When Marion Eason does her job, clients treat her like a mini-celebrity. She pulls up in her van, and they rush out onto their lawns to greet her, snapping pictures and offering hugs. That’s the thing she misses most as a Peloton delivery driver. It’s not nearly as intimate to set up that bike when you’re practicing social distancing.
Eason says the job is unlike any other in the courier industry: The exercise company keeps a fleet of people on staff who are specifically trained in the art of unloading and assembling those stationary bikes. As Peloton has emerged as a genuine fitness institution during the pandemic — and as sales continue to surge while gyms remain closed — she laments that she can’t get up close and personal during appointments throughout the tri-state area.
Peloton is one of the unequivocal business success stories of the pandemic. The company, which in November reported a mind-boggling 232 percent growth in sales in the first quarter of 2020, quadrupled in value over the course of last year and caused a slew of shortages due to increased demand. At the beginning of the lockdowns last spring, Eason remembers periods where it felt like the roads were filled exclusively with Peloton and Amazon trucks — a dire sign of the times. As a brand, Peloton is singularly focused on the democratization of fitness and positive vibes, which is one of Eason’s main concerns. How can she keep herself and her customers safe while still keeping the assembly process light, fun, and anxiety-free?
Of course, those are the aspects of the job that invigorate Eason. In a moment where we’re all dreading routine grocery trips, the sight of a Peloton van is one of the few things people can look forward to. She’s receiving more gratitude than ever before and recently earned a promotion that involves hiring and training a fleet of specialists when she’s not out in the field herself. We talked about that, what it’s like to talk someone through the Peloton setup process over the phone, and how she handled her own apprehension once Covid-19 became a reality in America. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
Last March, when the pandemic became a reality, when did it hit home at Peloton? When did you realize that it was going to change the way that you work for a while?
It was just, “How can we still deliver a great experience in a different way, in a way that’s safe for the delivery person and the customer?” We were in constant communication with who we were delivering to. Just keeping them informed of what will happen when we arrive, and asking them if they wanted us to do anything specific to keep them comfortable. Now, when we go into a house we have our masks on, gloves on, and foot coverings. But it goes down to the tools that we use, too. When we use tools to set up the bikes, we don’t let them touch the floor when we set them down.
Right now, with the numbers of the virus spiking, we’re doing a version of delivery where we spend 15 to 20 minutes maximum in their home. We just connect it to the wifi and make sure everything is up and running. After we exit, we get in the van and we walk them through all of their questions. Even in the midst of this, we’re not leaving them hanging.
How hard is it to coach someone to set up a bike over the phone from the car? Is that something you needed to learn?
Because I’ve been doing it for two years, I know that bike like the back of my hand. I didn’t have to learn how to do that. The issue was more just coming up with ways to give them the same experience over the phone. We can’t be up close or see them get on the bike. Instead, some of them will actually start a class while they’re on the call with us.
Have you gotten any unique requests during this year?
Definitely. I had customers that felt sorry for making those requests. We always assure them that we totally understand, and that their safety is the priority. I had one guy whose wife didn’t want to come out to meet me. He said, “I know this sounds crazy, but we just had a newborn baby. Is there any chance you could just set up the bike in the garage? I’m going to have someone help me bring it in.” This was back in the beginning where nobody knew what was going on. I saw that he lit up when we told him it wasn’t a problem. It’s still crazy now, but back then people were a lot more on edge.
Were you nervous at all at the beginning, to be out there delivering bikes?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious at all. I believe all of us were anxious. But each day, when we came into our job, Peloton had new strategies to keep us safe. That’s what made me feel comfortable.
And also, a part of me was thinking how we were some of the only people who were rocking and rolling back in March . You wanted to bring a little bit of joy to someone. To know that us showing up with a bike and having a quick interaction, it made a difference. That helped comfort me.
What are some of the things you’ve cut out from the assembly?
It was the upcloseness of our process, and that was tough for us, because we are pretty up close with our customers. We’re used to them running to us outside when we show up. They want to take pictures with us. It’s like we’re like mini-celebrities. We’re very touchy-feely with them. So we had to pull that back. Some customers still want to take a picture with us with our masks on, so we try to accommodate those things to the best of our ability right now.
It feels like everyone purchased a Peloton during the pandemic. It became one of the big trends during Covid. When did you notice an uptick in your delivery orders?
I would say definitely in March. That’s when you could see that there were more Peloton vans on the road. One of the running jokes in March and April was that there were just Peloton and Amazon vans driving around.
From your conversations with customers, did you start to see people express different motivations for getting Pelotons than you heard back in 2019, before Covid?
I heard more pandemic-related reasons. In this downtime, people were just reevaluating everything. I heard customers say things like, “I didn’t realize how much I was paying for a gym membership.”
Are you yearning for a time when you no longer need to worry about Covid when you’re setting up a Peloton for someone?
Yes, because that’s the part of my job that’s most rewarding. It’s not that I don’t feel that same way now. But we’re all in these masks, and some people are uncomfortable. I’m yearning for that day when we can be back with our members like we used to be, and be in our customer’s home and go through our full delivery process. I think we’re all waiting for that day.