When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Traverse Alaska owner Joe Meyer knew he needed to think outside the box for his business to thrive during the 2020 season.
He and his wife author/photographer Mollie Foster operate a private and custom guide service offering Alaska adventures that include hiking, backpacking rafting, packrafting, sea kayaking, dog mushing, fishing, glacier trekking and more. They also offer outdoor courses.
This is their eighth season. But this year is a lot different than they thought it would be.
With a 14-day quarantine mandate in effect for out-of-state visitors and the catastrophic loss of tourism to Alaska, particularly to the Denali National Park area, business was poised to drop off drastically.
As Joe Meyer put it: “We had to pivot.”
So they created Traverse Alaska Logistics and now offer to-your-door delivery of goods from Anchorage, for Denali area residents from Cantwell to Healy once a week — or for any other small communities along the way.
It’s not exactly how Meyer thought the year would unfold.
“This was going to be our biggest leap this year, in terms of numbers and staff and vehicles,” he said.
The company started small in 2013, with one brand new van. Last year, four vehicles were needed. In 2020, Traverse Alaska was slated to need seven vehicles. COVID changed all that.
“It’s still logistics, just with goods,” he said.
During the years of guiding, he often transported items from Anchorage for neighbors or friends.
“Whenever we had space, we would bring things for whoever needed things,” he said.
He and his wife also occasionally needed things for themselves or their business. They could order these items, but delivery was never ensured to be in a timely manner.
“We thought we’d make it into a business,” with a consistent schedule, he said. Traverse Alaska Logistics is now in its third week — still in the early phases, still figuring things out, but already meeting a need.
“It’s logistics, without the people,” Meyer said. “But there’s still people involved at either end. It’s service and that’s what we do.”
So far, the business has delivered everything from produce to CSAs, prescriptions, dog food, dry wall and building materials.
“I have some businesses that require us to come on a regular basis, so we can keep that price down for the community,” he said. “That’s kind of the goal. To make it valuable for people.”
Direct delivery is a big selling point, he said. He delivers to the client’s door every Wednesday.
“We still have to keep it to the point where we can move in and out of these little driveways,” he added. “We’ll bring it right to your house.”
The guiding business also continues, with social distancing guidelines in place.
“We are still taking folks who have done the quarantine,” he said “But not in our vehicles. We’ll meet them or they can follow us in the guide vehicle.”
Everyone meets at the trail head and then goes on the guided hike.
It’s a great year for Alaskans to visit the Denali region, he added.
“All our eggs were in the tourism basket,” Meyer said, but he knew there is always a way.
“If you’re careful about the guidelines you put on your business and you’re careful not to box yourself in, you can give yourself room to pivot,” he said.
To make that pivot, they had to answer this question: “What can we put our energy into that we can use the resources that we have and create a valuable service for Alaskans in our community?”
So far, so good. His round trip this week is the busiest trip so far.
Traverse Alaska Logistics even saved the day for one family’s high school graduation. One family ordered some personalized graduation M&Ms, which were not going to arrive in time via another traditional delivery route. Meyer was able to get the special package there in time.
In the long run, Meyer thinks this could turn into a valuable addition to the business.
“What could happen is, tourism will come back in a different form,” Meyer said. “Then this thing works out. We could have sprouted out of this a new viable business. And we wouldn’t have done it if tourism was still there. That’s what we got out of it.”
“We’re prepared to work with it,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. We’re trying it.”
More information here: 907 903-0979 or Traverse Alaska Logistics.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.