What do you do when you lose 70% of your business in the blink of an eye? As soon as the U.S. travel ban to and from China was put in place in March 2020, Danielle Candela, CEO and founder of Tote Taxi, noticed a change in her business.
Since 2016, the Hamptons-based luxury courier service specifically for people traveling to and from the Hamptons serviced all three major airports and offered same-day, door-to-door service for luggage, golf clubs, shopping bags, bikes, and more.
"When the pandemic hit and the flying stopped, we felt it," says Candela.
She didn’t panic. She listened to clients. "We started getting calls, people were desperate to get out of Manhattan. Instead of people asking us to pick up one or two suitcases. It was more like 20," says Candela. As people flocked to the Hamptons to nest, they needed enough stuff for a longer visit.
She began doing "mini moves." That strategy and other tweaks will keep her going until the air travel business is again robust. She tells her tale of transition to Newsday.
How important are the mini moves to your business?
This grew and grew. People would rent furnished houses, but they needed to get their children’s toys, Pelotons, food, whatever they needed for an extended stay to the Hamptons. Then we started experiencing people who, when their first rental in the Hamptons was up, they asked us to help move them to a second rental. They weren’t ready to go back to Manhattan. This was all new for us.
What were some challenges that came with the new territory?
It’s one thing when you’re picking up one or two suitcases, but with the mini moves, more is involved. In the beginning I was doing some deliveries, but I don’t have the strength of a man to handle moving a Peloton. So with heavier, bulkier items I need to hire more drivers. I have six and need three more.
Did you lose more than the airport business when travel stopped?
We lost different aspects of the business. We used to park our van near Gurney’s. We would offer for $5 a day to hold people’s luggage that they didn’t want to schlep around. It was a way to chat with potential new clients.
How else did you change your business model?
We started partnering with local businesses like Ralph Lauren, [the clothing store] Theory and the Highway Restaurant & Bar to do local deliveries. If they had customers who didn’t want to come in to pick up their stuff, we handled it. Some bakeries and restaurants in Manhattan had clients who were in the Hamptons and missed their favorite foods, so because we have some drivers that are based in the city, they were able to pick up and bring those goods to the Hamptons. This also helped those small businesses who were struggling. We expanded our service area to include Connecticut and Westchester.
In February, we launched Tote Away, a new service offering mini storage in the Hamptons. This made sense because as people move from one rental to another rental, they may need storage in between. Even when the airport traffic returns to normal, we’ll keep the new additions to the business.
What are some of the biggest lessons learned from the pandemic?
Nothing is guaranteed. The things you embrace change. I couldn’t dwell on the negative, like the loss of the airport business. I had to figure out a new way to serve clients. I listened to them and gave them what they wanted. You have to pivot and try something different.