Alumnus Shifts Courier Business to Deliver to Community
In 2013, a friend asked University of Arkansas alumnus Hunter Riley if he could use his transport truck to “schlep a credenza” in the Chicago area. Riley agreed, and the request sparked entrepreneurial inspiration.
His company, aptly dubbed “Schlep,” was born, and his team began providing services for events, furniture stores and boutiques with a fleet of sprinter vans.
The business serves a niche market and is typically used as a courier for bulk items, often with last mile delivery. They’ve also consistently made it a priority to help non-profits in their area, providing services at cost and filling the gaps in their regular deliveries.
“Service was instilled in me through my parents and the direct exposure to it through their example and their insistence on my involvement in volunteering from a young age,” Riley said. “Arriving on campus in Fayetteville expanded my exposure and gave me an opportunity to better understand servant leadership. I was able to solidify a desire to show up for others with a more targeted impact on the campus and community.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schlep’s delivery business has been anything but typical. When the pandemic ramped up in Chicago, the business saw an immediate 25 percent decrease because of canceled events. Furniture deliveries declined next, after a shelter-in-place order was issued.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘How do we stay alive?'” Riley said. “We wanted to determine how we could still pay our employees and maintain some sense of normalcy.”
Inspiration struck again, this time thanks to the work Schlep had already done with area non-profits. The company’s fleet could be used to deliver critical supplies, such as medical necessities, food and even diapers to the facilities that needed them.
In the span of two weeks, Schlep went back to utilizing 70 to 80 percent of their fleet’s capacity. They’ve provided more than 100 pro bono deliveries over the last several weeks and continue to deliver PPE supplies and food on a daily basis.
“From a business standpoint, it’s a risk,” Riley said. “But we didn’t want to just sit on our hands. We want to be active. Supporting our community is the essence of our existence. It’s who we are to the core.”
The company doubled their sick pay for employees and began providing wellness checks to assess their physical health and mental well-being. And they partnered with organizations like the American Red Cross, Cradles to Crayons and Feed Chicago to begin deliveries free of charge.
“Regardless of the profit, it’s been very successful and can be celebrated by our team,” Riley said. “They can be proud and humbled by our work. It will also hopefully help us recruit team members and partners in the future, because this demonstrates our core values.”
Riley graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts from the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, where he majored in political science, economics and international relations and minored in Spanish. As a student, he was a member of the Honors College and the Associated Student Government and was a part of the initial committee to form the Volunteer Action Center on campus. He is a life member of the Arkansas Alumni Association.
A version of this story also appeared on the U of A’s Determined to Help website.