Ann Arbor Store, Farmers Tap Digital Platforms to Adapt Sales Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor has transformed the way it does business during the COVID-19 pandemic through an online ordering system while also transforming its Packard Street location into an order fulfillment building.
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curbside pickup at Argus Farm Stop
Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor has continued to offer fresh products through agreements with local farmers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. // Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor has transformed the way it does business during the COVID-19 pandemic through an online ordering system while also transforming its Packard Street location into an order fulfillment building.

Owners and University of Michigan alumni Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff recognized the need for change, so in a week’s time, they flipped the location into a warehouse where they can efficiently fill online delivery and complete curbside pickup orders. An online catalog, meanwhile, is being continuously updated and expanded as customer demand increases.

The customer response shows promise.

The company reports it had three online customers a month ago, and today it has fulfilled more than 1,400 orders. For delivery or pick up, it is now processing close to 150 orders a day. “It’s a shout out to our staff; it’s completely changed the way the store operates within seven days,” Brinkerhoff says. “Technology is going to continue to play an increasing role.”

As the supply network for large grocery chains adapt to the changing marketplace, local stores can call on farmers directly when they need more product. By taking delivery as soon as 24 hours, it allows businesses like Argus to keep their shelves stocked.

“Up until now, going ‘local’ was labeled as a more sustainable option and often demanded premium prices, so only certain types of stores had local foods,” says Joe Trumpey, associate professor at the U-M’s Stamps School of Art and Design. “But one could also view local sourcing as an element of a resiliency strategy.”

The store’s initiative comes as reports of wasted food no longer needed by restaurants and schools shows the limitations of the food industry to quickly pivot during crises. Even with Argus’ success, it isn’t always possible for farms to make up sales by selling locally. Argus was established five years ago as a year-round farmers market, bridging the gap between more than 200 local farmers and food producers and consumers.

The pandemic could get more people to think about environmental sustainability and the role food plays in it.

“Thinking about your food is critical. It’s like the run on toilet paper. People want to have the essentials,” says Trumpey. “When we see people upset about not finding eggs or vegetables, they start to look at alternatives, so it’s only logical that we’re thinking about local food systems and local farms.”

When supermarkets are able to stock shelves once again, however, consumers are expected to return for convenience’ sake, says Ravi Anupindi, professor of technology and operations and faculty director for the Center for Value Chain Innovation at U-M’s Ross School of Business.

“When supply chains swing back to normal, larger chains will compete better on price and availability,” he says. “Prices are likely higher in smaller stores; with incomes impacted, consumers will look for cheaper costs and go back to larger chains.”

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