A Day in the Life of a Toronto VOOMer
Walking your Shop with Nancy Modrcin
There are few things more stressful than knowing you have to run a bunch of errands after a long day at work. Even over the last year, with so many of us working from home, the thought of putting in a just two more hours to sprint from home to grocery store, the post office and then the bank are about as draining as can be. And things spiral quickly when you realize that you really only have a couple of hours to get it all done before people are asking for dinner and the evening work emails start flowing in.
It’s hard to believe, but it feels like time is even more at a premium than it was before we fell into our new routines of rolling lockdowns, virtual events and boredom-induced online shopping sprees. And with family holidays and weekend get-a-ways now fewer and farther between, any excuse to get out of the house has become a welcome one.
A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Tori Wright, one of the co-founders of VOOMcart. She was working on developing what she said was “the ultimate personal shopping cart”. I liked her spirit (and her sales pitch), so I decided to learn more. By the time Tori and I reconnected almost a full year later, she and her partner, Erin Binnie, had already launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and were working on securing their first shipment of shopping carts.
I finally got my hands on a VOOMcart in late February. It blew me away. So, I naturally asked if I could share my experience.
It was still technically winter in Toronto. Not too cold, but far from mild. Everything outside was grey – the streets, the sky… even the snow. The days were short with the sun setting long before dinner. And to make matters worse, we were in lockdown again. Things were looking pretty bleak.
I’d been itching for an excuse to get out more but just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. At the time, I lived in a condo in Toronto’s Distillery District, a beautiful community built around North America’s largest collection of historic Victorian architecture. Our loft sat on top of one of those buildings and my husband and I loved the old-world charm of the cobbled streets and red brick buildings. But our condo didn’t have any private outdoor space and there were only so many times we could do a loop of those cobbled laneways overlooking deserted restaurant patios before we got bored and just sad.
Our days quickly become a blur of back-to-back Zoom calls at all hours of the day and night (our business services clients in Toronto, New York, London and Dubai). We rarely left the loft. Our big outings during that lockdown were limited to weekly trips to the grocery store, but even those slowed when we realized just how much grocery e-commerce had improved since the first lockdown. We didn’t FEEL lazy. We were always working. But we woke up one day and realized that’s all we were doing. And with that came the realization that our hectic lifestyle, previously made up of traveling, socializing and basically setting the world on fire, had sadly morphed into one of too much screen time and a whole lot of lethargy.
We needed to form some better habits. So, I asked Tori and Erin if I could borrow a VOOMcart.
We challenged ourselves to walk to the grocery store every three days for an entire month. It was a game changer on so many different levels. And it got us through the remainder of a very bleak winter.
Grocery days for us are always Tuesdays and Fridays. The latter sets us up for the weekend and the Tuesday is our mid-week top up. The first time I took the VOOMcart out was on a Friday. I called a neighbour and asked if she wanted to go for a walk to St Lawrence Market to pick up some treats for the weekend. I was craving fresh pasta, veggies and a really good steak. But I was also craving a walk and a wander through a new part of Toronto. I needed a little adventure. And I also needed a little exercise.
St. Lawrence Market is always quieter during the weekdays (even on Fridays), and we managed to walk straight in. On the way there, though, as I pushed the VOOMcart along Front Street, I started noticing that we were falling into step with several other shoppers. Many were carrying heavy bags filled with their own weekend supplies, some were pulling metal carts behind them heading to various grocery stores and some had even strapped giant back packs to themselves to lighten their loads a bit. My friend and I could see everything from bread to wine bottles and cereals boxes peeking out from all of the bulging seams. Everyone looked uncomfortable. And weighed down.
Meanwhile, we were pushing our VOOMcart down the street, one handed, because we were sipping on Americanos with our other hand. The VOOMcart was lightweight, with solid wheels and a great turning radius. When we had to navigate something tricky (like a curb or a pothole), I dropped my coffee into the super convenient cup holder and tiptoed over the roadblock like a ballerina with new shoes. I started noticing looks of envy from overloaded shoppers passing me by. It felt good being outside in the crisp winter air. It felt good heading to the grocery store.
We arrived at the Market and started our shop. I told my friend she could have the entire lower bin of my VOOMcart for her stuff. I would take the top one. The VOOMcart has two bins and a hammock on its frame. They’re structured with clean lines and can hold a lot of stuff. The fabric is waterproof and comes in a super chic grey or a vibrant, cheerful red. The fact that you can push it forward means that you’ll never catch your ankles on a pull-cart ever again. The forward motion makes it easier to control and move… and it just looks better. I lost count of how many times another shopper stopped me to ask me about it.
First stop was our favourite meat counter where we spent way too much money. We were on a mission to find a couple of good steaks but ended up walking away with fresh cut prosciutto and some fresh ground turkey meat (it was chilli season, after all). Then we headed over to one of the market’s produce stalls. We stocked up on organic peppers, sprouts, spinach and berries. We even picked up a couple of bouquets of tulips. (You cannot beat the prices at St. Lawrence Market… so we each bought two.) On the way to the fresh pasta bar, we stopped at our favourite bakery and added a couple of baguettes and brioche loafs to our bins. (Weekend brunch essentials in Toronto.) At this point, our bins were overflowing with extras… but we barely noticed.
As we made our way from stall to stall, we chatted breezily, laughed, caught up… we were enjoying ourselves. And we were doing it while grocery shopping and walking. I hadn’t felt that light in weeks.
The VOOMcart, with us trailing behind it, moved through the rest of the afternoon effortlessly. We were so energized that we made two more spontaneous stops on the way home. The first to pick up a couple of bottles of wine (why not? It’s not like we had to worry about carrying them all the way home.) The second to the bank to make a couple of quick withdrawals. That last errand we never would have even considered had we been hauling multiple heavy bags home by hand. But that last little checkmark on our to-do lists was easy, quick and stress-free. And most importantly, something we wouldn’t have to worry about taking care of tomorrow.
As we strolled home toward the Distillery District, we started pointing out all of the small shops we passed on our walk. The ones that we always talk about going into but never do because we’re just too bogged down with all of the other things that we’re carrying. We’re busy city girls. Always talking about shopping local and supporting our neighbourhood businesses. But shamefully, in the past, we had often chosen speed and convenience over a leisurely stroll to pick up a few things.
All of that changed on our first day VOOMing. We were reminded of just how easy it could be to get out into the city to do a shop, run some errands and get some exercise in. We also realized how good it could feel to do the things that we’re always talking about, especially supporting local businesses through a really tough year. We are spoiled for choice in Toronto. It’s a city made up of tens of thousands of small shops, cafes, restaurants and grocers. And it wouldn’t be the same city without them.
That day, the VOOMcart inspired me to put one foot in front of the other to show some love for my city. And now I do it almost every single day. Partly because I want to get outside for a bit of fresh air and exercise. But mostly because I want to help keep this great city of ours alive long enough to see the other end of a very dark year. I think that’s a pretty great reason to walk your shop, every chance you get.
Nancy Modrcin is a Partner & Global Strategy Lead at Horn and Mane Inc., a full-service digital firm that helps businesses grow and scale with digital transformation strategies. She was previously the Vice President of Marketing at a $16 billion grocery retailer in Canada. She enthusiastically continues to walk her shop every Tuesday and Friday. If you’re interested in hearing more about her VOOMcart experience, you can reach her via www.hornandmane.com. You can read more about the VOOMcart at www.voomcart.com\product.