ECONOMY

Running errands turning into a tidy little business

How many times a month do you wish you had someone to stand in the queue at the bank or to pop over to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for you? Or how about someone to carry your shopping from the farmers market or to walk the dog when you?re feeling under the weather?

Thankfully, some enterprising young people in Greece who once had the same thoughts decided to solve the problem while making some money out of it, and today the business of running errands is booming, with nine different companies fulfilling orders for individuals and firms in different parts of the country. Most of these companies will agree to run any errand, from shopping at the supermarket to running to the kiosk or the pharmacy and from paying bills to delivering medical test results. The cost of these errands does not exceed 3 or 4 euros when the distances covered are small.

?People make up for a lot of lost time, effort and money by cutting down on the distances they cover,? said Panos Spanoudis, who founded the Piraeus-based company Thelimata (Errands) last September, along with four friends.

Thelimata receives an average of 25-30 orders a day, and this number is constantly rising, according to Spanoudis. These mostly concern paying bills or doing small tasks at tax offices or courthouses, as well as deliveries and shopping. ?We have even been asked to take a dog to the groomer and to pick up someone?s child from school,? said Spanoudis. ?One lady sent us over to her brother?s house to convince him to let us take him to a doctor.?

Most of the company?s clients are elderly people who live alone and professionals such as lawyers and doctors who can no longer afford to hire full-time assistants and don?t have time to run their errands. ?This is how the idea came up after all. We saw from our own families and friends that a service like this was needed. The success we?ve had was unexpected,? said Spanoudis.

As business in the construction sector, in which he used to work, began to dry up, Xenofon Stratigos saw running errands as a way to start a new career. In early 2009 he founded one of the first companies in the business, Deliverit, which is based in Rafina on the coast of eastern Attica. The firm took off immediately, with turnover doubling within one year and up another 10 percent in 2011, despite the deepening recession in Greece. Deliverit now has a client list with around 400 names on it and runs between 40 and 50 errands a day.

?We serve a lot of elderly people in Rafina, as well as other categories of people such as mothers with small children who can?t get around easily,? said Stratigos. ?Many use our service because it?s cheaper for them than using their car to run an errand. We have estimated that a regular family consumes at least a liter of petrol a day just to go do the shopping and pay bills.?

As well as branching out with a franchise, Deliverit has also made deals with a number of stores including minimarkets, dry cleaners and video clubs, where the errand is paid for by the store if the order is above a certain amount.

?Basically this means that our service is free for the customer and, believe me, they have taken advantage of it. Other than a plan, a business also needs initiatives like this in order to succeed and become a regular fixture.?

Giorgos Marmarinos, in turn, could not have imagined a few years ago that he?d give up his desk job to go and stand in lines to pay bills. But he did, and today he is reaping the rewards.

?There were three of us, friends, who worked in shipping and were desperate for an idea, for something of our own,? Marmarinos explained.

Another company called Thelimata Faliro (Faliro Errands) was the result, this one based in the southern suburbs of Athens, which has expanded tremendously in just one year of operation to cover neighborhoods from Piraeus to Glyfada.

?We bring sweets, do the ironing, deliver flowers and baby-sit. We?ll do anything for 3 euros,? jested Marmarinos.