For years, William Parker worked in the mobile convenience store business, driving around Pittsburgh and the surrounding area delivering items out of a truck to customers.
He saw how people relied on the mobile stores, but didn’t know when they were coming to their street or block. It was like waiting for the ice cream truck, he said.
So he created VendSpin, which launched a year ago this month, as a new approach to on-demand delivery. With the app (iOS, Google Play), users log in, order an item and have it in minutes. Think of it as pizza delivery, but for items from a convenience store.
As of last month, there were about 20 VendSpin vendors nationwide — five in Pittsburgh, and others in Atlanta, Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia, Parker said. There’s also one in Hong Kong.
Parker, who grew up on the North Side, is currently raising funds to launch a nationwide marketing campaign to bring more attention to VendSpin. He hopes the app will inspire kids growing up in the city by showing them the opportunities that exist in tech and that tech isn’t for “one certain group of people.”
The app aims to help people who aren’t physically able to leave their homes, don’t have transportation, or are worried about walking to the store after dark, Parker said. It also makes life easier for customers with children who don’t want to gather them up to get in the car or on the bus to go to the store.
“We wanted to create a level playing field for people to purchase items for themselves,” he said.
Vendors stock their vehicles with the items they want to sell and users can order deliveries to their home, office or outdoor locations such as parks.
When Parker works as a vendor, he offers CellsRx supplements created by the Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey, since gyms don’t always have supplements on hand, in addition to a slew of other items like sodas, juices, chips, candy, phone chargers, t-shirts and more.
The most popular items ordered? Bottles of water, candy, chips and ice cream.
How VendSpin works
- Download the app for 99 cents. (Parker said the fee prevents abuse of the app, such as orders with no payment.)
- Discover vendors within a five-mile radius. Click on the vendor to review what items they have for sale, prices and the payment they accept.
- Add to cart and submit the order.
- A vendor will provide an ETA and arrive in a vehicle with a VendSpin windshield sticker within 15 minutes.
- Pay for the item upon delivery.
- Download the app.
- Create a seller account by adding a brief description and seller photo and listing items for sale and payment methods accepted.
- Purchase items from a wholesaler or in bulk, and set prices.
- Start driving.
The app allows for payment through cash or credit/debit card, as well as an option to use EBT/SNAP, an important addition for Parker. A lot of people who use EBT/SNAP are left out of delivery services, he said. (There are, however, some added requirements for vendors to offer this, such as having five food groups in their mobile stores.)
Vendors set the prices of their wares and how they accept payment, so they have the opportunity to make more of a profit than driving for delivery services that have a flat fee.
“It’s more power to the individuals,” he said.
A driver might decide to only accept cash before a certain time for safety reasons or decide to accept cash 24/7. Cash acceptance makes it easier for vendors who might not have a bank account to still be able to receive payment, Parker said. In turn, VendSpin benefits from the app’s price and credit card fees if vendors use in the app’s payment feature.
Right now, vendors use their own vehicles similar to ride-sharing, but Parker said he hopes to offer bigger VendSpin vehicles that vendors can lease and have more items on hand to sell. Because vendors are delivering to customers’ doors, they don’t need a mobile vehicle vendors’ license from the city, which costs $1,200 annually, according to the city.
Not only does it improve access, but VendSpin, in a way, is a throwback to neighborhood stores, just with a technological twist, Parker said.
People spend their money with people they know, who live in the community and will give back to the community, he said.
“It’s a win-win. The community wins and the seller wins.”