'We saw how powerful we could be together': U.S. firm acquires Gatineau's Foko Retail

Marc Gingras
Marc Gingras is now a senior vice-president with Workforce Software after the company recently acquired the firm he led, Foko Retail. File photo

A Gatineau-based software firm that landed millions of dollars in venture capital to fuel its global expansion drive says those efforts have shifted into high gear now that it’s been sold to a U.S. tech company with customers in more than 80 countries.

Foko Retail announced this week it was acquired by Workforce Software, a Michigan-based firm with offices in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Financial terms of the transaction, which closed last week, were not disclosed.

The deal comes just three months after Foko closed a $3-million funding round aimed at pushing its employee communications platform into new verticals and penetrating deeper into U.S. and European markets.

CEO Marc Gingras said joining the Workforce fold will dramatically boost Foko’s customer base and geographic footprint.

“It’s like putting what we built on a trampoline ​– on a rocket, actually,” he told OBJ this week, adding the U.S. company plans to keep adding to Foko’s 40-plus headcount in the National Capital Region to meet an anticipated surge in demand for its products as they’re rolled out to Workforce’s clients around the world.

"It’s like putting what we built on a trampoline ​– on a rocket, actually."

“They saw in the Ottawa area an opportunity to get great talent, great skill sets – not just on the tech side, across the entire business. The investment will be across the organization to really build Ottawa as one of the important hubs of Workforce software.”

Amid the e-commerce explosion, Foko is a seemingly rare entity these days in that it makes software targeted at traditional brick-and-mortar retail businesses.

The firm’s signature app allows managers, front-office staff and retail workers on the floor to communicate via instant messages as well as share photos, videos and documents with one another.

It’s a product that’s clearly found a niche. More than 50 companies, including Converse, Nike and Whole Foods, now subscribe to the service, and the firm’s revenues have been growing at an annual rate of 60 per cent for the past several years.

Now, Gingras believes Foko has found the ideal corporate partner in Workforce. 

The U.S. firm’s platform makes it easy for front-line workers such as warehouse staffers and first responders to request time off, schedule vacations and switch shifts remotely from their tablets or smartphones. It also alerts managers to HR issues such as employees going too long without signing in for scheduled breaks or logging hours that will require them to file for overtime.

Global reach

Workforce’s growing list of more than 1,200 clients also features several Canadian firms, including Air Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and National Bank, as well as multinational entities such as U.S. energy company Phillips 66. 

It’s that kind of global reach that prompted Foko brass to contact the Michigan firm early this year to gauge interest in a potential deal.

“That brand to me is very powerful,” said Gingras, who will become a senior vice-president of product management at Workforce and remain based in Gatineau. 

“They’re the best of breed when it comes to dealing with the workforce. Basically, our strategy was, how can we work with the best of breed out there to complement what we’re missing in terms of an offering? We saw how powerful we could be together.”

Gingras said he’s well aware of the growing number of local tech enterprises that are being snapped up by foreign owners, but says Workforce is committed to the region for the long haul.

He said he expects the firm’s local employee base to grow at least 20 per cent in the next year.

“The market is just opening up for a player to dominate this space,” Gingras added.