By Don Nelson
In a sense, Susan Speir’s rebranded, refocused business rose out of the ashes of her Finley Canyon home, which was destroyed in the Carlton Complex Fire.
Speir and her colleagues were just about ready to launch the new website for Just In Time Product Delivery (justintimeproductdelivery.com), spun off from the Gabby Cabby passenger service that she operated for about four years and sold in April. She was editing a letter to her clients while sitting at her kitchen table when she and her husband, Dave Hopkins, were forced to abandon their house just in front of a wall of flames.
The letter was incinerated along with almost everything else, the new website was delayed and Just in Time struggled along with a lot of other valley businesses as Speir worked to put her life back together.
Now, a little behind schedule, Just in Time is back at full speed.
Working with Speir are office manager Pam Purtell, “marketing guru” Lindsey Ashford, and Hopkins, who is the accountant and chief financial officer.
The company’s mission is to help local producers get their products to larger markets, and then “backhauling” specialty products from companies in the Seattle area to local and regional retailers – with other stops along the way. The company’s office is at TwispWorks.
Just in Time also offers temperature-controlled delivery, has a dry cleaning service (pick-up is at Poppie Jo Galleria in Twisp) and is a certified alcohol agent, which allows it to deliver wine, beer, and cider. The company also sells advertising on the side of its delivery van.
“We deal with the little guys. We personalize service,” Speir said. “It’s a very collaborative, relationship-based business.”
One business too many
Speir started Gabby Cabby as a passenger service — basically, a taxi for the valley and beyond. She eventually started hauling products for some local clients such as Lost River Winery, Sunny Pine Farm and Methow Valley Brewing Co. That part of the business expanded so rapidly, Speir said, that it was no longer practical to continue operating both passenger and delivery services.
“All it did was scatter us,” she said of the two-sided business. “There was no way to make a profit doing both.”
But, she said, “it was clear that somebody else could” make a profit with the passenger side of the business. “I got it ready to hand off. It was a turnkey business,” she said.
After nearly despairing of selling the passenger part of the business, Speir sold it to brothers Jeremy and Tyler Welborn, who renamed it Classic Mountain Cabby.
Then Speir and her crew began thinking about a new name and strategy. Development of an updated business plan was assisted by MBA students from Seattle University, who recommended ways to make the pick-up-and-drop-off system more efficient.
They pretty much had it figured out when the fire interrupted things on July 17.
Speir and Hopkins are now renting a house near Early Winters and Just in Time is a few weeks into full service.The loss of her home was more than a distraction, Speir said. “It takes a while to get a grip on what you need,” she said. “I was personally blown off course.”
Speir spends a lot of time on the road, sometimes five days in a row on a route that takes her from one side of the state to the other. But she doesn’t always want to do that much driving, and hopes to “step back a bit” in the next year or so.