Marketing Your Historic Strengths

Sometimes change isn’t a good thing

After browsing this article about the very successful (so far) Tim Horton’s coffee/donut shop, I am reminded of the importance of never forgetting what made you successful in the first place.

The link (now inactive) here will only be active for a while since it is from a major Canadian newspaper so a brief description of the posting will follow. The article is basically talking about changing the look of its chain to become a more upscale coffee house that serves lattes and other coffees that are more so-called upscale (which also means they will likely be more expensive). Personally, I think this is an unwise direction for the chain.

Tim Horton’s success in Canada has been that it catered to the masses and its most loyal customers were likely be to the working class souls who are having a tough time affording the chains products now since they have become quite expensive. Like their namesake, the hard-working skater for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the chain was not very flashy but it just provided good basic performance on a consistent basis. The coffee formula was what people liked and simple menu offerings like chicken stew, chili and simple sandwiches with a treat for dessert worked very well for a time.

Now the chain wants to promote more upscale products, provide for softer seating and Wi-Fi connections. It sounds sort of familiar doesn’t it? Would that be Starbucks? That segment is quite small compared to the masses approach but Tim Horton’s is trying to find a way to deal with the change that McDonald’s is attempting with its better coffee. I also think McDonald’s has forgotten what made it successful.

Food marketing is a difficult arena and sometimes significant changes and uncontrolled expansion don’t make for a better company. I could be wrong but my gut tells me that this direction is a slap in the face for the existing blue-collar customer base that has put the company on the map. One particular location that I don’t visit is the one in the food court of the dominant shopping mall in my new city of residence. Every time I pass by, the line-up is 20-30 people deep. I won’t wait for a half hour to be served in a fast food environment and I am sure a lot of others won’t be bothered either. The thing that the chain always did in the past was make for a quick visit and you left the counter with quality food products for a reasonable price. Now it seems that there are too many choices (which might add to the line-up time) and the pricing is getting to be out of reach of the typical blue-collar client.

This all has the symptoms of decisions coming from an “ivory-tower” boardroom by lots of individuals in expensive tailored suits. Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s (along with other fast food chains) made their fortune on serving a market that had mud on its boots. Maybe they shouldn’t forget what made them successful before it is too late.

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