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Recipe for success

Online service takes meal delivery to the next level

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Skip the Dishes may look like a delivery company that offers online ordering and delivery from 200 restaurants in Winnipeg and about 300 more in a handful of cities across western Canada.

But the young company that's starting to build a big time head-office operation in Winnipeg -- creating about 100 new jobs over the next 12 to 18 months -- is very much a technology company.

"There's is a lot of mathematics going on to make sure fish tacos are collected hot and arrive hot to the customer," said Skip the Dishes president and co-founder Josh Simair.

Aggregating many restaurants on one website for online ordering has been going on for a long time, but skipthedishes.ca has figured out a way to include home delivery and make a profit.

When the company came to launch its service in Winnipeg after forming in Saskatoon less than two years ago, it started to get comfortable here.

The company now has about 30 employees in Winnipeg -- not counting about 200 independently contracted delivery people -- as well as some programmers in Saskatoon and marketing people in Calgary.

There are aggressive expansion plans.

Simair, one of five founding partners who have self-financed the company to this point, said over the next 12 months they are forecasting to deliver volumes that will be measured in the tens of millions of dollars.

"We are hiring from the Asper School and the U of W," Simair said. "We're going to be running all of our operations here."

The company is growing its executive management team and hiring programmers, contractor managers, customer support people as well as marketing, design and in-house sales, all of whom will be based in Winnipeg.

There are two sides to the business.

While there is not that much magic to the online ordering side of things, the really innovative part is how they do the fulfilment, Simair said.

Marshall Ring, the CEO of the business incubator Manitoba Technology Accelerator, has been working with Skip the Dishes since it arrived in the city.

He said, "We look for traits in a company that indicates it's really starting to grow. We saw those traits with these guys."

One of those traits is that the business has the right kind of platform that can allow for dramatic growth.

"Where these guys are the kingmaker is in the back-end delivery IT delivery-logistic system," Ring said. "Their GPS delivery algorithms systematically manage delivery zones. All their delivery people carry smartphones so they have real-time management of a variety of complex variables that enable efficiency in the delivery models."

The ever-expanding chain of Stella's restaurants, which did not have its own delivery service, was one of the first to sign up with Skip the Dishes. Grant Anderson, a senior manager for Stella's, said Skip the Dishes had an excellent approach and from the start was willing to be sensitive to all of Stella's concerns about quality and customer relations.

"I have operated delivery services at other restaurants and it is difficult to manage with the drivers and all the other costs associated with it," he said. "We're thankful our guests can enjoy Stella's at home without having to manage that component of the business."

He said offering delivery from two of its six locations has added between five and 10 per cent to those stores' sales totals.

Their proprietary dispatch algorithm co-ordinates and optimizes the entire food-delivery process, and Skip establishes mutually beneficial partnerships with the restaurants.

Their crews of couriers -- part-time independent contractors -- are all dispatched through an automated system. They sign on through their mobile phones and, when they are free, they're automatically sent to the closest location that's ready for delivery.

Restaurants can manage the order flow and can see how close the delivery person is. Simair said the company is beta-testing a GPS tracking service so customers can track the delivery of their lunch to their door.

"That's very exciting," Simair said. "Through your mobile phone you order from Stella's with a couple of clicks. We've been using it in the office, and we're addicted to it. It's all being built here. We're ahead of New York and way ahead of Toronto. It's new technology, and that's why people are coming to us."

Skip the Dishes believes it is ahead of the competition, even the large U.S. online restaurant order company called GrubHub that went public in April raising about $200 million.

Bill Morrissey, the CEO of Yes! Winnipeg could tell Skip the Dishes was a keeper and initially help set them up with the Manitoba Technology Accelerator.

"It's a great success story here," Morrissey said. "We provided critical information about why Winnipeg was the place for them to establish their headquarters because they were considering other cities.

Simair said it is about to receive workforce training assistance from the province as well as funding through Commercialization Support for Business as well as interactive digital media tax credits.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2014 B5

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