In the not so distant past, you’d find single father Robb Smith pedaling his BMX bike with his two children, now six and eight, in tow sometimes the designated drink holders, as they made their way through Long Beach delivering for Postmates.
“I was working 10,11,12 hours to make $100 bucks and that’s how I was making our rent every day, rain or shine on a BMX bike,” Smith said in an interview with the Signal Tribune.
Smith had already thought about working for himself doing deliveries, with his address at the time being in Downtown Long Beach on 5th and Chestnut, but it was advice from Michelle Molina, owner of MADE by Millworks that propelled him to branch out.
“‘Why don’t you just do this for yourself!?’” Smith remembers Molina saying to him after doing some deliveries for her.
Smith refers to Alley Cat as a personalized service, in which he delivers anything a patron needs, from coffee to groceries, to take-out, to prescription pick up.
“People just started using me here and there,” Smith said of the genesis of Alley Cat. “I just became a yes man, anything and everything I can [do to] make money,” as he struggled to move forward.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought the business notoriety because of its nature, with the last two weeks being extremely busy due to the regional stay at home order.
Smith was the only person handling all operations at Alley Cat, but that changed last week when he hired someone to help. On Saturday, Dec. 12, Smith handled 35 deliveries on his own.
What sets Smith apart from other courier services is his community-friendly business model. Alley Cat does not charge the businesses he partners with any fees and makes up for it by offering competitive delivery fees. What also sets him apart from corporate-owned courier services is that 20% of Alley Cat’s weekly sales go into helping those less fortunate.
Although rates vary depending on distance, currently food delivery rates average at $9 per delivery and the grocery shopping and delivery fee is $25. Gratuity is how Smith and his family make money. “Tips are how we live and survive,” Smith said.
Competitors such as Instacart, offer $3.99 delivery after spending $35 for same-day service and differ for one-hour deliveries. Additionally, all orders must be at least $10 to be eligible for delivery.
One of the latest partnerships Alley Cat announced was with Derrick’s on Atlantic, the Central Texas-BBQ restaurant located in Bixby Knolls.
“Using local goods and services has always been one of our business goals,” Velika Turner, one of Derrick’s owners, said. “During lockdown, we used the typical app-based delivery services. I was not impressed by the cost, timeliness and slowness to remit payment to our restaurant.”
Turner added, “They typically charge 30% to deliver and keep the tip. Becoming more frustrated by their business model and hearing about all the problems customers were having with the app-based delivery services (food arriving cold or not arriving at all) I was looking for an alternative. Originally we were going to hire or convert our wait staff to delivery but the liability and staffing did not work out.”
Turner heard of Alley Cat through social media and thought it would be a good alternative to the services they were using before.
“Robb always believes as we do about supporting the community,” Turner said. “My partners and I were impressed by Robb giving back a [percentage] of his fee to the community to help the homeless. His values aligned with ours.”
“My heart is in this community,” Smith said. “They have my back. When I had nothing, you know I was on the Angel Tree at Long Beach Coffee and Tea and they said ‘Robb, what do you need,’” Smith said referring to the program set up by the local coffee shop owners to support local veterans in need. Recently, he donated food items to the same coffee shop to deliver to those in need.
In a recent post shared to his Alley Cat Facebook page, Smith reflected on what he and his children have gone through in the last year while simultaneously building his small business. This time last year, Smith detailed his struggles, sharing that he had to sleep in friends’ couches or in his car. Exactly a year later, he and his family are moving into a two-bedroom home.
“Now that I have just a little bit, I’m not a millionaire, I don’t have a lot of money, but the right thing to do is just serve and feed, that’s how we’re set apart. I take care of the community. I branded myself as ‘Rob, here to help.’”
Smith’s commitment to give back doesn’t end with the donation of part of his weekly sales.
For Thanksgiving, he took part in sponsoring five families for full dinners. For Christmas, he is doing the Winter Wishes Drive for which he is asking for new socks, sweaters and blankets. He is also doing a toy drive. All donations will go to the local Long Beach community in need.
Drop boxes for this event are located at The Pie Bar, Sura Korean BBQ, Tofu House Restaurant and Fine Feathers Kombucha, but Smith is also willing to pick up donations. The cut-off date for donations is Sunday, Dec. 20.
Some of the sponsors and participating establishments are offering discounts or incentives for those who make donations.
In late November, Smith also donated 100 boxes of cereal to the AIDS Food Store in Long Beach with the support and donations from the community.
Eager to help after the civil unrest that took place on the night of May 31 in Long Beach, Alley Cat and Crystal Ortiz of Long Beach Locals, a community group on social media, raised $9,000, according to Smith with the help of the community. Smith even made baseball t-shirts with the Alley Cat emblem and sold them for $20 each with 100% of the proceeds going toward sponsoring nine small businesses and fixing their glass windows and storefronts, which had been destroyed during the lootings, for free.
So working together with Crystal Ortiz and a very good friend since we were kids Ryan Ewald. We helped nine businesses…
An old high school friend of Smith’s, Ryan Ewald, owner of Covenant Doors and Gates in Hawthorne, CA, donated his time and brought his crew to repair and rebuild. Some of the businesses that received help were Outfitters on 3rd and Pine, Kress Market and Deli, Pie Bar, Romeo’s Chocolates and iNails and Spa.
The synergy that Smith has created with his community has resulted in a back and forth that has benefited the community at large.
“We’re not a delivery service, we’re a personalized service, once I got your order, I build the rapport and it’s a friendship. It’s Rob, I got you. It’s more of a friendship than it is, ‘give me your money.’ At the end of the day when I go home at night, and I made a difference for my city or help someone that was in need, that’s where I win.”
Derrick’s on Atlantic is a current advertiser with The Signal Tribune.