Jon Hamm may have helped Skipthedishes express its brand on the Winnipeg food delivery company's television commercials, but it was the chaotic first few years as a startup that established the company's gritty competitive edge.
In a rare public appearance, the company's CEO, Kevin Edwards, told a large Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce audience on Thursday that things were so busy and things broke so often in the early days that there was no time to think of a company identity or brand.
As the industry has matured since Skip's early days in 2012, Hamm's entitled celebrity/Canadian wannabe character on the Skip television commercials has given the company a cool factor.
"We had been seen as a bit of a folksy company from the Prairies," Edwards said.
Now it is the largest food delivery company in the country holding off competitors from the U.S., Europe and Asia.
And whereas Winnipeggers are sometimes their own toughest critics, the city has embraced Skipthedishes and this city is now the company's best market on a per capita basis.
Edwards, a recent transplant from Toronto, said, "I don’t think Skip would be where it is today if it were built anywhere else. There is a certain quality to the people of Winnipeg – locally committed, tough, competitive... Where else would people wait 15 years for the hockey team to return."
Edwards was not able to get into too much of the nitty gritty of the competitive landscape the company now operates in, partly because its parent company, London-based Just Eat – which acquired Skip at the end of 2016 for about $200 million – is in the middle of a $10 billion merger with Dutch-based Takeaway.com.
The deal has been held up with a last minute review by the British competition bureau, the Competition & Markets Authority, which is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.
If the merger is completed the new company, to be called Just Eat Takeaway.com, will be the largest in the world outside China. Its combined revenue in 2018 would have been about $1.7 billion.
The Canadian market may not be as large or as mature as Just Eat's U.K. business, but this is the parent company's fastest growing region.
For the first half of 2019, the most recent data that is available, Skip's revenue grew by 83 per cent over the same period in 2018 to $223 million and turned a profit for the first time.
The company is now operating coast to coast in 130 markets in Canada, with more than 20,000 restaurant partners and about 2,300 employees in Canada, most of them in Winnipeg (many of whom will be moving into a new Canadian headquarters in the True North Square by the end of this year.)
In addition to building out a strong operating entity rivalling the other food delivery companies like Uber Eats, Skip's proprietary logistics technology is holding its own against that Silicon Valley competitor. Just Eat has already migrated some of that technology into its operations in Australia and the Canadian operation now supports other of the parent company's global operations.
And whereas Skip was dabbling in some secondary cities in the U.S. in its earlier days, the company is totally focused on the Canadian market.
Skip may not have invented the space it operates in but it was one of the first to market and according to Edwards its early chaotic days provided it with the determination to continue to scratch and fight for a competitive advantage.
Edwards believes they picked a winner with the Jon Hamm spots, proudly waving the Canadian flag with a little swagger.
That, too, suits the company's identity, which, Edwards said, includes a healthy dose of ego.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.