Purolator expanding rural facilities amid demand from remote workers

Purolator expanding rural facilities amid demand from remote workers

Purolator Inc. is building up capacity at its more remote distribution centers in response to rising demand from consumers who have fled the city in search of more space amid the pandemic.

The investment, which includes technology upgrades and physical expansions, highlights the changes that COVID-19 and the increasing prevalence of remote work has brought to residential and commercial patterns across Canada.

“Early on we were thinking, ‘What’s happening here?’” Purolator president and CEO John Ferguson said in an interview. “And what we found was people were working from their cottages or summer homes, or they were simply moving into the country and working remotely.”

The areas where Purolator has seen particular spikes in demand include popular country retreats for city residents, like the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec and the Owen Sound region in Ontario, Ferguson said. Purolator has also seen a rise in shipments to northern Alberta and Vancouver Island, Ferguson said.

The company saw a year-over-year increase of more than 65 per cent for shipments going to remote locations in 2020. A spokeswoman for Purolator didn’t specify how much money the company had budgeted for the upgrades to its terminals.

The investments can be reduced in case demand goes down once the pandemic subsides and people return to cities, Ferguson said. Still, the shipping company believes the trend will continue in some form even after the widespread rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The figures from Purolator reflect other trends brought on by the surge in remote work, including increased home sales and rising real estate prices in those regions. In Grey and Bruce counties, around Owen Sound, Ont., for example, the average home price increased 23 per cent in 2020, the Realtors Association of Grey Bruce Owen Sound said in January.

Ian Mackay, president of the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board, said the region has recently seen an influx of people from major urban centres, but added that it was too early to tell how many of them were drawn to the area because of the pandemic.

Both the commercial and residential real-estate markets in the area have been strong since July, Mackay said, a trend that surprised local realtors, who expected weak demand after the initial economic shock of COVID-19.

Still, Canadians have been moving out of urban centres and into more suburban and rural areas for years now, said James McKellar, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, who studies real estate and infrastructure development.

“I think we can say that there’s evidence that COVID has accelerated a trend,” McKellar said. “What we’ve seen is job growth in some of these more remote communities,” such as Collingwood, Ont.

Infrastructure investments in remote areas, such as more efficient package delivery services, can make the prospect of moving to those regions more appealing because of the added convenience, McKellar said.

With people stuck at home, Purolator has overseen an increase in heavy shipments like kayaks and gym equipment, creating separate facilities to process those packages. Other large items that have seen major spikes in shipping are patio heaters, materials for home improvement projects and paddle boards, continuing a trend that started early in the pandemic, Ferguson said.

“People are ordering a wider range of goods to their homes than would traditionally happen,” Ferguson said.

This year, for the first time, Purolator isn’t culling staff after the usual holiday increase in package demand, with shipping levels still elevated amid a new round of lockdown restrictions.

The company added 3,700 employees in 2020, Ferguson said, and intends to maintain that staffing level, possibly hiring more in late summer in advance of the next holiday shopping season, which Purolator expects to be even bigger than last year’s peak.

During its 2020 peak season, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, Purolator processed 50 million packages, a 30 per cent increase over 2019 and 9 per cent above the company’s forecast, a spokeswoman said. Overall, delivery stops in 2020 were up 35 per cent, while residential volume was up over 76 per cent.

Purolator’s busiest day of 2020 was on Nov. 30, Cyber Monday, when the company processed 1.5 million packages. That figure was approximately 30 per cent higher than the same day in 2019, and 10 per cent higher than forecast for 2020, Purolator said.

The increase in shipments included many packages from small retail businesses that pivoted to selling online during the pandemic, Ferguson said. Purolator saw an increase of 50 per cent in new small business accounts opened during 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta is on pace to administer more than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, according to the provincial government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
One million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Alberta

Alberta hit a milestone in the fight against COVID-19 this week. As… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Interior work will start this year on Red Deer hospital project, says infrastructure minister

‘We are committed. This is a top priority,’ says Presad Panda

Even with recent restrictions due to rising COVID-19 variant case levels, about 95 per cent of businesses are open in Alberta, said Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Consistent pandemic policy has helped Alberta, premier says

Alberta fatality rate lower than Canadian average

Richie Laryea of Toronto FC, left, and Jean Meneses of Mexico's Leon battle for the ball during a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Leon, Mexico, in Leon, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Toronto FC hosts Club Leon in the second leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie holding a valuable away goal after a 1-1 draw last week in Mexico. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mario Armas
Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Winnipeg Jets' Dylan DeMelo (2) skates the puck around Ottawa Senators' Thomas Chabot (72) as he holds off Winnipeg Jets' Mason Appleton (22) during first-period NHL action in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

New York Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Jarrell Brantley (5) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rick Bowmer
Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks past banners for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, to mark 100 days before the start of the Summer Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh speaks during a news conference in Lethbridge, Alta., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter
‘Right path:’ Lethbridge police release improvement plan in wake of controversies

‘Right path:’ Lethbridge police release improvement plan in wake of controversies

Most Read