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Episode 65: Canada’s Largest Food Delivery Network Skips the Relocation, Grows in Winnipeg

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, restaurants and bars across North America are limited to takeout and delivery. As app-to-table dining becomes the new norm, we bring you the story of SkipTheDishes, Canada’s largest food delivery network, and its decision to establish new Canadian headquarters in Winnipeg. While the company considered other markets, including Calgary and Toronto, ultimately, its existing presence in Winnipeg went a long way to solidify the decision to stay. To get the full story, we spoke with Kevin Edwards, CEO of SkipTheDishes, and Dayna Spiring, President and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg.

Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Amid the uncertainty with COVID-19, cities states and countries are taking precautions to slow the spread of the virus.

Andy Levine (DCI): That includes closing schools, public buildings and banning gatherings of 50 people or more. Here in New York City where Patience and I are, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that all restaurants and bars are to close, except for takeout and delivery.

Patience: Many other cities have already taken this action and others are slated to follow suit. So our episode today, which focuses on Canada’s largest food delivery platform is oddly fitting as app-to-table dining becomes the new norm for many.

Andy: So welcome to Episode 65 of The Project, Inside Corporate Location Decisions. I’m Andy Levine of Development Counsellors International.

Patience: And I’m Patience Fairbrother, also with DCI and Andy’s co-host of The Project.

Andy: Today we bring you the story of SkipTheDishes, Canada’s largest food delivery network. Food delivery is a $4 billion business in Canada, and Skip maintains the largest market share.

Patience: Our Canadian listeners should be very familiar with this tech company, especially if you’re like me and enjoy ordering in when you don’t feel like cooking, even when we’re not facing a global health crisis. The company which started in Saskatoon with a team of four and is headquartered in Winnipeg today partners with 19,000 restaurants across Canada. So we’re going to start today with Kevin Edwards, CEO of SkipTheDishes.

Kevin’s career has taken him to a variety of different places including Chicago, Melbourne, Australia, and most recently London, England. He has now been in Winnipeg for about two years where he has shaped Skip into the leading Canadian brand that it is today.

Kevin Edwards (SkipTheDishes): We’re a delivery platform that can be compared to Grubhub or DoorDash in the US. Our market share here in Canada is about 48%, almost 50% and we would be compared quite favorably to those two US businesses, Uber Eats as well, of course.

Patience: The company has offices in Canada in Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary and Saskatoon.

Kevin: We have an office in Toronto. Toronto is obviously a key market for us. So we have a significant sales staff that are there. Calgary represents an opportunity for us to track some tech talent that might not be available here in Winnipeg. And we also have some teams, or we have a team that is in Saskatoon. But for the vast majority of employees are here in in Winnipeg, everything from ops to our sales marketing organization and our tech team.

Andy: Kevin talked about the rapid growth the company has seen.

Kevin: This business has grown so fast since 2013 that, you know, half the time the founders were spent, were spending their time finding new office space, grabbing floors where they could and moving people in, you know, virtually overnight. If you can imagine, you know, growing from five years ago, less than 50 people to today, we employ roughly about 2300 in Canada.

Patience: Of those 2300 people, about 2100 are in Winnipeg. Here’s our other guest, Dayna Spiring, President & CEO Economic Development Winnipeg on the company’s need for a new headquarters.

Dayna Spiring (Economic Development Winnipeg): They were outgrowing their space. They were in five buildings across the exchange district in Winnipeg. And it’s very difficult to run a company when, you know, your employees are so spread out, and they were just growing at such a rate that there wasn’t an easy place for them to go.

So we knew that they were looking at building a headquarters. We knew that that Winnipeg was probably their preferred location, because it was home base, because this is where their employees were. But we also knew that there was a lot of competition.

Andy: So SkipTheDishes had an obvious need to consolidate into a larger space and a desire to build out a new operations facility as well. But as Dayna said, winning the headquarters expansion wasn’t a sure thing for Winnipeg. We asked Kevin whether they considered other options.

Kevin: Yes, absolutely. I mean, part of our due diligence required us to look at, you know, everywhere that our team could, you know, reasonably move. Where, you know, we could retain the most amount of talent in doing that, you know, we’ve been here for five years. So as you can imagine, people have, you know, built their lives around Skip in Winnipeg. So that’s a major consideration.

But, you know, to be fair, there are other markets that value a business of our size and not just, you know, the size of our business alone, but how that creates a greater tech concentration in their particular cities and would ultimately attract more tech business as well.

So yes, we received a lot of overtures, and to be honest, a national brand like ours considering moving its headquarters or, you know, the majority of their employees comes up on people’s radar pretty quickly.

Patience: People were a major consideration in this decision. Both the people who have built their lives around Skip’s Winnipeg presence and the potential promise of more tech talent in other markets like Calgary and Toronto. Ultimately, the existing presence went a long way in the decision.

Kevin: We have history here and Winnipeg is the place that helped us launch this business and supported us and, you know, we’ve got fabulous restaurant partners here and we’ve got, you know, customers here. And this community is what helped build the business and make us who we are today. So there’s a little bit of that, you know, the tugging of the heartstrings to retain the business here.

Andy: Beyond Skip’s roots in Winnipeg, Kevin pointed to three factors that made Winnipeg most attractive. Cost was number one.

Kevin: One is, for sure, is affordability. This is a place that young people, you know, they can start a career and own property and have a family and you know, build a life. And so I think that’s very attractive for the people who work for Skip in Winnipeg to remain here. Affordability, being, you know, a really key factor in places like Toronto and Vancouver. That’s just the reality of living there.

Patience: Number two is quality of life.

Kevin: The other is quality of life. This is a wonderful place to live and work and participate in everything outside of work. Winnipeg people are just nice people and accommodating. And it’s that daily interaction with people that make you want to settle here and that really is important. You know, it’s got a good airport. It’s got an easy airport. I can’t get international flights to London where I travel quite frequently, but that’s okay. You know, I get off a plane and I’m home within a matter of minutes, as opposed to most of the major cities. So that’s a really important factor too.

And you know, outside of those few days in the winter where, yes, Winnipeg can be cold, it has the most amazing summers. Truly the most underappreciated aspect of living here and on the prairies, the summers are absolutely amazing.

Patience: Number three, not surprisingly, is talent.

Kevin: The final factor is access to talent. And I’m not going to suggest that you know, as a fast growing tech business that we aren’t challenged with access to some of our more skilled senior engineering positions, but we’ve been able to build a business here you know, and, and tap you know, a lot of great talent here on the prairies, you know, whether it was here in Winnipeg or, or people wanting to relocate from the prairies.

But also, you know, we have been able to attract some really outstanding talent from outside the province thinking about Toronto as a key market. So access to talent is, when you’re building a tech business, is the single most important factor.

Patience: Kevin was very candid about the struggle Skip is experiencing around talent, something just about every company in the country can relate to. But there’s a bright side to being in Winnipeg.

Kevin: Certainly not going to gloss over the fact that, you know, you reach a point where your ability to attract talent becomes more and more difficult. And, you know, we are there right now and that requires all levels of government to participate in solving the problem. And if it be facilitated through the universities or colleges, but also allowing us to easily access foreign talent and bring them here. And most importantly, retain them here.

But those are challenges that everyone faces. The good news is, for us, if you’re in a place like Toronto, top tech talent is just traded. You know, I mean, a lot of the big organizations that are hiring tech talent and recruiting, you know, constantly recruiting tech talent, there is definitely an exchange of that talent going on. Much less so here. You know, we tend to bring in those hard to fill data sciences, engineering positions from outside the country.

Andy: We asked Kevin if Skip has had success in recruiting from specific international markets.

Kevin: Well, we’ve had some good luck bringing in quite a few people from South America, Eastern Europe, and it’s not to suggest that Canada is also not a great place to acquire talent, but for some of those key positions, then you just have to look offshore.

Patience: As someone who relocated from London to Winnipeg, Kevin is no stranger to adjusting to new places. We asked him about the process for employees that Skip successfully recruits from abroad.

Kevin: You know, for people coming from big cities in South America, to be able to come to a place like Winnipeg, yes, you know, there’s a huge temperature difference for about four or five months a year. But it’s also a safe, friendly place that people look to, you know, they consider their families and you’re able to come in here and quite quickly acquire, you know, a home and settle easily.

Patience: Dayna also talked about Skip’s success in attracting talent to Winnipeg, as what she imagined was a key factor in the decision.

Dayna: SkipTheDishes had recruited many, many people to Winnipeg, and they’ve made homes here and they you know, were starting to love this city and love this community. And so anytime you think about having to pick up and move a whole head office, you know, it’s not an easy decision to make because we knew the default would be to stay in Winnipeg and but we also need it we had to show Skip how much they meant to our community and the fact that we wanted them here and we showed them a bunch of locations that we thought would make a great head office.

Patience: That brings us to the question of real estate. Dayna and her team facilitated the process of showing sites and buildings which range from Greenfield to the state-of-the-art office building they ultimately selected, True North Square.

Dayna: Ultimately, they narrowed it down to a few locations. Some of them were more time consuming than others. Some of them required a Greenfield build, which, you know, there’s always a lot of uncertainty on timing when you’re building from the ground up, and they chose True North, I mean, it’s a first class office building in Winnipeg, it’s new, exciting, it’s got incredible space. And you know, frankly, this space was ready to go. They got to put their, you know, finishing touches on it and make it their own but the bones of it was there and I think that gave them a lot of certainty in terms of timing and how quickly they were ultimately, you know, able to conclude a lease and decide when they were going to move in.

Patience: Dayna talked about the impact on downtown that she anticipates Skip will have as a tenant of True North Square.

Dayna: Well True North Square is the biggest development we’ve seen in our downtown in our history. It’s a first-class office building and it’s got apartment towers near it. It’s got big open plazas and big complexes. It’s very, very close to our arena which is where the Winnipeg Jets play and where there’s a lot of concerts and various things.

So you know to have True North Square really revive a different part of downtown I think a lot of people know Winnipeg as Portage and Main and that’s kind of the iconic corner. True North Square is providing another focal point. And you know, there’s some great companies in there now. It’s a beautiful facility.

And to have Skip there is really, I think it really solidifies you know the fact that True North Square will be a focal point and will be another hub for our downtown.

Andy: Kevin feels similarly lucky to be a new tenant of True North Square and to be part of a downtown transformation.

Andy: The partners that own True North Square, that have developed True North Square are real pillars of the community. It’s just really nice to be associated with them and to have Skip’s brands stand alongside those businesses and those, you know, important people in the community. We’re quite proud of that.

Patience: In closing, Dayna weighed in on what she thinks was the secret sauce for the food delivery company to continue to expand in Winnipeg.

Dayna: I think it’s important to understand how this business community comes together. When Skip went through some hurdles in trying to figure out where they want it to be, everyone came to the table to say, “How do we help,” and, you know, some of the government’s people may not have appreciated the breadth and depth that Skip brings to our community, but they were willing to listen.

And we look at YES! Winnipeg and at Economic Development Winnipeg, when we bring companies here, you know, I can make a call and get CEOs around the table in an afternoon. You know, assuming they’re in town and can make time, but that doesn’t happen in other cities across the country. And I think that’s the secret sauce.

I mean, we are a community and this community comes together when we need to. We compete like hell when it’s the right thing to do but we want to make Winnipeg better and we all have that viewpoint. So I think that’s a pretty exciting thing. And I think, you know, ultimately that’s our secret sauce.

Patience: SkipTheDishes will officially become a tenant of True North Square in December 2020. The move will consolidate the majority of staff, but Skip will maintain a second city office in Winnipeg’s East Exchange District for their 24/7 operations team.

Andy: So we’re up to the takeaways portion of this episode. Patience you spoke to both Kevin and Dayna, what stood out to you?

Patience: So I think I’ll talk about three different things. And the first is really the power of a company being entrenched in the community. So SkipTheDishes started as a startup, a small operation of about four people, and they’ve really grown into this massive Canadian brand. And they’ve done that in Winnipeg.

And Kevin specifically mentioned that kind of tug at the heartstrings component that you get when you’re thinking about potentially moving your company out of where you’ve grown. Dayna spoke to that as well, and how kind of built into the business community that the company is. So I think that was sort of a really key component.

Andy: There’s kind of a really huge home field advantage for anyone that is thinking about a major expansion. You know, it’s so much easier to do in the hometown than disrupting everything and moving to another place. Agreed?

Patience: Exactly. Yeah. And I think that speaks also to Winnipeg and the ability that they’ve had there to recruit international talent. So they’re not just drawing on the local talent pool there. As Kevin mentioned, they’ve had a lot of success recruiting from South America, Eastern Europe. So they’ve already had people move from abroad to Winnipeg, and kind of build their lives there. So that’s really another reason for them to stay is to, A, continue to be able to recruit that talent, but, B, also to not disrupt those people’s lives that they’ve already kind of affected by having them move.

Andy: And this is a huge advantage that Canada has in North America here. The immigration laws in Canada are much more favorable in terms of the ability to quickly bring in international talent. Which can be done in almost as fast as 48 hours if needed. It’s just, it’s a huge difference, particularly with the US immigration situation. I guess the final one to touch upon is just the real estate option that they looked at.

Patience: Yeah, exactly. And they did ultimately select True North Square, which is this existing state of the art building. And they did consider a couple of other options including even a Greenfield build. And for them, they were looking for that faster solution in their current operations. You know, they’re spending a lot of time going between buildings just to access their employees and so they want something that’s going to work for them and work for them soon. And so ultimately, they selected an option that’s already basically ready for them to move in.

Kevin: Great episode Patience, I think you should celebrate by ordering yourself some lunch now.

So that is a wrap on episode 65 of The Project, Inside Corporate Location Decisions.

Patience: We want to thank Kevin Edwards and Dayna spearing for taking the time to speak with us. Thanks also to Eleanor Coopsammy, me and Melanie [SP] Richardson for helping us set up the interviews.

Andy: The Project is sponsored by DCI, we are the leader in Marketing Places and have served over 500 different cities, states, regions and countries. You can learn more about us at AboutDCI.com.

Patience: We hope you will keep listening. There are many more Projects to come.

 

 

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Intisar Wilson

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