Startup puts personalized products within shoppers’ grasp

Last year, many Lakeshore residents turned to online shopping for safety reasons without realizing the social isolation it promotes, the environmental footprint it leaves, and the financial impact it has locally, according to a new Holland startup.

This year, Cubi Market wants to flip that script through their online platform that prioritizes local merchants. In fact, they hope to “revolutionize local” one location at a time.

Currently in the prototype phase, the Cubi Market process is simple, says Jay Frankhouse, a partner in the business along with Garrick Pohl, Chris Samuelson, and Mike Ellis.

First, residents visit and browse a growing list of 20 local vendors — from farmers to bakeries to candlemakers. More than 200 products are listed on the site from those businesses. Some of the products were developed with assistance from Lakeshore Advantage’s SURGE program, which provides resources and mentorship for local entrepreneurs. 

After customers place their order, merchants then prepare the products, and they are sent to a local Cubi Station, climate-controlled compartments that safely store the orders. Finally, with a link to their specific compartment, residents can pick up their goods in person.

The process creates an on-demand product and, if food is involved, “mind-blowing flavor.”

“It’s made for you,” Frankhouse says. “You can definitely taste the difference.”

A new third place

The last step is what especially excites Frankhouse because the stations could spark interesting, in-person connections after those were diminished by the COVID-19 pandemic. They consider the stations a new gathering spot.

“What is a new ‘third place’ that would allow people to interact?” he asks. “There’s a high likelihood that people want to get back together again.” 

Cubi Market has two pick-up locations in West Michigan: 430 W. 17th St. in Holland and 1201 Wealthy St. SE in Grand Rapids. As the year progresses and they continue to learn, more locations are expected, Frankhouse says. 

Customers can pick up orders from their preferred Cubi Station from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday. The specific days provide a lead time for the local merchants to create the product.

Advantages to buying local

Frankhouse says besides the social isolation, another drawback of traditional e-commerce is the environmental footprint. The materials used in packaging and shipping products add up. Add in the emissions of shipping goods across the country and the impact is high.

“There’s a lot of waste,” he says. “We’re looking to drastically reduce our footprint.”

The industrial food production system in the United States also means it’s hard to trace where food comes from, how fresh it is, and how safe it is. With Cubi Market, the merchants are neighbors.

“You know exactly what you are getting and who you are getting it from,” Frankhouse says.

The business partners also are leveraging the assumption that about 70 percent of the money spent on local merchants stays local. With big corporations, that figure drops to about 35%, Frankhouse says.

As people continue to rethink their lives in 2021, Cubi Market hopes their service is considered and local communities thrive as a result.

“There’s room on everyone’s plate to shop local,” Frankhouse says.
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