Sweet Delivery

Sweet Delivery

Mary Jo Slater once lived in walking distance from her favorite dessert shop in New York City — Little Pie Co. Now that she has moved to the other side of the country, a few clicks on the computer bring slices of heaven delivered to her front door.

“I order early in the morning, and I get it the next day,” says Slater, an independent casting company director who lives in Sherman Oaks, California, and describes herself as a “Little Pie groupie.” “It tastes like you got it right out of the oven.”

That’s music to the ears of Little Pie Co. co-owner Arnold Wilkerson. For small retailers like him, offering products online is a key way to increase sales and attract a wider customer base. But to retain those customers, an efficient and user-friendly online ordering system is crucial.

“The Website has given us greater visibility, and it has helped us grow our business,” says Wilkerson, who along with partner Michael Deraney started Little Pie Co. in 1985. They launched their Website, www.littlepiecompany.com, in 1996.

How’s this for growth? In its early days, Little Pie Co. mailed one scrumptious product a week. Since putting a shingle up on the Web, the bakery now ships more than 100 pies per week ranging in price from $54 to $58. Annually, they sell an estimated 70,000 pies, and deliver about 10,000. During a peak month like November, orders can reach up to 1,000.

Wilkerson is light years away from his first operation — an apartment where he’d bake four pies at a time and sell them to local restaurants. Today, pie-loving locals can stroll into one of three Manhattan locations and enjoy an assortment of flavors from Old-Fashioned Apple to the company’s most famous, Sour Cream Apple Walnut. Revenues for 2005 were $3.5 million. Wilkerson, who expects a 10% to 12% increase in 2006, says 80% of Little Pie Co. sales are generated online, which is why perfecting the delivery process is so important.

Once a pie order zips through cyberspace, the company receives a printout, completes the order, and packages it to maintain the oven-fresh taste. First, the pies are shrink-wrapped and placed in a 12 x 12 x 6, foam-filled corrugated box along with serving instructions. Inside, the pie rests on two 8-ounce gel packs that stay frozen for 48 hours. In the meantime, an e-mail bounces back to the customer with a tracking number provided by Federal Express, which picks up and delivers the orders Monday through Thursday. Customers can have their pies ready to serve the next evening.

“Business owners should realize that shipping is as much a part of customer service as anything else they provide,”

says Peggy Gardner, a spokeswoman for United Parcel Service. “The ease by which customers can do business and receive items online has a lot to do with their satisfaction.” A 2005 survey conducted for UPS by the national opinion research firm Synovate showed that most shoppers say a positive delivery experience would cause them to purchase from an online retailer