In Edible-Alpha® podcast #111, Brad talks with Steve Mehmert, managing partner at T4 Solutions, a Pewaukee, Wisconsin-based consulting firm that helps grocers and other food distributors map out profitable e-commerce programs, from ordering platforms through delivery. Brad and Steve have a fascinating conversation about key challenges, opportunities, and innovations in the rapidly evolving grocery landscape.
Steve started T4 Solutions in 2019, shortly after selling his first company, Mehmert Store Services. He’d spent 30 years designing and developing grocery stores, focusing primarily on independents. Through his new venture, he could leverage his expertise and connections to continue serving that market.
Prior to the pandemic, independent grocers were increasingly—but reluctantly—launching e-commerce just to stay competitive. Typically, their systems were inefficient and incapable of much volume. They’d lose money on every order, but since e-commerce represented a tiny percentage of total sales, they’d shrug it off.
Anticipating where the market was heading, Steve knew, as did most of these retailers, that these systems weren’t sustainable long-term. But nobody foresaw COVID-19 or its impact on the food industry. With millions of Americans suddenly wanting to buy groceries online, brick-and-mortars had to up their e-commerce game STAT. Now Steve’s services were in even hotter demand.
T4 Solutions helps identify, develop, and deliver the best technology, tools, and systems to make each client’s e-commerce program run smoothly and cost-effectively. For example, the firm offers technology-managed, temperature-controlled lockers that hold online orders for customer pickup, as well as temperature-controlled delivery vehicles to replace crowdsourced drivers. T4 also helps clients set up micro-fulfillment centers, onsite order storage, and other e-commerce infrastructure.
Brad and Steve discuss how the food landscape has shaken out over the last two years. Today, grocers’ sales remain well above pre-pandemic levels, and many continue to do robust online business. Though most retailers have streamlined e-commerce, there are still kinks to work out and improvements to be made, especially amidst the challenging labor market.
Next, they dig into Amazon’s grocery strategy and how corporate grocers are expanding e-commerce services. Steve says even the big guys don’t have everything figured out. He firmly believes independents can and should compete, and those willing to evolve and embrace technology can thrive. He envisions grocery stores big and small moving to more micro-fulfillment models, finding them more efficient and able to serve even more customers.
T4 isn’t done devising solutions either. Steve loves a challenge, and in today’s food industry, new ones arise constantly. He details the latest projects he’s working on, including figuring out a merchandiser for impulse purchases to accompany the lockers. And while most of his clients are grocers, he’s also working with food banks and organizations serving rural and urban food deserts.
This podcast is packed with many more insights, so be sure to tune in!