Traveling on electric scooters in bright orange outerwear are the famous Duffl racers, student workers of a local convenience fulfillment center that delivers snacks, drinks and other essential items around the UCLA area. Co-created by former Bruin David Lin in 2020, Duffl operates out of a storefront in Westwood Village with an expansive inventory. Students can place orders via an app or website for anything from fresh fruit to toilet paper. Upon clicking “place order,” a worker — or “racer” — will promptly deliver items in a bright orange bag, which will arrive at the customer’s door in 10 minutes or less.
Duffl’s ingenious business model fills a niche present in most college towns: students’ unwavering desire for snacks and their even greater love of convenience. Duffl offers guaranteed speed into late hours — open until 1 a.m. — and a vast product selection beyond food. It functions as an online grocery store; rather than making the trek into Westwood, students can make purchases from the comfort of their beds. The unique service took off at UCLA and recently opened locations at six other universities around the country, including fellow UCs, Arizona State University and the University of Texas at Austin.
As Duffl gained popularity, its name became integrated into Bruin vernacular as a new verb. Ran out of toothpaste? Just “Duffl” it. Duffl brings students what they want, when they want it. However, the student-run company goes beyond delivery; they’ve not only cultivated a service but a brand tailored to college students. A dedicated marketing team curates an Instagram boasting over 3000 followers, and they even sell custom merchandise for students who want to rep the Duffl name on a sweatshirt or hat. With themed giveaways, snack “March Madness” competitions and personalized messages written on order bags, the company strategically matches the energy of a college campus, unlike delivery competitors that are unable to relate to this demographic.
Duffl is run by student employees, who have rather unconventional jobs compared to others on campus. Workers are split into three main categories: restockers that replenish inventory when wholesale shipments arrive on Mondays and Thursdays, packers who actively prepare orders as they come in and racers who deliver them on scooters. These positions are overseen by a staffing captain and restocking captain who manage inventory and other workers. But what is it really like to be a “Duffler”? We followed three of them to find out and learn more about this unique enterprise.
Aidan Seidle, a third-year cognitive science student, has been working at Duffl for the past nine months. While not the longest-serving employee, Seidle is familiar with Duffl’s inner workings, having previously worked as a racer and now as staffing captain. Many of his responsibilities tend to the technical side of the business, including organizing shift schedules and handling scooter repairs. Seidle was employed at the UCLA Store when he heard about an opportunity to work for Duffl through a friend. He made the switch to take advantage of the more flexible, student-run environment where he could work for and alongside his friends, a stark contrast to the strict and bureaucratic atmosphere as a university employee.
“Everyone on a day-to-day store level is a student,” said Seidle.
This factor differentiates Duffl from other places of employment near campus, which Bruins don’t connect with on the same level. Duffl’s laid-back atmosphere and dedication to UCLA’s demographic seems to attract both new employees and new customers. The company cultivates a strong employee bond, hosting parties at Duffl’s Santa Monica headquarters for Westwood employees to get to know each other and inviting customers to attend with purchased wristbands.
According to Seidle, Duffl feels more “community-based” because there is a “vested interest” in what UCLA students actually want and need.
“It’s … easier to enjoy something that is designed for you as a student,” said Seidle.
Fun and convenience are Seidle’s favorite characteristics about Duffl that contribute to the company’s success and enjoyable work environment. London Hibbs, a fourth-year student studying classic vocal performance, shared this sentiment on Duffl culture. Duffl was a useful service for Hibbs, who didn’t have a car, to go shopping whenever she needed. Her frequent usage of the app coupled with the Duffl store’s walkable location led her to join the team in August 2022.
As a packer, Hibbs is the first employee that starts the order assembly process. Orders come in through a computer at the main station, a desk at the front of the store stacked high with orange delivery bags. Bags are typically marked with the customer’s name and additional drawings or messages if the packer isn’t swamped with too many orders. Hibbs said she enjoys having the creative freedom to write personalized messages for each order, like the time she wrote “Good luck with your finals!” on an order where a student purchased a caffeinated beverage and index cards.
Packers can open orders on their phones to see items’ corresponding aisle placements. Each item has a letter and number combination that indicates whether it can be found in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry section. Once orders are packed, they are placed on a shelf split into general Westwood zones where they will be picked up by the next available racer for delivery. Automatic progress updates are texted to the customer as their order enters different stages of completion, reflecting Duffl’s attentiveness even in a fast-paced working environment.
“I like the connection with the customers,” said Hibbs. “Duffl does a good job of customer service and communication, keeping the customers really happy.”
According to Hibbs, the electric-scooter-based delivery model also gives Duffl an advantage over company rivals. Uber Eats and DoorDash are only able to go so far, especially on the Hill where cars cannot drive up to specific buildings. Meanwhile, racers are familiar with the UCLA area and can easily maneuver right to a customer’s door, decreasing the chance of an order getting lost or stolen, said Hibbs.
Rachel Hagar, a Duffl racer who recently graduated from UCLA as an environmental science student, speaks to the racers’ overall comfort navigating the Westwood area. Hagar is an electric scooter veteran, having been with the company since September 2021. Hagar relied on Google Maps for directions when she first started, a common experience for new racers who might not know every street or building. As part of their training, fresh racers shadow more experienced ones to get the hang of deliveries. With every shift, they become more familiar with the streets of Westwood.
“I pretty much know where everything is, which is kinda cool,” said Hagar.
One of Hagar’s favorite parts about working at Duffl is the flexibility, where she gets to set a weekly schedule unlike her peers employed at other companies who have to maintain a set schedule for the entire quarter. Moreover, Duffl shifts are only three hours, a manageable time frame for busy students.
Ultimately, Duffl is a business that caters to students, whether they are employees or local Bruins. The fun and creative work environment keeps the more chaotic shifts enjoyable, making Duffl a competitive employer. From a consumer perspective, the company offers a range of products, fast and accurate delivery and a fun brand to follow on social media. UCLA’s colors may be blue and gold, but Duffl’s orange is certainly making its mark on campus.
Featured Image Photographed by Eliza Loventhal/BruinLife.