As fifth graders, both Michal Martyniak and Tobiasz Dankiewicz were delivery boys, dropping flyers on doorsteps in their London, Ont., neighbourhoods.
"We had these squeaky buggies going down the street door to door," says Dankiewicz, 28.
They didn't actually meet until high school, and it wasn't until after graduating from the University of Waterloo that they teamed up as entrepreneurs — but that shared early experience in the flyer business was fateful. In 2012, the duo started a company called Reebee, which delivers retail flyers digitally. They have 20 employees, an office in downtown Kitchener, Ont., and 3.5 million users signed up to their service.
"Canadians have a passion for flyers," says Martyniak. "We saw it even back in our flyer delivery days. If we were a little bit late because of something at school, our regulars would ask 'why is this late?' And when it rained they got angry if the flyer was wet."
Where is steak on sale?
Reebee displays flyers from most of Canada's major retail chains: Real Canadian Superstore, Walmart, Home Hardware, Giant Tiger and Costco among others. Users can search for specific items, to see who has the best prices.
"So let's say you've run out of laundry detergent and you need some Tide," explains Dankiewicz. "Instead of rummaging through 30 or 40 flyers at the door, you can just go in and search for Tide on Reebee and we'll show you everybody that has it on sale in your market."
The Canadian Media Directors Council estimates retailers spend $3.3 billion annually on flyers. And they work well: in a recent survey done by consumer research firm Brandspark International, 80 per cent of participants said they read a paper grocery flyer every week.
Only half that many read digital flyers, but the online format is growing quickly in popularity.
"We're spending money here to actually amplify our flyer in a social media environment, and to a digital media environment," says Frederick Lecoq, vice-president of marketing and e-commerce at specialty retail chain Golf Town. Lecoq believes it's essential to send special offers through every distribution channel available.
The channel of choice
"I don't think you can say today that people are only digital or only print," Lecoq explains, standing on a putting green at the chain's Markham, Ont., location. "I think they're digital at one time, print at another time, and you just need to find what I call the channel of choice — depending on the situation they're in."
Even Metroland, an Ontario-based newspaper company that prints and distributes 73 million paper flyers a week, has a digital site, Save.ca.
"We've had 40-per-cent growth in our digital flyer on Save.ca," boasts vice-president of sales Lisa Orpen, noting that the company started to explore digital delivery over a decade ago.
"Certainly when mobile really started to take speed, we knew we needed to get on this."
Delivery of paper flyers can be challenging, particularly with the proliferation of condos in urban centres, according to Orpen. Carriers aren't allowed through security, and property managers refuse to let them drop off stacks of flyers for residents to collect. As well, bargain-hunting students miss out on flyers, as student housing is off limits to carriers. On the other hand, digital delivery faces no such barriers.
Most retailers feature their weekly flyer prominently on their own company website, but they are also eager to be included on sites such as Save.ca and Reebee.
Millions of dollars in revenue
"It's been remarkable," says Dankiewicz. "Half a million flyers are read every single day on the platform, and retailers are loving the opportunity to get in front of that audience. We reach the consumers that explicitly identify, that say 'I love browsing flyers, here I am.'"
The young founders of Reebee report that they are profitable, collecting "millions of dollars a year" in revenue. But they also say they are "constantly aggressively reinvesting" in the company, to improve its technology, expand its team, and gain more users.
Just about every industry player CBC News spoke to on this subject commented on the "ritual" Canadians enjoy, when they receive their weekly flyers. They say consumers often sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, to sort through the week's assortment of flyers, and choose deals that appeal. Frederick Lecoq of Golf Town believes that discovering a deal and saving money is something that makes people "proud."
The 'emotion' of the flyer
"There's an emotional connection to the flyer," he says. And he says whether it's in their hands in print — or on their computer or smart-phone — it's equally powerful.
Tobiasz Dankiewicz agrees. "Flyers tell an amazing story. Even back in the day picking up the Sears catalogue — that was an experience. Look at the Wow Guide from Canadian Tire or just the weekly flyers. They all tell a story and help you discover more savings."