Delivering nostalgia, too

Innovation: With home delivery of dairy products, a Howard business offers convenience and a taste of the past.

January 13, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Jeff Semmont is nostalgic for a time he has never experienced.

The 32-year-old from Ellicott City thinks fondly of times when residents could leave their homes and cars unlocked, and daydreams about a drive-in movie theater and restaurant where teens could hang out.

So it is no wonder that when Semmont sold his dry-cleaning delivery business, he settled into a job that harks backs to days gone by.

Dressed in a starched white uniform, driving a refrigerated truck and carrying gently clanging glass bottles, Semmont is a milkman.

His company, Udderly Delightful, is less than a year old and serves about 150 homes in Howard County with weekly deliveries of milk, eggs, yogurt and other products.

Although dairy home delivery is more common in some parts of the country -- one dairy in Illinois has tens of thousands of home-delivery customers -- milkmen are rare.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 0.5 percent of Americans had milk delivered to their homes in 1999. In 1963, nearly 30 percent did, according to a report from the agency.

But in recent years, a handful of small home-delivery businesses such as Udderly Delightful has sprung up throughout the country, started by entrepreneurs who liked the nostalgia and saw customers who would pay for the convenience.

Most companies charge a small delivery fee, and several offer more than breakfast fare. Locally, one other company, Potomac Dairy in Montgomery County, provides the service.

For Semmont, everything had to be in keeping with his notions of what the job once entailed. He delivers four days a week, rising at 3 a.m. and carrying his package of cold dairy products in half-gallon and quart sizes to his first customer by 4 a.m.

His company patronizes other small local companies. Hormone-free milk, yogurt, cheeses and eggs come from South Mountain Creamery, a small dairy farm in Frederick. Coffee comes from Pfefferkorn's in Baltimore, freshly baked breads from the Breadery in Ellicott City, orange juice and bacon from Lancaster County, Pa.

He said he started Udderly Delightful in March with nothing but a notion that people would appreciate the novelty and his services. Previously, Semmont and his wife ran Halo Dry Cleaning, a service that picked up and delivered laundry, for seven years.

Semmont's prices are a little higher than those in grocery stores -- for example, a pound of bacon delivered is $3.99 compared with a brand regularly priced $3.39 at Safeway -- and he charges $3.15 for each delivery (but requires no minimum order), and his customers say the service is worth the cost.

"He is all about service," said Denise Eden, one of his first customers. "A lot of people could take a lesson from him about customer service. He's always got a smile on his face. He gets to know you."

She said she is impressed with the products he carries, too: "The flavor is incredible and the color -- there is a difference."

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