The Canadian Dream
28 July 2017
Author: Anton Dell
Here at The Anton Dell Fashion Consultancy, we have often observed that many brands we come into contact with are focused on breaking America, when Canada may well be more promising for export. Even though we completely understand the seductive appeal of the American Dream, Canada is the country that the writer Douglas Adams favourably compared to “an intelligent 35-year-old woman.”
Although Canada is eighth on the list of the world’s biggest e-commerce markets by income, with the UK, China and the US above it, sales have been increasing in recent years and breaking Canada means a North American presence for overseas brands. For American brands, Canada signifies an expansion into a neighbouring country with a population possibly already acquainted with brand identity.
However, exporting to Canada requires careful planning – Target, Coach, and Kate Spade are among the brands that have tried and failed to set up house in Canada. We present you with some points to keep in mind should you be considering export to Canada. Of course, we here at the Consultancy are always happy to put our decades of experience in fashion export to work especially on your behalf – just get in touch for advice that is specifically tailored to your brand and its particular needs.
Canada has too frequently been assumed to be a quieter version of America, and its people are often familiar enough with American brands to reject brands which do not take an individualised approach to opening stores in their country. This was the mistake of Target, which raised prices in Canada and did not include many of its more attractive lines and brands in its stores there. Consumers who had been looking forward to having Target represented in Canada instead rejected the shops.
In contrast, Michael Kors has recently made a success of its expansion into Canada. At the heart of this achievement seems to be a tailored approach respectful to Canada and Canadians. Michael Kors ensured that by opening a distribution centre in Canada notwithstanding its existing centre just a short distance away in New York, it was able to ship using a Canadian company, rather than using US shippers or quoting in US currency as Kate Spade did. Coach made the mistake of offering shipping ‘to’ Canada, making it seem that the company was not also sending from Canada.
Because of the way that people are distributed across the geographically large country, Canadians often receive packages within five to seven days; by ensuring that goods shipped directly from Michael Kors stores reached Canadians in two days, the company was able to work logistics out in such a way that it provided its customers with service that was well above expectations.
Michael Kors also chose to set up a website ending in .ca rather than in the US-based .com and use the Canadian dollar on the website rather than the American currency. Subtle enough changes on the face of each, but ones that signified that the company was trying its best to connect directly with Canadians. The effect was only heightened in the marketing strategy, with Canadian social media influencers and bloggers fully incorporated.
Another development embraced by Michael Kors was the introduction of French and English options on its Canadian websites. In Quebec, the Canadian province where French is officially spoken, the government blocks websites that are not offered in French. Thus, even if the majority of users of the website choose the English version, 20% to 30% of the widely distributed Canadian population will not be able to access the site if French is not available.
Walmart is another success story in Canada. Although some aspects of its prosperity in the country can be put down to timing and the locations of its stores, there are other lessons that can be taken away by brands small and large. Walmart handles its Canadian stores through its international division, rather than as an extension of the US. Although Walmart and Michael Kors are dramatically different brands, both have approached the Canadian market with an interest in what makes it tick.
However, even companies who take these insights fully in will be faced with a tough task. Canada simply does not have enough people to play home to numerous brands with the same target group of shoppers. With Nordstrom’s, H&M, and Jimmy Choo currently looking to establish presences in Canada, there will no doubt be further retail lessons to be learnt – but there will no doubt be further success stories.
The keys? As with most things, it will be knowing your stuff and then adding some innovation in. A solid business plan that starts with a solid product with a clear market desire in Canada, then incorporates competitive pricing, marketing, and customer needs is absolutely necessary. Make sure that you understand import laws and business law as relevant in your own country and also in Canada.