From tourism to COVID-era deliveries - Barcelona women reinvent bike business

22 Dec 2020 11:17 AM
Image: Collected
When the coronavirus slammed Spain in March, Ariadna Serra realised that 2020 and beyond looked dreadful for the cycling tours for foreign students company she co-founded ten years ago.

So Serra, 41, and five of her female co-workers explored new opportunities over virtual drinks. They made a decision to follow their passion for cycling to invest in a delivery company using bikes in Barcelona, looking to take advantage of the online shopping boom prompted by the pandemic.

Les Mercedes, as the business is called, was founded in July by the six women and is run by five of these, aged 35 to 45 from Spain, France and Argentina. It really is organised as a cooperative and describes itself as “ethical, sustainable and inclusive.”

“It’s not only a delivery company. You want to go somewhat further,” said Serra at the company’s headquarters in Barcelona’s old town.

It seeks to market a far more women-oriented and climate-friendly city, offer good jobs, inspire responsible shopping and support the struggling tourism-dependent local economy, she said.

Most importantly, it intends to be an “alternative model” to delivery giants, such as for example Amazon and Glovo, she said. Both have lost rulings lately in Spain over labour conditions and the rights of so-called gig economy workers.

Amazon’s effect on local shops reaches the forefront of a political debate in Barcelona and the municipality is mulling a tax on big online shopping platforms. Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau has called on residents to boycott Amazon through the Christmas season and shop locally.

“Shops and bars are the culture of our neighbourhoods. What we wish is to become listed on forces with them so that they are able to remain there and adjust to the changes,” Serra said.

Les Mercedes has around 50 core customers, mainly groceries, wine and flower shops in addition to neighbourhood shopping associations that have launched their own online marketplaces.

“We bring gender perspective to a sector that is very masculine,” said Marie Dufouleur, 42, another company founder.

Remembering the tough begin from scratch when the ladies had to use their savings, she said: “I think no-one thought i would do it so quickly therefore well.” She said the entire year would end with profit their bank accounts.

Serra said of 2020: “It has taken our job away but given us another. Despite everything, we are pretty happy.”

“In 2021, I think we it's still here, we will keep fighting.”