Manitoba

Winnipeg courier companies hiring staff to keep up with holiday demand during pandemic

While courier companies were laying off staff at the beginning of the year because of the pandemic, they are now hiring more employees to meet a holiday demand that is higher than they anticipated.

Couriers see a jump in business with Manitoba's red-level restrictions extended into January

Sierra Courier says it has hired an additional 20 drivers to get through the holiday crunch. (Sierra Courier)

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas for some local Winnipeg courier companies, despite Manitoba being under restrictions at the red, or critical, level of the province's pandemic response system.

Since retailers are not allowed to sell non-essential items for in-person shopping under the province's COVID-19 restrictions, many have turned to buying online or over the phone, which means a need for delivery.

Sierra Courier in Winnipeg has hired another 20 drivers in the past couple of weeks, increasing staff from about 80 to 100. 

"Residents and businesses are looking to doing things a little bit differently this Christmas because they can't meet face to face. We are definitely moving a lot more items back and forth in response to people not being able to get together," said Scott Lins, president of Sierra.

Lins wasn't sure what the season would look like, still recovering from stark months in March, April and May. He calls it a roller coaster year: business is now up around 15 to 20 per cent over the same time last year.

He is quick to put that increase into perspective. For larger carriers such as Purolator, he says the percentages are much higher, moving millions of more parcels at one time. 

Purolator expects to deliver a record 46 million packages through its peak season this year which runs through most of November and part of December.

Over this past weekend, Canada Post delivered a record 1.1 million parcels. 

Canada Post has added more than 4,000 seasonal employees, and more than 1,000 vehicles to manage the flow of parcels during this peak season.

There's been an increase not just in online shopping, but in customers sending gifts to replace their traditional holiday visits, said a news release from Canada Post. 

While the season is typically busy, "there was just that much more that got added on that we were not expecting," Lins said.

While that is good for business, he admits it can provoke anxiety.

"There is a lot going on and you want to make sure you are doing more than just getting your volumes out. You want to make sure your long term customers are happy and that's a big part of the anxiety, " said Lins.

Buying local boosts courier business

Dominique Leclerc and her husband, Serge, are seeing a similar trend to Sierra, calling it an amazing roller coaster ride. They own Leclerc Courier in Winnipeg.

After an all-time low in the spring, when they had to lay off staff, they're now up to a full complement, with two recent hires.

Prior to COVID, they had 100 clients. Now they are up to 140, all in Manitoba.

Dominique Leclerc believes the buy local campaign has contributed to the boost. And that has brought what she calls "one offs" from other provinces.

"People who can't be with their loved ones right now in Manitoba during the holiday, who are in Alberta or Nova Scotia, are contacting us and want to deliver cakes or small gifts from local shops here in Winnipeg," said Dominique Leclerc. 

"We find that completely amazing. They still want to support local even thought they can't be here locally with us at this time."

Some of her calls are from seniors asking for help with deliveries because they are in quarantine.

Dominique and Serge Leclerc, along with their children, own Leclerc Courier Inc in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Dominique Leclerc)

While both Lins and Leclerc are pleased with the boost in business, they don't think it will be enough to make up for what they lost earlier in the year.

"I know it's not enough to balance off the bad months. Too many months of being down. But it's a positive way to end the year off. And we hope things will stay buoyant through 2021," said Lins.

Leclerc knows if it wasn't for the pandemic, revenues would be way up over last year.

"Because of COVID, we are catching up on the months that were extremely slow. But there is a bright spot. We foresee next year will be way busier," said Leclerc.

The bigger couriers are predicting the same. Purolator said it doesn't see this year's increase in package volume slowing down. It's predicting a steady pace even into the new year.

About the Author

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

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