Inspiration struck April Ducharme as she waited in line for the Clinton-to-Mukilteo ferry.
During her daily commute to the “mainland,” she thought up a plan to make her time in line work for her. And such was the birth of her business, Pond Hopper.
“The concept is to bridge Whidbey Island with the greater market,” Ducharme said.
Pond Hopper’s motto is “crossing the pond so you don’t have to.” The concept is simple: If anyone from Whidbey Island needs something picked up from the greater Seattle area, Ducharme will pick it up and bring it to Whidbey. Likewise, if someone needs something from the island delivered to the mainland, Ducharme will do that, too.
“It’s like a taxi for things,” Ducharme said with a smile and a sparkle in her bright blue eyes. She said she thinks her service, while available to residents and businesses alike, could be invaluable for small businesses.
“So many small businesses can’t afford an employee,” she said. “Pond Hopper saves them tons of time and money and I can deliver right to a job site.”
“Right from the beginning, I thought it was a really amazing idea,” said Sandra Jarvis, owner of Museo Gallery in Langley. “For us to pack art — sometimes having to double-box it because of the fragility — and ship it is time consuming and expensive. She’s very reasonable and very careful. I’m just thrilled with the service.”
Michael Nichols, owner of Whidbey Green Goods in Clinton, has been using Pond Hopper weekly for a few months now.
“It is one less headache I have to deal with,” he said. “Items she acquires would not be available to my customers.”
“Even though we make regular trips, there are lots of things we forget,” said Larry Lowary of Tree-Top Baking. “It’s been really convenient to give her a call. She’ll stop almost anywhere.”
While Ducharme hopes to make Pond Hopper her full time, self-supporting business, her job in pharmaceutical sales means she’s in the car driving all over the mainland five days a week. But her job is flexible, giving her the ability to go nearly anywhere, any given day of the work week.
“It’s like having an on-call employee,” she said.
Judy Feldman, executive director of Greenbank Farm, agrees.
“It’s like having an extra staff member,” she said. “Someone we trust, yet can go off island for us without putting other important tasks on the back burner.”
Ducharme, whose mother and brother live on Whidbey Island, decided to make the island her home two years ago. She said she wanted to figure out a way to connect with people in the community and believes Pond Hopper can help her do that. But she wants to be very clear that she’s not trying to take business away from Whidbey Island. Rather, she’s offering to help people condense the number of trips they have to make to the mainland to get items they can’t normally get on the island and also get Whidbey Island items to people across the pond.
“Items that come from Whidbey Island have a certain built-in cachet,” she said. “And if a business has only five or 10 places they need to distribute their goods on the mainland, the Pond Hopper is a way to get the products there.
“That’s the vision,” Ducharme continued. “To help small businesses as they grow as sort of an on-call distribution person.”
The service works well for residential customers, too.
“Residents can get their Costco stuff for a party, for instance, without having to actually go there,” Ducharme said. “There’s so many different possibilities.”
Langley resident Erin Everett used the Pond Hopper to deliver bar stools she was selling.
“I expect to use it again and would definitely use it if I had a business that called for products or delivery on the other side,” Everett said. “I can also envision using the Pond Hopper to provide delivery of items if I’m not feeling well.”
Ducharme said she has a base price of $20 for her service, but that varies depending on the job and the distance.
“That’s the cost of a round trip ferry ticket,” she said. “It’s less expensive to send me.”
“She’s saving me money and time,” said Jarvis. “If I had to do it myself it would be prohibitive.”
“I appreciated the fact that it saved me an entire day, served as a middleman and saved me money compared to my other options,” agreed Everett. “Also, providing door-to-door service was a huge relief and spared me from having to figure out all the logistics.”
“It saves so much time, and prevents duplication of driving efforts — good for our schedules, great for the environment,” said Feldman. “It ended up costing us less than if one of us had taken the day to drive off island, down to Tacoma and back.”
As the Pond Hopper evolves and business picks up, Ducharme plans to consolidate trips and establish set drop sites to make it more economical for everyone. Obviously, more customers lowers the cost, which is an advantage. Ducharme said she’s used the first few months in business to work out any kinks in the system and is ready to take on more clients, just in time for the busy season.
“Islanders aren’t used to this kind of service,” Ducharme said. “I’ve delivered items to people and they tell me ‘This is just like magic.’ That’s the word they used — magic.”
“I have come to think of the Pond Hopper as iconic Whidbey,” said Everett. “It’s such a unique idea and it’s so Whidbey Island.”
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