How Copying Canadian Tire Can Help Grow Your Small Business Big Time 1

Canadian Tire CEO Stephen Wetmore is growing his “smart stores”. Some store sales have grown between six and eight percent, and some departments have more than doubled. You can grow your retail business by copying some of his proven ideas. Here’s how:

photo by flickr user

photo by flickr user

  • Give more attention to growing categories. For Canadian Tire, these are sports, recreation, home storage and pet and auto care products.
  • Treat each section like a fashion boutique, with displays featuring the latest trends.
  • Identify the main “power aisle” and make sure it takes shoppers to your most-wanted section.
  • Set products out in a setting that shows products in use to help encourage multiple purchases.
  • Move the “destination” section—in Canadian Tire’s case, tools—to the back with an eye-catching wall of products on display.
  • Move impulse-driven items to the front—sales can double.
  • Put “go-together items,” like hardware and tools, in the same section to capture more sales.
  • Take bulky items out of their boxes and display them.

Now that you’ve re-merchandised your store, don’t forget customer service. Here are some real words from actual customers about what they value in a retail shopping experience.

“They listen to my repair plan and suggest items, all the while realizing that I, the individual, in a Thursday evening panic, am their meal ticket. Something I will gladly pay for, and will offer patronage for.”

“The owner himself walked with me through the cavernous store to find what I wanted and helped me take the item to the cash register. Service is what motivates me to return to this store.”

“I do not have the patience anymore to run around in a big store to find items that I do not often buy. As an example, for all my plumbing stuff I go to a small store close by, pay a couple of dollars more but buy quality products and the person at the counter has all the knowledge that I need.”

This new approach to merchandising is paying off for Canadian Tire. Hockey and camping gear sales jumped 140 percent from a year ago. Auto accessories have more than doubled.

Smaller, local retailers can learn a lot from national chains that are investing millions into store design. You may be positioned to do even better on delivering the personalized customer service that drives customer loyalty and margins.

Full disclosure: we both live in old houses, so we are regulars at Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and Home Depot, but we make a point of supporting small business whenever we can. We’d love to hear your comments.

ducttapemarketingbadgeKen Burgin and Elizabeth Walker are the Marketing Masters (, a full-service marketing and advertising partnership that helps build busy businesses. Send your ideas on How to Thrive in Times Like These to or, or call 1-866-908-5720.


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