Home / Retail Marketing / “It’s Our Time to Lead the World” … Surviving in Canadian Retail.


Is Retail a Good Business Model?

Are Brick and Mortar Stores dying?

These were some questions posed to leading Canadian retailers at the recent Retail Council of Canada Store 2014 Retail Conference. 

Recent press brings to light the perils about the challenging competitive retail landscape in Canada, so why would anyone even want to be in retail in Canada?

Well, let’s have a look – as seen from the eyes of Canadian Tire’s President, Michael Medline.


U.S. Retail Giant Takes Aim at Canadian Expansion.

Will Amazon Crush Canadian Retailers?

Canadian retailers adapt to competitive new reality.

Headlines across Canadian media say it all. The retail landscape in evolving, quickly and there is a new competitive reality. The arrival of giant US retailers such as Saks, Target, Nordstrom are pushing Canadian retailers to the limits. Mergers and acquisitions are streamlining the competitive landscape. The growth in ecommerce and online shopping is a market disrupter making it easy and convenient for shoppers so they don’t have to visit a brick and mortar store. There’s pricing pressures as customers aggressively search for the best prices. There’s pressure to create a seamless customer journey converging digital with brick and mortar. Customers are adapting to mobile shopping and expectations from retailers for service and knowledge are at an all time high. Competition is not just other retailers, it’s anyone/anywhere where customers can spend their dollars and customers only have so much money to spend so how does a retailer get that share of wallet?  

Forget the Headlines, “It’s Our Time to Lead the World!”  Michael Medline recently stated.

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A grim scenario? Some think so BUT not Michael Medline , President of Canadian Tire. So how are Canadian retailers surviving? What are they doing to adapt and change to attract customers to their stores to buy? Here’s Michael’s take on the retail environment in Canada and more importantly, what retailers can do to adapt, survive and thrive.

“The Future of Retail? It’s not the future of retail, the future is here, it’s really the present of retail, the future is here and you’ve gotta live it” Michael Medline, Canadian Tire’s President empathically stated at the Retail Council of Canada’s conference last week in Toronto.

Our world has seen continuous innovation in e-commerce, consumer shopping behaviour is evolving and consumer expectations are changing. But Medline warns “don’t underestimate the innovations in bricks and mortar”. He acknowledges there’s a massive sea change of how people shop, live their lives and defining what they expect from brands, stores but that’s where opportunity lies.

Digital retailers like Amazon are “market disrupters”  noted Medline. He went on to suggest that bricks and mortar retailers need to disrupt their own business. Change is very difficult and people don’t like change.

Net, on the surface, retail may not look like a great business model and as noted in the headlines above, it appears to be a bad time to be in retail and  invest in retail real estate. Mobile, e-commerce and a confluence of other factors such as lowest prices, paper and online digital flyers are clearly disrupting the current retail business model.  Either retailers adapt or they die.

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 (New South China Mall 7mm sq ft/Ohio Randall Park Mall sitting empty)

Medline likened Canadian Tire and the ways Canadian Tire has to evolve to a golf swing. He stated “ put your feet in both worlds and shift weight from the back leg to the front … in the old world and new world … if your swing is too slow it’s a problem, if it’s too fast it’s a problem, you must shift at the right speed and you  better be shifting  period.”  Retailers in Canada need to embrace change to new world. This will make it a more efficient and productive industry and Medline stated retail is a  great business for winners and survivors — or those who dream big, act quickly and embrace the future.

Years ago, you would be hard pressed to find retail headlines in the press. That’s changed. Retail is big business in Canada employing over 2.1 million, there are many new types of retailers and the battle ground for technological breakthroughs is stronger than ever.  

So, what does it take to survive and succeed in this ever changing landscape?

According to Michael Medline, surviving and growing in today’s landscape requires four major shifts based on key learning over the past few years.

  3. BE PERSONAL – personalized experience
  4. SHIFT CULTURE – people are the most important piece of your business.

Companies can’t analyze every change being made. That will paralyze the organization and by the time the change is implemented, it will be obsolete.

Medline referenced the Sport Chek lab activation at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto as an example of being nimbler. Historically,  at Canadian Tire the idea would be analyzed, taken to the board, if approved a retail city built and tested, if tested well roll out to a test market where no-one can see what you’re doing , and if it worked worked then roll out another test another market, and if that worked,  then roll out across markets – in otherwards, analyze the idea to death – change is coming slowly but if you don’t change you will run out of time warns Medline.

Canadian retailers may be considered large by Canadian standards however Medline reference it’s really a David and Goliath picture when you compare the size and scope of Canadian retailers to the giant US and global players.  So be nimble, it’s a competitive advantage and don’t take on the giants with scale – that’s a game they will win so be nimble, approach your business as guerrilla warfare, try and learn and try and learn again.  Don’t be be scared of mistakes and failure. Learn quickly and move quickly.

Medline discussed that Digital is not an opponent to Canadian Tire, rather it allows Canadian Tire to be more nimble. Canadian Tire prints 650 million flyers a year or the equivalent of 26 billion flyer pages per year and Medline noted that flyers  used to be an amazing weapon, but tie your hands because you need to plan months ahead, commit to product, source product, guesstimate about the weather,  net, paper flyers are not efficient. Things will change and are changing. Canadian Tire tested digital flyers, originally placing pictures from the flyer online but that  didn’t work. Sport Chek evolved the test and learn by putting the flyer online, took pictures of products and placed online via Facebook, Google, Instagram, tools used to push products in more flexible manner.  Digital flyers in this manner allow a retailer to be  seasonally and socially relevant.

It is hard to do this? Yes. It’s hard cultural change and pushes a company  out of it’s comfort zone but retail is about meeting customer needs and driving sales. “This is game we play” quipped Medline.


The death of bricks and mortar has been greatly exaggerated commented Michael Medline. He went to state that brick and mortar retailers  want ecommerce capabilities and  digital capabilities while ecommerce and digital retailers want brick and mortar capabilities. Canadian Tire and retailers need to be good at both. It’s a convergence of traditional with new technology and passionate, knowledgeable staff are the glue that binds theses capabilities together.

Medline elaborated that people still love to go shopping,  it’s a social activity, part of life – a very important part of life and online will not replace brick and mortar. To win in today’s hyper competitive retail market, retailers need to excite customers, draw customers to their stores, create personalized experiences and  be passionate about the service customers want and need .

Examples of retailers embracing change reference by Medline are  Burberry on Regent Street  in London UK using RFID technology. (http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2012/09/13/burberry-regent-street-flagship-opens) Products on the table can be scanned to a  screen, details and accessories about the product are immediately available and staff using tablets can access customer purchase history instantly valuing their customers time and making the experience more enjoyable.

Digital only part  of story though and there are other ways to excite customers and draw them to your store. Bass Pro Shops present an emotional connection with customers making them feel like they  are in the outdoors. Customers can  try products and feel what’s going on.  

Lululemon’s staff are community ambassadors. People (staff) are more important than ever and more expected than ever. Team members must be able to talk about products knowledgeably and be in a conversation with customers versus selling product features and benefits.


Medline asked the question “what does the competitor of the future look like? “ He went on to define the competitor of the future as best in class brick and mortar and  best in class ecommerce.  The best in class competitor of future will be a convergence of what customers need and want.  

It’s a new world and people are more important than ever. To be the best, you need exemplary service, product expertise and community commitment.  Consumers expect trusted brands to be there when needed and aligned to their values and aspirations. Canadian Tire’s competitive advantage is that it has roots across a vast country and can help out when in time’s of need. That’s what’s expected, community involvement is necessary – not a nice to have, and builds emotional connections. Consumers are your new brand ambassadors.


Huge cultural change is needed to survive. And it start’s with leadership. Leadership that embraces change, endorses a test and learn culture and keeps on trying things.

It’s a disruptive time in retail but the new formula is DISRUPTION = OPPORTUNITIES. Medline’s final message “change before you have to.”


Michael Medline, President, Canadian Tire Corporation

From corp.canadiantire.ca

Michael Medline, Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC), is responsible for overseeing the operations of all CTC business units, including Canadian Tire, Financial Services, FGL Sports and Mark’s, as well as Corporate Affairs and Technology.

Michael has had an impressive 13-year career with Canadian Tire, having played a significant role in helping the Company stay on offense through innovative thinking and strong industry knowledge. He has extensive experience in building and transforming businesses, brands and customer experience to drive growth and value, and has led the Company in a number of high-profile projects, including the successful acquisition and subsequent integration of Mark’s Work Wearhouse in 2001 and the restructuring of Canadian Tire Retail’s Automotive unit in 2009. Michael is also the driving force behind FGL Sports’ growth strategy for its key banners, including: Sport Chek,  Sports Experts, National Sports, Pro Hockey Life, Intersport and Atmosphere – which incorporates an aggressive five year store expansion plan.

Prior to his current appointments, Michael held a number of progressively senior roles with the Company, including President of Canadian Tire Automotive and Dealer Relations, Chief Corporate Officer and President for Diversified Business and President of Dealer Relations and Diversified Business.

Michael holds an MBA from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, an LL.B. from the University of Toronto, and a BA from the University of Western Ontario. In addition to his leadership roles, Michael is on the Board of the Retail Council of Canada and has been a board member of Canadian Tire Bank, Jumpstart, and Pan Asia Paper Company.

For over 22 years, The KMAC GROUP has worked with some of the world’s best-known companies to help them grow their sales. Using our experience in strategic sales, key account management, sales training, project management, project activation and execution, consumer engagement, strategic partnerships  and live retail event activations, we help companies like Procter & Gamble and General Mills increase sales performance.