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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Shop their list, deliver cheer

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

George and Jackye Peacock passed out about 1,000 fliers advertising their new grocery shopping and delivery business — and six weeks later, the phone still wouldn't ring.

George Peacock delivers groceries for a blind client who relies on Akamai Grocery Shopping & Delivery Service to keep her supplied with food. Peacock charges between 17 percent and 22 percent of the total purchase or a minimum $4.25 fee.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

So George stood in the middle of his Nu'uanu living room and asked for help from someone he had never talked to before.

"I didn't believe in God," Peacock said. "But I said, 'God if you can do me this favor, send me some kind of sign that this business is going to work, I'll change my ways, I'll attend church and I'll become a better person."

The next day the Peacocks got their first order to pick up groceries through their Akamai Grocery Shopping & Delivery Service. The next day they got another. By the end of that week, they had seven or eight customers.

It was an unconventional start to an uncommon business that three years later stands alone as a Honolulu niche service.

Peacock kept his promise to go to church on Sundays and Akamai Grocery Shopping & Delivery Service has steadily added business and could end this year with $225,000 in total purchases.

The concept is simple. Customers phone, fax or e-mail their orders for Star Market, Times, Longs, Costco, Foodland or Safeway. George picks up every item each day and makes deliveries five days a week, in two shifts ranging from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Customers are charged 17 percent of the sale if they pay with cash or checks, and 22 percent for credit cards. Purchases under $25 are billed a minimum $4.25 delivery fee.

Tipping is not allowed, even though George sometimes helps change a light bulb or takes out the garbage on his way back to his white Ford delivery van.

For George and Jackye, there is no inventory to worry about, almost no overhead and no employees. Jackye answers the phones and keeps the home office running while George hauls the merchandise, mostly groceries.

The Peacocks — George is 35, Jackye 36 — worked mostly in hotels and restaurants. Jackye had been a secretary at the University of Hawai'i; George was once a hotel management trainee but had no experience in starting up a small business.

Then three years ago George decided he wanted to be his own boss and thought about operating a coffee kiosk — but found the competition too plentiful and the startup costs too expensive.

He was also regularly shopping for his ailing mother-in-law. And one day he got frustrated by the crowds at Costco and decided to hire someone to do the job instead.

He looked in the phone book. He searched the internet. Nobody had that kind of business in Hawai'i.

And that's when Akamai was born, with almost no startup costs. They already owned a Mercury mini-van that George would use for deliveries. They just needed to buy a few coolers to keep perishable items cold.

$100 fee was almost all

The biggest cost in the beginning was the $100 fee to register the company name.

"There was definitely low overhead," Jackye said.

With two young children, the first month-and-a-half with no business was scary for her. But she figured that they could always go back to waiting on tables.

Then the first phone call came in and the Peacocks realized somebody wanted their service.

"That was a big turning point in our lives," Jackye said.

At first they charged 13 percent for the service but had trouble meeting expenses, especially with credit-card companies taking 5 percent of the charge. They figured 17 percent was a fair price.

"Basically I asked myself, 'If I were using the service, what could I afford?'" George said on his way to Costco recently. "I wouldn't pay 20 percent. I couldn't pay 20 percent."

George also quickly realized that he needed to memorize the floor plans of every grocery store as well as Costco, Longs and Daiei to keep up with the flow of daily orders.

When Costco moved from Salt Lake to Iwilei, George went in on a weekend and drew a chart of where to find every item. When Jackye takes an order, George immediately lists the aisles where he can find each item in each store.

They're now up to seven to eight orders per day for a total of 70 to 75 regular customers. They've since upgraded their home computer and spent $18,000 on a used industrial van.

Now they're making as much as they did in their old jobs, although Jackye still waits on tables part time.

At first, the Peacocks thought most of their clients would be rich and looking to be pampered. It turns out that most of them are elderly or disabled.

"I truly wish I didn't have to charge 90 percent of the people," George said, "because they definitely need it more than want it. I don't know how they got along without us. They've laid the burden of guilt on me not to go out of business."

Pampered by customers

Linda Cote tried the pampering approach the other day.

Cote, 55, is blind and made a fuss over Peacock as he unloaded $256.18 worth of groceries into her Kina'u Street apartment. She greeted him at the door by plugging in a fan and pointing it toward Peacock, who spends most of his day intermittently gulping water and sweating through his white, Akamai T-shirt.

Before she began buying groceries through Akamai nearly three years ago, Cote asked friends and an ex to do her shopping.

"Basically I had to beg," she said as her black Labrador seeing-eye dog, Nugget, stuck his nose into one of Peacock's insulated carrying bags.

Sandra Kalloge has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was a teenager and used to rely on cab drivers and friends to help with her groceries.

"I'm so grateful," Kalloge said. "This service is just so wonderful."

Alice Broderick, president of Options for Elders Inc., a geriatric care management company, was cautious about using Akamai for her clients. Caregivers tend to be particularly meticulous about their elderly patients and were especially wary, Broderick said.

Now she readily admits that she sounds like an advertisement for Akamai.

"We have been extremely happy with their services," Broderick said. "We never expected it to be quite so good. We have received no complaints, and it is really unusual to deal with a business where everything goes right from first to last. It's tricky buying groceries for people, but they do an exceptionally good job."

Beth Brown can get her groceries on her own just fine.

But the 17 percent fee is a bargain compared to the hours she would spend taking her three young children shopping — or hiring a sitter to watch them while she goes to the store, Brown said.

Brown home-schools her children in her Diamond Head house, where it's much simpler to wait for Peacock to arrive every other week.

She put away the four gallons of milk that Peacock brought and stacked some of the packages as he read off the $71.76 Costco bill, plus Akamai's $12.20 fee.

"I am capable of going shopping," Brown said. "Divide that $12.20 by the three or four hours it would take to go shopping with three kids, though, and it's a deal."

Two similar companies started up after Akamai and both of them died within a few months, leaving the Peacocks alone on O'ahu.

They have since focused their business from Kalihi to Hawai'i Kai. And they no longer offer to deliver anything from any store. They will, however, bring everything from prescription drugs from Longs to a 36-inch Sony television from Daiei that George had to carry up a flight of 65 steps by himself.

And since their business has grown, they've lost one key customer that George didn't mind giving up.

Jackye's mom got her knees replaced. And she does her own shopping now.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.