As a former U.S. Army Ranger, Michael Dunbar naturally is accustomed to getting things done properly and on time.
That’s why the Missouri native who has now adopted Columbus as his home with wife, Marina, doesn’t see that it’s much of a stretch that he would launch an errand service that requires plenty of juggling and time management.
Thus, after some contemplation and research, Dunbar, 24, launched Under the Sun Errand Service nearly a year ago. And as the name suggests, he and his trio of part-time staffers will try to do anything under the sun — if humanly possible — to take care of their needs.
That includes everything from driving customers from Point A to Point B and helping them move things around their house to picking up and delivering food for events and simply handling custom requests for a needed task. Dunbar says his crew of “errand runners” are ready to get things accomplished.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with the Columbus resident recently about his concierge job and what it takes to deliver the goods and services. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.
Q. How did you land in Columbus?
A. I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Benning and did all of my training there. I got married here and bought a house and decided to stay here when I got out. I’ve been here for seven years now.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of an errand service?
A. Transitioning from the Army, it was during that couple of months when I was getting out and right after I got out that my wife and I had a discussion about trying to find a good-paying job with a flexible schedule, because I’m also a full-time engineering student over at CSU. But trying to find a job that would work with that was impossible. So she had the idea that we should try to start a business. We brainstormed: What does Columbus need and what would be best for Columbus? And this is what we came up with.
Q. Why did this business appeal to you?
A. Columbus has been growing a lot since I’ve been here, just over the last seven years. It’s grown immensely. It’s amazing. I can remember coming here when I was just out of basic training and walking downtown with my family. There’s been such a change over the last couple of years.
Q. But you saw an opportunity?
A. Yes. I think you’re seeing more, not just us, but other service industries are coming to Columbus. I think people are noticing that growth. We’re very involved in the community, so we also wanted to do something that could involve the community and be helpful for the community.
Q. How did you go about getting everything set up?
A. Once we decided this was the thing, we started researching business models for concierge services and pricing, and we had to build our website, so it was actually a couple of months before we were able to get started … We launched our website at the end of July last year, so it’s been almost a year.
Q. Your services seem all-encompassing rather than niche-oriented. You can have a lot on your plate?
A. Yeah. I’m an engineering student, so I’ve always enjoyed learning new tasks. Like with our own house, with anything new I try to learn how to do it. When my friends have a project, we’ve always helped each other. So that was kind of the idea, that once I’ve done something we could add that on (to our services), because that’s something that I’m capable of doing.
Q. How did you build momentum for the service?
A. We put custom errands on there (website). That is how a lot of this grew. A lot of people would come to us. Once we saw requests repeated, we would tailor things more to that. Really, I think being a jack of all trades is what helps our company, helps us be diverse.
Q. Do you have multiple employees?
A. Yes. It’s primarily myself and three other employees who also go to school or have other jobs. In between our schedules, we’re able to work most errands out.
Q. How have things gone?
A. The community has been amazing. Word of mouth is how much of our business has been spread. Everyone has been supportive, and it’s been steadily growing. It’s nice to see that people appreciate what we’re doing, and we’re getting a lot of repeat customers and we’re building a lot of relationships. So that’s been really nice.
Q. Customer service is number one for this type of service, isn’t it?
A. Yeah. With the repeat business we’ve gotten, people know it’s going to be myself or one of those other three. So they get to know us or they can request one of us if they like. But, yeah, if you don’t have customer service in this it wouldn’t work out.
Q. You find Columbus a welcoming community?
A. Very nice. I don’t think we’ve had a bad experience yet. (knocks on table)
Q. What are the most popular things you do?
A. The airport. We do a flat-rate shuttle to the Atlanta airport. I’d say that, along with heavy moving, are definitely our most popular. A lot of the moving errands have to do with if it takes more than one person or if someone lives alone or if they’re a little older or maybe really busy and they need an extra set of hands. One of us goes and helps them move something or rearrange their furniture, or if they can’t do it themselves or don’t have enough time, then we can have two of us or three of us go and move something. We’ve moved a couch from one place to another and we’ve helped people move their entire households.
Q. You drive folks to and from the airport?
A. We do that a lot ... people just appreciate that ride. I think taking Groome is the other option here. We have three or four vehicles that we typically use and we rotate them out depending on who needs a vehicle and on what day and time.
Q. That sounds like it would be popular service?
A. A lot of people like it. It’s more personal. It’s very popular with business people, men and women who need to work on their trip to the airport. Or if it’s late at night and they don’t want to be crammed into a shuttle, they have their own car and they can just kind of relax in the background. We’ll drop them off and we can pick them up, and we do international as well, which is helpful I know because trying to catch the second shuttle to the international (portion of the) airport is kind of tricky. And then coming home with customs, I know, has been an issue with people. They had rather just not deal with the hassle.
Q. Has the food delivery and shopping service caught on?
A. Yeah. The food delivery is more geared to events. It’s not like you would order your food at a restaurant and us come pick it up. It’s more of a plan ahead thing. If someone’s having a gathering and they’ve ordered food from a couple of different places they would call ahead of time and say, hey, can you come and get these? That’s especially if you’re planning a family gathering. You have a lot going on and it’s just easier.
Q. And then there is pet care?
A. We’ve done that a decent amount as well. It would be more of just checking on your pet. If you need your pet fed while you’re gone, that’s more of what that revolves around.
Q. Has there been anything unusual that you’ve tackled?
A. I guess not really unusual, but just changing out light bulbs for someone who’s just busy. They had light bulbs around the house that had been going out and they just said, hey, can you come over and replace all of these light bulbs?
Q. Is there anything that you wouldn’t do that might be too difficult?
A. If it’s anything to do that’s professional, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to risk ourselves for your property. Like I’m not going to rewire something, and you need to hire someone if you need plumbing work.
Q. What’s an average day like for you?
A. My schedule just changed and I’m going transient to Auburn (for classes). I go there every morning five days a week, so it’s busier for myself. But we still work around most errands. It’s really only affected me going to the airport or something like that with a time schedule. My schedule has changed every semester, so it has been difficult to set working hours.
Q. What’s the most challenging or difficult part of your job?
A. I guess day to day, it would be scheduling and just making sure we can complete every errand the best that we can, because we want customers to be happy. We don’t want to just get it done; we want them to be happy as well. So sometimes that can mean doing a little extra or taking more time than we planned. I think when we go to airport that can be odd hours, so scheduling for that can be difficult, too, if it’s very late or very early morning pickups. You have to schedule and account for delayed flights and things like that.
Q. What do you enjoy the most about your job?
A. I love meeting new people in the community. We’ve been able to work with and meet some really exciting people and nice people in the community. It’s been a really diverse and cool experience. I enjoy that part of it.
Q. You have regular customers and occasional customers?
A. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a regular thing. But that’s kind of our goal is that it’s not this exclusive thing that just a few people can use. We want all members of the community to be able to utilize us when it’s necessary and when they can. We try to make it accessible to as many people as we can because we’re trying to serve Columbus. We like the community here.
Q. Finally, do you plan on making Columbus your long-term home?
A. It’s hard to say when I finish school and what direction our careers will take us, but I think we’re always going to have a home here.
Hometown: St. Charles, Mo., but has lived in Columbus longer than any other place
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Pursuing an engineering degree at Columbus State University
Previous jobs: Former U.S. Army Ranger at Fort Benning
Family: Wife Marina, an artist in Columbus, and their three kitty cats
Leisure time: Enjoys being outdoors and hiking