Piggly Wiggly, the first-ever self-service grocery store, was founded in 1916 and completely revolutionized how people bought groceries.
An attendant no longer got all of the necessary items for someone. Instead, an individual went and got everything from the shelves themselves. Almost a century later, people are still buying their groceries in roughly the same way. Sometimes it seems as if great technological advances of the 20th century have not spilled over into the way we shop for food.
That was, until 2008. Relay Foods, founded in Charlottesville, Va., by engineer, inventor and entrepreneur Zach Buckner, sought to change that.
Relay Foods (www.relayfoods.com) is a beautifully designed and easy-to-navigate online grocery store. One can search by simply looking at food categories, the featured or on-sale items, or by previous purchases and favorite items. The selection is immense and they have a wide variety of local, organic and sustainable items for purchase.
After checkout, you can choose to pick up your food on a specific day and place — including an on-campus location — or have it delivered right to your door. It is a concept that is beginning to really catch on.
Under the original name, Retail Relay, Buckner started the company after wishing he could have food and other products sent to his home, rather than having to go to the store. Initially, the vision was to sell almost anything on the site but after a while they decided to focus on selling food even though online groceries are becoming a competitive space.
“I hear a lot of people following faulty logic,” Buckner said. “People say, I had this great idea, did some research, and someone already did it.” That stops many people from going through with an idea, but for Buckner, that was only evidence that it was an idea worth pursuing.
It’s a good thing he did. With humble beginnings in Charlottesville, they have now grown to service Washington, DC, Baltimore and Annapolis. Buckner says he plans to expand nationally, although they’ve been making sure to expand only when they know that they have the infrastructure ready and when the time is right.
For anyone considering starting his or her own company, Buckner emphasizes that persistence is key. “Persistence is really the attribute most correlated with success. I don’t know of any persistent entrepreneur who didn’t succeed… There was a point in starting Relay Foods where all of my employees left for various reasons but being persistent eventually turned everything around.”
Talking about the future of Relay Foods, Buckner mentioned, “As an idea matures, you realize what you can and can’t do,” and that ultimately changes the course of what a company becomes. So as Relay Foods expands, who knows who they will be or what they will do next.
Contact reporter Michael Woitach at email@example.com