Meet Your Innovator - Sponsored by CBIC
Arnie Katz, Relay Foods
Monday, April 07, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.
Arnie Katz, President, Relay Foods
What are you innovating on right now?
We’re working hard now to advance our marketing strategy and tactics. Fortunately, as we evolve on this front, we can measure our progress in terms of lower acquisition costs, more customers and greater retention. For example, we’ve grown from making three deliveries a week to serving customers in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Metro DC with a fleet of 40 trucks. That includes deliveries to more than 800 new customers a week. But we have to do better – and we will.
We’re also innovating by creating new products including meal kits, our Chop Chop prepared produce line, and a revolutionary new website. Finally, I have to mention that everyone innovates at Relay. We encourage all employees to beta test better, faster and cheaper ways of doing business through low-cost experiments, which have produced smarter packaging and paperless receipts, among many other innovations.
What inspired you to follow an entrepreneurial path?
I want to fix problems I see around me and just have a positive impact on people’s lives.
More specifically to Relay, I can tell you that when I grew up in Israel, I enjoyed homegrown food that was fresh and flavorful. However, when I came here I was taken aback by the distant sources of groceries and their bland flavors in most supermarkets. I also thought there had to be a better way to overcome traffic, sprawl and the inefficiency of driving to the supermarket. I also saw an opportunity to provide consumers better access to local farmers and artisans.
Tell us what you learned from your biggest failure.
My biggest failure at Relay was not iterating quickly enough in the beginning. I gave my opinion too much weight, and remember discussing decisions for as long as six months without taking action. I discovered that it's easier to beta test an idea, even if it goes against my opinion, and then decide what to do next based on the results. It's quicker, less demanding mentally and emotionally, and always leads to better outcomes.
How does Charlottesville as a place support or fuel your innovations?
It's a great place to live, for one. Many talented folks come here for UVA and other reasons, and a small but top-flight group of investors is present to support new businesses.
Also, the customers here are very supportive and are always fantastic in providing actionable feedback – as is the business community. Lastly, the press has been extremely helpful in building awareness.
What would you change or keep the same in Charlottesville?
I would keep the small town feel. I would keep UVA and the basketball team (boo, Michigan State). I would overhaul transportation by adding more flights to more cities aboard faster planes. And I would add more frequent train lines between Charlottesville and D.C.
And of course, I would keep the wonderful and unique producers that enable us to bring nutritious, local food to customers.
What is your biggest need right now to advance your innovation?
Money and more talented folks; local programmers and designers are especially hard to find.
What is the view from your office like on a typical day?
We just moved to our new offices into our Belmont fulfillment center. It's an open space housing 25 workers that can accommodate 50-70 folks. Bushman Dreyfus along with some other great contractors, our team and our landlord Lisa Jones did an awesome job of setting the creative tone and building out the space to match our vision.
When I look out the office, I see many Relay vehicles, houses on Carlton Avenue built by Habitat for Humanity, and the rest of the beautiful Belmont neighborhood. Hopefully I won’t be seeing more snow…
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