are scouring the marketplace for ways to fulfill the surge in orders.

Amazon (AMZN) alone hired more than 100,000 drivers and warehouse workers to help manage the massive increase in consumer e-commerce.

The problems facing the e-giant also have hit brick-and-mortar retailers desperate to get their products to consumers who can no longer shop in stores, as well as online sellers trying to meet pent-up demand for consumer products.

“Many businesses had no way to ramp up their own fleet for that demand,” said McCord, an expedited shipping expert. “We’ve been able to help those companies operate.” 

With its fleet of around 3,000 vehicles, 2,000 of which are cargo vans, Frayt – which closed a $2 million seed round in March – provides same-day delivery, often within an hour of the request. Customers can request Frayt by visiting its website or downloading the app and signing up, similar to an on-demand Uber or DoorDash delivery service.

Since expanding to home delivery, interest in Frayt is up 250%, the company said. And this week the startup announced a major retail partnership – with 21 Kroger Marketplace stores in greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, as well as northern Kentucky. 

Frayt provides same-day delivery of Kroger’s large outdoor items including patio dining sets, grills and mulch. It does not operate in the grocery arena.

As market research reports show, the coronavirus shutdown has been accompanied by an uptick in demand for home improvement supplies, including paint, deck kits and furniture.

Transporting such large bulky items is easy when you’ve got a fleet cargo vans at your disposal. The company is not creating more capacity, McCord was careful to note, but instead leverages existing capacity through its network of owner-operators. 

“We’re not adding more traffic to the byways,” he said.

If the Kroger partnership performs well, Frayt could expand to other markets with Kroger stores. “It’s a necessity now to deliver products to end users not within days but within minutes,” he said. “Deliver now or die.”

Frayt is a graduate of the gBETA accelerator. The company currently serves Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo in Ohio; Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky; Fort Wayne and  Indianapolis, Indiana; Detroit, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee; Chicago, Illinois; and Long Island, New York. Plans to expand to New Jersey and Philadelphia are in the works.