Corrections or additions?

This article by Dan Noonan was prepared for the November 24, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Cover Story: Got Milk?

It’s late at night, approaching midnight, and many people are tuned

into Letterman, Leno, or other late night fare. Some may actually be

asleep. But the Moo Moo Express is about to come alive, ready to hit

the dark streets of Princeton, Hopewell, Rocky Hill and Montgomery.

Ready to deliver dairy delights door-to-door before the first rays of

sunshine sneak through the night.

Got milk? Roy Gwin does. Skim milk, low fat, soy, lactate, organic

milk, even goat’s milk. And it’s waiting for you in the white milk box

perched on your front porch, just like in the good ol’ days. Although

if you grew up with a milk man stopping at your house, you probably

remember the silver box – seems like everybody had one.

"Mine’s white," said Roy. "I wanted it to be different, and this is

just cleaner. But everybody asks about the silver ones. Some people

even call about my box, they don’t want the service, just the

milkbox."

That’s because it’s "so cute" and "adorable," as one customer

described the happy cows with the Moo Moo Express logo. (And it is fun

to say).

Gwin, 45, is a modern-day milk man and he IS the Moo Moo Express. It’s

a one-man operation that brings back memories of simpler, bygone times

when most everyone had their milk delivered to the front door.

"People my age remember the days of the milk man, and they’re

surprised that you can still get milk delivered today, said Roy. "It’s

the nostalgia thing, people like to look back, like to remember and

they like the personal service. It’s an affordable luxury."

That personal service doesn’t come in the form of a delivery man

dressed in a white uniform and white cap, like some old TV shows would

have us believe. But Roy does wear a big smile when he talks about his

work.

"I love this job! I think this is the coolest thing in the world.it’s

definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done!"

Gwin is a gregarious sort, filled with enthusiasm for his job. His

rapid-fire speech pattern is sometimes hard to keep up with, and his

hands seem to work overtime to accompany his words. This is a man who

enjoys what he does, and loves being his own boss. "I’ve always worked

for someone else and never really felt appreciated. So I thought I

might as well try to work for myself."

And so he does. Every night but Saturday (he does allow himself one

night off) Roy Gwin leaves his Pennington home for his Rocky Hill

warehouse, where his large refrigerator keeps his dairy products

chilled. There he loads his Moo Moo Express, an eight-foot

refrigerated truck painted black and white, resembling a huge Holstein

cow on wheels. His phone number (609-497-4MILK) shares the side of the

truck with those two happy, friendly-looking cows. That image, with

the Moo Moo Express lettering painted on there makes you laugh. Cows

are like that. It’s an amusing sight for a serious business.

Except for the doorstep boxes, The Express is Gwin’s only form of

advertising, if you can call it that. The truck, after all, is making

the rounds while most potential customers are sound asleep.

"I don’t really advertise," Gwin said. "And still I get five or six

calls a week. I’m up to 400 customers now, and I take on new customers

when I can. But I really don’t know how they find me. Word of mouth, I

guess."

Gwin’s customers phone their orders in, and he checks his messages

each night to update his deliveries.

"No notes in the milkbox. And no money or checks in the box. This is

an old-time service, but it is 2004."

Recently, Gwin began taking VISA, a big step forward for his business.

By 11:30 or so, the truck is loaded and on the road. Gwin drives by

night, solo on his midnight shift, usually wrapping up by 6 a.m. He

doesn’t mind the hours.

"That doesn’t really matter. I’ve worked all kinds of hours. One

shift’s as good as another."

The Moo Moo Express (try it, it really is fun to say) makes 580 stops

each week, since some customers get more than the usual weekly

delivery. And Gwin, of course, makes each of those deliveries himself,

as he has for eight years. But, as he discovered, man cannot live on

milk alone.

"Milk is my foot in the door. I couldn’t survive just delivering milk.

So once the customers got their milk I started asking what else they’d

like to get delivered. My customers want everything from juice, to

yogurt to bottled water, even bread."

What’s happened is Gwin’s business has grown to include 350 items,

most of them non-dairy grocery products. That’s where the money is. In

fact, his bills carry a note that the prices depend on six items per

delivery. And he sees that list growing to 1,000 by next summer. So,

Gwin is looking for another truck and a part-time driver. But even

with his wide range of delivery items, every one of his customers gets

milk delivered. The rest is just extra. And yes, no matter what he

delivers, Gwin is still a milk man.

"Oh yeah, I’m a milk man. That’s how I made this business. I just

carry everything now. If a customer wants something, I’ll get it and

deliver it. My goal is to give people store products at store prices.

To give the people what they want. And people want service, dependable

service. I always deliver, I’ve never missed a day in eight years. My

customers know I’m dependable."

But what if he got sick. Who would deliver? The milk, like the mail,

must go on.right?

"I’ve never been sick enough not to deliver," Gwin shrugged.

But, but what if.

"Well, if it was an emergency, my wife could do it."

Does she know that?

"Shhhhh," he whispered.

There are no official statistics on the number of milk men in New

Jersey. But Gwin puts the number at about 25. He says there are

several in the Hillsborough area, and they have an unwritten agreement

with Gwin to stay out of each other’s territory.

So how did Roy Gwin get into this territory? How did he become a

milkman?

Gwin, whose father worked at the old Walker Gordon Dairy in Plainsboro

(so you could say that he grew up with milk in his veins), worked a

variety of jobs over the years, from a cook at Disney World to various

management positions. He was the dairy manager for a Grand Union in

South Brunswick when labor troubles led to a buy-out offer. Gwin took

it, and used the opportunity to start planning his own business. With

his dairy background and business know-how, and intent on becoming his

own boss, he started looking for a milk route.

"There was a guy in Kingston who was selling his truck and route for

$100,000. I figured it would take me seven years to make any money

with that deal. So I found an old truck in Pennsylvania for $500. It

worked, I just had to fix it up and I was on my way. And I used that

truck for two years!"

Gwin had 30 friends and neighbors help him get off the ground, they

were his first customers. After that, the Moo Moo Express simply took

off – "like a rocket."

"This was just the right area at the right time. By the end of my

first month the area (Princeton, Hopewell, Rocky Hill and Montgomery)

was begging for service. And like I said, people couldn’t believe

someone would actually deliver milk right to their house."

Gwin grew up in Montgomery, the eighth of nine children, and graduated

from Montgomery High School in 1977. And yes, his family had a

milkman. "My father worked for Walker Gordon Dairy in Plainsboro for

20 years. He was a supervisor there when he lost his job. That was the

prominent dairy in New Jersey for a long time, but they decided to get

out of the dairy business and get into beef."

To make ends meet for the large family, Gwin’s father started a

landscaping business. There was no question about where the employees

would come from. "There were nine of us, and we were spread out over

so many years that there was always a group of two or three kids

available to work. As some would get older and move on, the next group

was ready. There was always an available workforce in the family. My

brothers and sisters and I were always mowing or edging some lawn. We

learned the value of work early on."

And the value of entrepreneurship as well. Roy Gwin, who is married

and has two daughters, 10 and 14, also owns a coffee shop called

"Rocky Hill By The Cup" at 130 Washington Street. His 81-year-old

mother runs the shop, with help from Roy and his wife, Kathy. It’s a

quaint little spot in "downtown" Rocky Hill. No seating, but coffee,

tea, and a few baked goods to-go. Just another family business.

Gwin’s success with the Moo Moo Express doesn’t mirror that of New

Jersey’s dairy industry. Naturally, he doesn’t raise his own cows and

process and bottle his own milk. Sadly, no one in the Garden State

does that. Just a few months ago, the last dairy farm in the state to

process, bottle and deliver milk from its own cows – Emmons Dairy in

Burlington County – got out of the dairy business.

New Jersey dairy farms have been declining steadily since 1964. There

were 1,682 back then, according to the State Department of

Agriculture. Today there are only 119 left, and that’s after a 10

percent drop in the last year. The remaining farms don’t produce

nearly enough milk for New Jerseyans. Ninety percent of the milk we

drink comes from out-of-state dealers, primarily from New York and

Pennsylvania.

The working farms here all ship their raw milk to a co-op, which

transports and sells it to a processor. There, the milk is pasteurized

and homogenized, then sealed into a container. The dealers pick it up

and deliver the finished and packaged product, usually to a

supermarket. So your brand-name milk could come from the same

processed batch as the store’s brand. Same milk, different label.

Gwin has about 750 gallons a week delivered to his warehouse by both

Welsh Farms and Cream-O-Land, two New Jersey distributors that don’t

have one cow between them. They get their milk from a processor,

that’s the way it’s done now. But the customers see the Welsh Farms or

Cream-o-Land label when they open their milkbox.

While Gwin is working his route, he’s looking down the road and he

sees more than milk and dairy products. He sees groceries, lots of

them. "I’m aiming for a virtual supermarket. Non-perishables, paper

products and bottled juices. The demand is there, people want home

delivery." Gwin is planning on a larger warehouse in the

not-too-distant future, and he’s working on a website. Milk is still

in the picture, though.

No matter how big he gets, you get the feeling Roy Gwin will be

enjoying what he does.

"If the customer is happy, I’m happy. I do what I can for them.

Sometimes it’s the little things. When I’m on a delivery and I see the

newspaper on the ground by the street, I pick it up and put it on top

of the milkbox when I’m done. I mean, I’m going there anyway, so I

bring the paper. And my customers appreciate that."

Yes, they do. The proof comes around the holidays when nearly all his

customers leave him a nice little Christmas gift.

"It’s like a bonus," a smiling Roy Gwin said. "And I never got a bonus

in any other job I had. There’s that old saying, if you find a job you

like, you’ll never work a day in your life."

Perfect. And to borrow from another old saying, Roy Gwin never cries

over spilled milk.

Note: The writer did his best to avoid an excess of dairy puns. He

didn’t want to milk it.

— by Dan Noonan

Moo Moo Express, 5 Crescent Avenue, Princeton Business Park, Unit B,

Princeton 08540. Roy Gwin, owner. 609-497-4645.


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