Like A Good Neighbor

by Nate Hunter

Tips for U.S.-based retailers and vendors who do business — or want to do business — in Canada.

As anyone in the retail industry knows, doing business in Canada can be a little bit different… but just how different is it?

Well, for starters, the country is massive, freezing and full of snow for 6 months a year, and prone to more than the occasional ice storm from coast to coast to coast. In the summer, it can be upwards of 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit while dropping well below zero in the winter. People definitely don’t live in igloos, but heating issues remain a primary concern. Since it gets real cold during the winter, even in relatively balmy Vancouver, snow removal is another big concern — and it’s a concern that needs to be addressed 6 months out of the year. Unlike, say, in New York City where 5 inches of snow disappear in a day or two, in Montreal those 5 inches — or 12.7 centimeters — will last from November through March. What about your facilities service provider? Are they Canadian? Do they know the difference between Kamloops, British Columbia, and Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Speaking of temperatures, Canadians use the metric system. Do you know how many kilometers there are in a mile or how hot 25 degrees Celsius is? And can you explain it in French — one of Canada’s two official languages?

Canada is a highly modern, industrialized country, but you have to think outside of the standard American box to do business in the Great White North.

You have to ask the tough, Canadian questions.

These are just a few of the important things to keep in mind for the Canadian arm of your business — but remember, there are over 34 million people just waiting to consume, buy, get, want, and have your products or supplies.

This is Not Bear Country

For all the “eh” references and beer jokes, keep in mind that Canada is no backwoods bear country. Sure, most of the country’s population is centered around a dozen or so large cities, but Canadians are also on the cutting edge of technology and at the forefront of business: Smartphones were invented in Waterloo, Ontario; Montreal is home to one of the world’s most prominent aviation businesses, Bombardier; the world’s leading photo-sharing service, Flickr, was created in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Knowing the Boundaries

Canadians are generally polite, but don’t mistake their kindness for weakness. Look at it as a shrewd way of doing business: strong ethics breed strong results. Our nation’s banking industry fared well during the recession because of strict regulations which have made Canada one of the current leading economies in the world.

And this is a results-oriented business.

Getting back to the sheer size and scale of Canada, it’s important for a facilities maintenance company to have a detailed knowledge of the country, its terrain, its weather situations, and its people.

If you’re looking for an electrician in Toronto, your choices aren’t limited to Lightbulb Larry and his brother Jim the Wire Guy. There are over 14,000 electricians in Toronto alone. Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America behind only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. If you didn’t know that, then the reliable Canadian facilities manager you worked with definitely did.

Knowing the terrain is key in any adventure. Canada has five time zones and the cities are generally far apart. It’s important to think about the geography of the country when dispatching a vendor: You can’t send an electrician from Edmonton to do a job in Fort McMurray even though they share the same area code — that’s an 8-hour trip, one way.

Consider that the handyman you need dispatched to Trois-Rivières, Quebec, probably doesn’t speak a word of English and he definitely does not speak Spanish. There are over 6 million French-speakers in Canada, of which the great majority lives in Quebec. A lot of them can’t or won’t do the job unless you can communicate with them in their own language — and that applies to the store manager in Quebec City, Jonquière or Rimouski as well. That might also apply in Moncton, New Brunswick; or Winnipeg, Manitoba — all of whom have a large French-speaking population. Being able to communicate is a fundamental element of any business; being able to communicate in both English and French is a fundamental part of doing business in Canada.

Canada is an interesting place to live and an even more interesting place to do business. You already know the potential the country has in terms of your business’ bottom line — making sure you have the right people who understand the dynamics of doing business in Canada will greatly help you to succeed.


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