Money: Will Tim Hortons get lost in translation? - PressFrom - Canada
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MoneyWill Tim Hortons get lost in translation?

22:15  18 may  2019
22:15  18 may  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Will Tim Hortons get lost in translation?© Ben Nelms A Tim Hortons in downtown Vancouver. Can the brand cross the pond and establish a beachhead in China?

Call it the ultimate stretch pass: a global gambit to send the Tim Hortons brand deep into China, and, over the next five years, well beyond.

Or it could perhaps more easily be a slapshot too far, one that ultimately leaves the ubiquitous Canadian brand offside and coming home on the double-double.

Since launching its first outlet in Shanghai in late February, the coffee empire that keeps Canada and certain parts of the United States rolling has — switching metaphors — kept its strategic powder dry, saying little about the China rollout. And two months in, there now are three Tims in China — a tiny, market-testing beachhead that the chain’s parent company vows will grow to 1,500 over time.

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On Wednesday, that parent company, Restaurant Brands International, pulled back the veil further, announcing its global goal to expand to 40,000 restaurants worldwide over the next eight to 10 years from its base of 26,000 outlets. Its three marquee brands, Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, will be the drivers, with the company projecting upwards of 5 per cent growth annually.

Retail consultants, it appears, remain in the show-me camp, mindful of all that can get lost in translation to China.

How, precisely, does a company so steeped in Canadian iconography gain traction in a country with no known affection for Canadian culture?

Unlike Tim Hortons’ previous, and ultimately modest, attempts to break beyond Canada, the brand now comes with the financial heft and global ambitions of RBI — and by extension, Brazil’s 3G Capital Inc., the private equity firm that holds majority ownership.

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This isn’t Tims going it alone; this is Tims with access to the deepest of pockets.

Tims with powerful partners on the ground.

“I spent several years working in Shanghai helping companies gain a foothold and we always said it’s a marathon. You can have lofty goals, but the market really decides if you are an identifiable enough and good enough for them to embrace,” said George Minakakis, a Canadian retail brand consultant.

“And, so, of course, there’s a long list of brands that have come and gone. Brands that had high recognition in their home country, brands that ultimately left with their tails tucked between their legs.”

Coke broke through in China. So, too, did McDonald’s and others. But, as Minakakis notes, these quintessentially American brands already were so well known there was pent-up demand even before they arrived.

“I don’t see anyone demanding Tim Hortons in China and so that means you’ve got to create it. It’s great to have ambition. Good for them. But building demand is hard work. You’ve got to somehow find a way to make it a Chinese brand and in doing so, you better take a lot of Canadian executives with you to China, because if you don’t — if you just let the franchisee and/or somebody from the parent company in Brazil oversee it — you’re going to fail. You have to take the heritage with you and find a way to bring that heritage to life.”

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Tim Hortons is consistently great coffee. This location is also quite cozy inside. I loved the fireplace and chairs. I wish we had Tim Hortons back in Austin, TX. They have been open for about a month now and are still experiencing teething pains. The ordering seems to get lost in translation as

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But what exactly is Tims heritage nowadays? Still sporting the name of a former Toronto Maple Leaf that only the grey-haired among us remember well, the coffee empire ceased having anything to do with the Horton family decades ago and, five years ago, ceased being Canadian at all.

Although it remains, to most Canadians, quintessentially Canadian in every respect apart from its ownership, its current marketing campaign may offer a road map to how it just might pull off global domination. So says Dr. Patricia Cormack, a sociologist at St. Francis Xavier University, who has long studied the company’s cultural ascent.

“Look at the Tim Hortons ad called Coffee With Neighbours, where they go knocking on doors in Toronto, where 50 per cent of the people don’t know who lives beside them,” said Cormack.

“What you see is people gathered at the fence lines, sharing a cup of coffee together, talking about why they don’t know each other. What Tim Hortons is doing here is mediating community — and I think that’s their whole shtick, basically.

“For many years, the key to Tim Hortons branding was sticking to the idea that it’s plain, ordinary, straightforward, down-to-earth and honest — it’s mapping onto the idea of what Canadians think of themselves.

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Tim Hortons relies entirely on our own advertising, research, marketing and product planning departments for the generation and development of new concepts, including our lids and cups. With that being said, we always appreciate hearing from our guests who want to help us continue to improve

Tim Hortons relies entirely on our own advertising, research, marketing and product planning departments for the generation and development of new concepts, including our lids and cups. With that being said, we always appreciate hearing from our guests who want to help us continue to improve

“But in Coffee With Neighbours, it noses into the universal area of community, meaning and feeling. There’s no actual content here, it never mentions the coffee, itself. It’s pure mediation and ritual, almost like Christian communion. So I can actually envision, with branding that good, that there might be a way for Tim Hortons to move from market to market, continually re-offering itself as a blank palette — just branding the universal experience of the human longing for community — they could actually pull this off. They, perhaps, could quite brilliantly do this.”

Whatever its grand design, the company appears unready, for now at least, to detail its rollout strategy and declined to comment for this article.

Two former senior company executives also declined to comment on the Tim Hortons expansion plans, out of respect for the current management team. Said one: “I remember how often we were frustrated by misinformation going public. If you aren’t inside, if you aren’t seeing everything, it’s just not fair to comment.”

Others still can’t help but remark upon the timing of the rollout, coming on the heels of a series of off-brand experiences for the Canada-based coffee chain — and, perhaps more significantly — coinciding with Canada’s continuing row with China over the arrest of a senior executive of the Huawei electronics giant. A case in point: a day after the company’s expansion announcement on Wednesday, China dialed up the pressure, formally arresting detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on accusations of espionage.

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“Launching in China during a political climate where the government has actual Canadians in detention …. How do you launch in that climate? It might still work. But I’m always mindful that brand heritage is a fragile thing and the change of ownership at Tim Hortons has definitely had an impact on the culture,” said Minakakis.

“We’ve seen that at Tim Hortons. The franchiser-franchisee relationship is always fraught. It’s always to some degree us-versus-them. But when a new organization takes over and is very focused on managing costs — and they are — you change the culture and the thinking and whatever relationship existed in the past with the previous executive management team.

“And then there’s the loyalty question. It’s not really a Canadian company now, even though the head office is still here, and at the end of the day Canadians know this is no longer owned by Canadians.

“Does that mean none of these plans will pan out? Of course not. McDonald’s figured out that you could put chicken feet in a container meant for fries and succeed in China. So with the right localization and a lot of very hard work, this can happen. How about beyond China? What about India, Australia, Europe? Are these all part of the marketplace ambitions? Is Italy going to go for Tim Hortons, when they’re all about espresso?

“If you’ve done your homework upfront, if you’re confident and it’s all aligned and the consumer bites and you have lineups out the door, OK then. You are resonating.

“That’s the challenge.”

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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