How automation helped a gourmet market chain scale its home shopping service

Adam Smartschan
Adam Smartschan / Published July 21, 2020

Like countless small businesses across the U.S., Iavarone Bros., saw its world change this year.

The onset of the COVID-19 crisis caused the gourmet Italian market chain's lucrative catering business to dry up overnight. Meanwhile, foot traffic at Iavarone Bros.' four Long Island locations dropped dramatically.

Without a change, the 93-year-old business was facing financial disaster. But thanks to some quick thinking—and automation powered by Zapier—Iavarone Bros. did more than weather the storm.

It thrived.

The challenge: Building a new business model … in about a week

As New York locked down amid COVID-19, company leadership knew they had to find a way to serve their customers.

The answer was obvious: home shopping. Even if customers couldn't have Iavarone Bros. cater their event or walk into a store, they could still order prepared food and retail products.

"When COVID-19 hit, we lost all our catering business. Thanks to automation, we've picked it all up in grocery—and then some."Michael Bottari, Iavarone Bros.

The chain had long accepted the occasional home shopping order. A staffer would talk to the customer on the phone, pick the order from the shelves, and get it delivered. Five or 10 times a week, it was no big deal—a bit of personal service from a regional institution.

Problem was, that system couldn't scale. The four locations combined for more than 1,200 transactions every day. It was impossible to take the orders—let alone fulfill them—via the phone.

Clearly, Iavarone Bros. needed an online ordering system. But a traditional eCommerce solution would take far too long to deploy, and would require extensive change management.

Instead, amid a potentially existential crisis, the company turned to Zapier.

Iavarone Bros.' Zaps

The vision behind the online ordering process was simple. A customer would enter their shopping list and contact information into a JotForm embedded on ibfoods.com. Orders would then be sorted into Google Drive folders, and consolidated on a customized Google Sheet.

The key, of course, would be automation. Manually sorting form entries would be no better than taking orders on the phone. As a result, Iavarone Bros. enlisted the help of Altitude Marketing, a Pennsylvania digital agency, to build a series of Zaps to power the process.

New Orders from JotForm to Google Drive, through Gmail

The first Zap ensures new orders are saved in Google Drive as separate files so staff can fulfill them.

Customers fill out a JotForm to place an order. The order information is sent by Gmail, and saved as a file in Google Drive. Iavarone Bros. uses a multi-step Zap that involves JotForm, Formatter by Zapier, Gmail, and Google Drive.

These Zaps replicate the main parts of that process, but in separate steps.

JotForm to Google Sheets

Finally, new JotForm submissions are sent to Google Sheets (through Formatter by Zapier) for a consolidated view of all orders. The sheet contains a custom script to ensure it is always sorted by the date column, regardless of when the order was placed.

To get started, use this JotForm to Google Sheets Zap template. You can further customize the Zap when you're in the editor, adding more steps—like Formatter—if needed.

The result: New customers & efficiencies

The COVID-19 crisis presented an existential crisis for Iavarone Bros. Without catering and with little brick and mortar revenue, the financial picture for 2020 could have been catastrophic.

Instead, thanks to an automated online ordering system powered by Zapier, the company found itself able to both serve existing customers and reach new ones. Instead of a lost quarter, they grew their customer base and added significant organizational efficiencies.

In other words, when forced to upend a nearly century-old business model overnight, Iavarone Bros. succeeded.

"Automation lets you roll with it," said company executive Michael Bottari. "It eliminates the menial work. Plus, it's reliable. If you lose an order or something goes wrong, it's a disaster. Computers, I can trust.

"All of our employees are still working, and our customers have been well-fed throughout the pandemic. There's no way that would we would have been able to do that without the new online ordering system, Altitude Marketing and Zapier."

Altitude Marketing is a Zapier Expert. They help clients set up automated workflows to run their businesses more efficiently. Learn more about Altitude Marketing's Zapier consulting.

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