Marketer of the Year 2013: Canadian Tire

Bold moves from a big player across all platforms

Bold moves from a big player across all platforms

Racing legend Ron Fellows pulled up to the starting line at the NASCAR Nationwide series in Montreal three years ago, the Canadian Tire logo prominently displayed on the hood of his car. Stephen Wetmore and Duncan Fulton sat in the stands, eager for the race to begin.

But excitement turned to astonishment as the next car took its position alongside Fellows. It was decked out in Mark’s branding.

“What the hell is that?” asked Wetmore.

The words were barely out of his mouth when a Part Source-sponsored car joined them at the line. “The boys are going to run themselves off the road,” said Wetmore, starting the sentence with an expletive.

All three brands are under the Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC) umbrella, and each had bought into the race without consulting the other. It was glaring evidence of fundamental marketing problems at CTC.

“How discombobulated are we that we couldn’t even market that together, let alone know that it existed?” asks Fulton.

That race was a year after Wetmore joined Canadian Tire as its CEO. He had already recognized the need for change at the company and, as he puts it,“started to rip it apart.” He streamlined the organizational structure to foster better communication between its business units, which include retail, financial services and automotive. He also set out to enhance the power of the triangle logo, which is synonymous with the 91-year-old retailer. As an exercise, executives collected all the ways in which the logo had been morphed. They collected around 76 different versions, says Fulton, chief marketing officer for Canadian Tire’s FGL Sports division.

Wetmore has been the architect of the company’s success, putting the CTC brand front and centre “as a lens for business decisions,” says Fulton.

And the strategy is paying off. In 2013, CTC’s Canadian Tire, Sport Chek and Mark’s banners operated like a well-oiled stock car leading the retail pack. The company made multiple smart, strategic marketing moves across each of its brands and across a variety of platforms.

L-R TJ Flood, Stephen Wetmore, Duncan Fulton, Michael Medline, Frederick Lecoq, Susan O'Brien

In just more than a year Canadian Tire Retail produced more than 30 television commercials as part of its “Canada’s Store” marketing platform from Taxi, developed an online lifestyle hub called “The Canadian Way” to better showcase its products, reintroduced its e-commerce website after a three-year hiatus and began testing an express-style outlet in Toronto to lure in urban consumers. Mark’s introduced a new brand position and tagline, Sport Chek opened a digitally led retail concept store and CTC inked sponsorship deals with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), Senators Sports & Entertainment in Ottawa, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) in Toronto and entered partnerships with six other leading amateur sport groups that benefit the company’s entire stable of brands.

Fulton singles out the CTC’s new eight-year sponsorship agreement with the COC as an example of smooth operations. As part of the reorganization, Wetmore had tasked Fulton with building a centralized sponsorship team so that each retail banner is aware of what the other is doing and negotiates a “family deal” that includes multiple CTC brands where possible. Today that team oversees more than 72 properties and assests.

“Not only does it elevate multiple business units—Canadian Tire Retail, Sport Chek and Sport Experts—­but also ties the company to Canada and Canadian values and sports, which fits our DNA,” says Fulton of the COC deal.

“They put the priority first in making sure that their management team was aligned, that they understood the new brand promise, they understand that living it means not just advertising it, but bringing it to life in stores,” says David Kincaid, managing partner and CEO of Level 5 Strategy Group, a Toronto-based branding company that counts Canadian Tire Retail among its clients.

The company’s accomplishments, in large part, are a testament to Wetmore’s focus on growth, meeting the ever-evolving needs of consumers and his willingness to experiment. With a dedication to in-store technology, CTC is shaping the future of Canadian retail and moving well beyond what people have come to expect from one of Canada’s oldest retailers.

Few Canadian retailers have successfully created, or even attempted to create, must-have in-store experiences that cater to consumers—which could be troublesome as e-commerce continues to eat away at brick and mortar operations. Some retailers are paralyzed by the fear of failing, while others believe the threat of showrooming and the impact of e-commerce are overblown.

But Wetmore believes technology will drive retail over the next decade and is determined CTC will be seen as leading the way. “I don’t want anybody to surpass us,” he says.

There’s more! To read the full profile of our Marketer of the Year, pick up the Jan/Feb issue of Marketing magazine, on newsstands now and available on your iPad.

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