Pilot Project Review: RFM Online Ordering Platform
Like everyone, our normal has been completely reconfigured. Saturday, March 14 was our last regular, indoor Regina Farmers’ Market. Today is May 2, fifty days later. We figured it was time to check-in and see what we have accomplished in the last seven weeks.
Between Sunday, March 15 And Sunday April 5 (x3 weeks):
Our RFM staff of three, acknowledged the seriousness of COVID-19 with our March 17 statement to cancel upcoming markets and in the meantime innovated the idea to bring the Farmers’ Market Online. At the time, this initially seemed like a plan B scenario, but as schools were dismissed, cities, provinces, and countries completely closed down, we quickly realized major changes were inevitable. Our team immediately began looking for a solution and found a platform we believed could meet the diverse and large needs that would be necessary to manage our online operations safely.
When chaos struck, the RFM team continued to work from home, took the tutorials to learn how to create an online platform, created 20+ Vendor stores, individually uploaded 100’s of products, had daily video calls, educated our farmers + producers on how to use their new stores, and transitioned our loyal customers to regain access to their market essentials. To say it was a busy three weeks would be an understatement. When we finally launched our RFM Online Ordering Platform as a Pilot Project - the real work began!
Monday, April 6, we went Live with Pilot Project Phase #1 - RFM Online Ordering Platform for Friends + Family
Week #1 Live: Introducing Online Ordering of the Regina Farmers’ Market. The first week of home delivery for our essential market items was now available online. This was a pivotal moment as we had invested three weeks of preparation, uncertain of what was to come. Would our regular market attendees support shopping this way? We had no idea how the public would take to this announcement, as many were hoping our next statement would be a return to normal. Although we were not hosting our traditional event-style markets, it felt right to be able to safely provide Regina Farmers’ Market favourites just in time for Easter Sunday. Of course we miss the face-to-face interaction with our community, but we knew we were on track with the success of this new digital connection and uptake we had created. Going into Week #1, we felt as ready as we could be, and jumped right in.
Monday, April 13, we went Live with Pilot Project Phase #2 - RFM Online Ordering Platform Extended to RFM Friends of Social Media
This was week #2 which meant we had a trial run under our belt and were confident now that we knew what the system would look like. Our obstacle came from underestimating the support from Regina as our orders doubled. The RFM team was ecstatic and our Vendors were very pleased at the ease of the system. After extra hours, planning, packing, and organizing, our team was excited to have all of our deliveries safely dropped off on the designated Saturday, April 18. After a long day of distribution, our team reviewed how quickly this whole idea and concept was coming to fruition. With no end to COVID-19 in sight, our team truly began accepting this Pilot Project was likely the foundation of a long-term service we would continue to offer once we could return to “normal”. The pressure was on to make sure our planning was sustainable and feasible for both local vendors to have somewhere to distribute but also for our Regina community to continue to have safe access to local food.
Monday, April 20, we went Live with Pilot Project Phase #3 - Managing the Online Ordering Platform for Optimization and the value of our Volunteers
This week we learned about delivery optimization and timing. Delivery is new to us and so is orchestrating it. This week our focus entailed how to create better routes for our volunteer delivery drivers and make more accurate estimates for expected delivery to our customers. After exploring various delivery softwares and digital estimations, this week we figured out a system that was both accurate and efficient. The cherry on the cake was improving our labeling process with help from our friends at The Stripe Shop who made us some stellar branded stickers.
Additionally, and ironically timed during Volunteer week, one of our volunteers Rebecca stepped up and was a huge reason this week went so incredibly well. Her help was essential in helping us through our third week of growing volume in orders and planning for the continued increase in servicing that was to come. For us the saying was true, Third times the charm. As we wrapped up week #3 our team is confident for our final phase of the Pilot Project
Monday April 27, we went Live with our Pilot Project Final Phase #4 - New, Drive-Thru Pick-Up in our New location, Douglas Park
This week, our expansion to the Online Ordering platform included a Drive-Thru Pick-Up in addition to our home delivery service. This also meant we changed our operating locations and moved into our temporary home at Douglas Park. As much as we love our usual summer home downtown at City Plaza, we are thrilled to be well taken care of by the City of Regina who went above and beyond to find us a safe space to operate from in Douglas Park.
Overall, our RFM Team is extremely proud to be working with such an incredible community as we reflect on this entire Online Ordering Pilot Project. In a time of uncertainty and fear, bringing normalcy of access to market goods through innovation has been incredibly rewarding. Yes, we will continue to wash our hands, implement social (and physical) distancing, pro-actively sanitize touch-surfaces, and operate online until it is safe to return to our event-style markets. We are hopeful to return to the City Plaza when it safe to do so, however, until then we are taking a small moment to appreciate our last seven weeks.
This week we wrap up Week #7 with COVID-19 on our radar and the final Phase #4 of our Online Ordering Platform. Upon review, our RFM team concludes with confidence our Pilot Project: Online Ordering was a success and we have done something good within our community. Both operating online and doing something good is a direction we plan to continue in the future. Perhaps we are at the beginning of a new feature in a new normal - whenever that may be.