Return engagement: How these entrepreneurs are growing their reverse logistics business

Entrepreneurs Daphna Englard and Dasya Katz make the quintessential dream-turned-reality introduction to their passion project, an app-based online return service called ReturnQueen.

You’ll just have to trust that living, breathing and sleeping reverse logistics is a dream come true.

There is an earnest excitement the best friends communicate about the Ramsey-based business they launched in 2020. And, most importantly for them, they’re very serious about what they’re getting involved in.

“We’re building an entire reverse logistics operation, because that’s really the only way to do this properly,” Englard said. “We said early on that, if we’re doing this, we’re doing it right. It has to be 100% more convenient, not a minor change. It has to be as truly easy as online shopping itself has become.”

Daphna Englard, left, and Dasya Katz.

Their version of a full-fledged logistics operation consists of a fleet of branded purple trucks collecting returns on a pay-per-pickup or subscription-like basis from people’s front doors. The returns can be mixed up in bags and even meant for different retailers, because the company’s argument for convenience rests on it doing the work of sorting, boxing, labeling and shipping the returns itself.

The foundation of the door-to-door business model is an app, through which customers select items they want to return and have them picked up as soon as the next day. ReturnQueen’s co-founders believe they’re the first to enter the market with a solution like this.

That has its downsides for a company that’s hoping to achieve nationwide adoption, particularly on the marketing side. That’s a focus of theirs now, along with forging industry partnerships.

“First off, we have to educate people on the existence of this new service,” Englard said. “People can easily search for a good Chinese restaurant when they’re hungry. But you can’t search for this if it’s something you don’t even know exists.”

The next step, she added, is to ensure that their brand is the one customers come to associate with this new concierge service, given that more competitors are starting to test it out themselves on smaller scales.

Katz said the feedback so far from customers to this local startup’s offerings has been positive. They’re finding people are in the same situation these entrepreneurs were in — as two busy mothers leading a life busy enough without the hassle of returns — when they started the business during the pandemic.

“Whereas, I was very organized about returns, and didn’t miss any return windows by using up a lot of free time to deal with them, Daphna wouldn’t get around to it — she’d procrastinate and lose refunds,” Katz said. “This is such a world of convenience we live in. Retailers are constantly making the shopping and checkout process easier. But no one is focused on the ease of returns.”

The startup’s app is marketed as a way of helping individuals organize past purchases as well as getting returns back to retailers and refunded as quickly as possible. It offers options such as $9 individual return pickups and about $20 unlimited returns on a monthly basis.

The ReturnQueen app.

Customers have to be convinced that it’s worth paying over some of the online retailers — namely, the all-encompassing e-commerce giant Amazon — offering returns sometimes without cost for those willing to print shipping labels and fulfill other requirements themselves.

“Part of why we think we bring tremendous value is that we can process those Amazon returns on behalf of customers, but also a mix of orders from other retailers at the same time,” Katz said.

Katz added that there are retailers, particularly small businesses, that perhaps aren’t equipped to handle return processing at all. ReturnQueen is rolling out a business-to-business model to address that.

“We didn’t realize the extent that the retail ecosystem needed this,” Katz said. “Those small business owners can tap into our logistics operation to offer customers a high level of service that hasn’t been there before. … That’s one of the reasons we’re so confident about our success.”

The entrepreneurs have 20 states they’re active in, including more than 9,000 ZIP codes. An increased national scope is really what retailers need from them, they say.

It’s still early days for the company, but the co-founders said they’ve seen double-digit growth each month. Last month, they had a 42% increase in business. The month before, it was 50%.

Close to 80% of customers are scheduling a second return pickup or more, they added. They’re excited about that number — and see it as evidence they’re filling a void.

“We hit the market right before this idea was really being talked about in a major way,” Englard said. “It’s all the rage now. So, we picked a good time, and a good place, to set this operation up.”