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All-Purpose Cab
Susan Speir's growing business

photoSusan Speir uses this van to haul passengers and to deliver products.

Susan Speir first became aware that the Methow Valley needs passenger service when she was working as concierge at Sun Mountain Lodge. But it took awhile before she decided to do something about it.

“I started this business when I was 60,” says the 61-year-old Speir, owner of The Gabby Cabby. “Obviously it’s not age-appropriate behavior,” she jokes.

Her idea of running a little part-time passenger taxi service has grown into a recreational shuttle and delivery service for valley-produced products as well as marketing of those products. She also offers courier service, and once a week she hauls the valley’s dry cleaning to Wenatchee.

Last year The Gabby Cabby’s three vehicles traveled more than 52,000 miles ferrying people and products in and out of and around the Methow Valley, says Speir, who previously was on the board at Room One, where she started its annual Soup Dinner benefit. And her supposedly part-time job has become a 60-hour a week endeavor, she told Grist.

photoSusan Speir, owner of The Gabby Cabby, operates out of TwispWorks. She has three vehicles and two trailers on hand.

She has an office and vehicle parking spaces at TwispWorks, where she keeps a 14-passenger Ford Club Wagon, a six-passenger Toyota Sienna van that’s used for hauling passengers and goods, and a six-passenger Toyota Highlander hybrid with a Thule box mounted on the roof that holds at least nine pairs of skis and poles plus nine pairs of ski boots, she says.

She picks up and delivers passengers at SeaTac and the Spokane and Wenatchee airports. She hauls wilderness recreationists (under the “Mountain Cabby” designation) into drop-offs such as the Pasayten’s Irongate trailhead. She ferries wedding parties, shuttles skiers around the valley and takes people on regional wine tours. Normally she’s driving three to five days a week, says Speir.

Meanwhile her husband, accountant Dave Hopkins, keeps the books. And her right hand, the “calm” office manager Pam Purtell, coordinates the delivery and pickup schedule. “She balances me out perfectly. I’m the person on the ground flying in all directions,” says Speir.

Every other Monday Speir delivers products from Sunny Pine Farm and Bluebird Grain Farm to Seattle. On that trip, she says, she makes from 10 to 15 stops in Kent, Renton and Lynnwood as well as at Whole Foods stores in Seattle.

“They thermometer-scan the cheese when I deliver it to Whole Foods,” says Speir of the Sunny Pine goat cheese she delivers there. So, she adds, “I’m hyper vigilant” about keeping the products cold en route.

Along the way to Seattle, she may stop for deliveries in such places as the Lone Pine store north of Orondo or the Sleeping Lady resort in Leavenworth. When Highway 20 opens across the Cascades, she adds a loop trip to Seattle via Mount Vernon with deliveries to a food co-op there.

On alternative Wednesdays each month she makes deliveries to Spokane, usually in a 10-hour, one-day turn-around that might include Moses Lake, where half-a dozen food co-ops, natural food markets, and wine shops are on the customer list. The other two Wednesdays of each month she’s off to Tonasket, Omak and Okanogan.

photoThe Gabby Cabby started hauling goods with the colorful trailer in the foreground, then added the white trailer that's behind it.

Standby discounted passenger service is available on both the Seattle and Spokane delivery trips when space is available.

Every Friday she drives, with stops in Pateros, to Wenatchee with valley products as well as its dry cleaning, which can be dropped off and picked up between 9:30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. Monday through Thursdays at Washworks in Twisp.

Though she still offers passenger taxi service, it didn’t pencil out as well as the rest of the business, according to Speir. “The people who need it most can’t afford it,” she said.

But another business opportunity presented itself: the ever-present challenge facing Methow Valley producers of agricultural and other products in getting their wares to market - and marketed. “We are so far from everything,” says Speir. When she thought about what she could do about that with her delivery service, she recalls, “It was like a light bulb went off: `I’ll market people’s products.’”

The Gabby Cabby lists dozens of customers outside the valley who either have Methow products delivered to them or have their own products brought here to valley retailers. In that mix of valley customers The Gabby Cabby lists Thomsen’s Custom Meats, Hank’s, the Red Apple, Glover Street Market, Pardners Mini Market, the Confluence Gallery, Sun Mountain Lodge, Arrowleaf Bistro, Crown S Ranch, Freestone Inn, Mazama Country Inn and the Mazama Store.

photoThe Gabby Cabby picks up and delivers dry cleaning at the WashWorks in Twisp.

Speir says her business strategy has been to price her delivery services lower than competitors such as UPS and Fed Ex. “We are less expensive than all of them,” she says.

But the survival of her delivery business depends on having customers who are willing to sign up to use it on a regularly scheduled basis, says Speir. They can opt for bare-bones delivery, she explains, or they can pay more to have her market their products on her delivery runs.

She credits Sunny Pine Farms, Methow Valley Brewing Co. and Lost River Winery as “the key players” in giving her business the jump start it needed by making the commitment to use The Gabby Cabby for regularly scheduled delivery service out of the valley.

Speir has figured out what long-haul truckers know: it cuts the cost of the trip if you don’t haul the vehicle home empty. So she hauls 20 pounds of lemongrass from Uwajimaya in Seattle to the Breadline Café in Omak, say, or gluten and rice-free pizza crusts from Wheatless in Seattle to East 20 Pizza in Winthrop.

Among items she brings east to valley retailers - and beyond - are such specialty items as Lynneae’s  Gourmet Pickles from Tacoma, toffee flavored popcorn from Little River Candy Co. Wenatchee, Cascades Creamery cheese from Leavenworth, fruit from Spencer Fruit Organic in Malaga, cider from Finnriver farm in Chimacum, and wines from Cairdeas and Atam wineries in Manson as well as premium seafood and meats from Northwest Earth and Ocean in Lynnwood.

Speir has discovered a niche: delivering and marketing specialty products from small producers on both sides of the Cascade Curtain for whom it’s not always easy to place products in far-flung locales or to ship it there. “We work for the retailers and the small producers,” says Speir.

“We were slammed last year,” she says, cheerfully predicting: “This year we’ll exceed it.”


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