Oh, Canada

July 25, 2013

Unless you are a native, Canada is a foreign country. It has its own sovereignty, currency and culture, or should I say, cultures (see Quebec). But how “foreign” is it?

I would argue that, at least where retail tire sales are concerned, there are more similarities than differences. Canada’s prime minister may be appointed and our president may be elected, but tire dealers in both countries have to deal with nearly the same business concerns.

My wife, Tris, and I recently vacationed in western Canada’s Alberta province for eight days. Here’s what I noticed based on local media coverage.

1. Hockey is huge. Bridgestone dealers in Canada get a bigger promotional push from Bridgestone Americas Inc.’s sponsorship of the National Hockey League than they do in the U.S. Following one of the Stanley Cup playoff games, the Calgary Sun started off the sports section with a seven-page color hockey section. That same day in the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio, a one-third page story on the game appeared on page two of the sports section.

There was no mention of Bridgestone in any of the newspaper coverage that day. However, a day later, the Bridgestone logo, which is displayed behind one of the nets in every game, was featured in a photo in the Calgary Sun’s five pages of coverage. I also noticed it often during game telecasts.

The Bridgestone brand has the same consumer tire  replacement market share, 8%, in both countries.

2. Actual “tire” ads are rare. There weren’t many true tire advertisements in any of the newspapers, just like in the states. And no independent tire dealer advertised in the newspapers during our stay.

Canadian Tire Corp., the largest mass merchandiser in Canada with 490 stores (Walmart Canada Corp. has 379 stores, while Sears Canada Inc. doesn’t sell tires), ran two half-page ads featuring coupons for automotive service work.

“Buy two tires or more and get 50% off a wheel alignment,” proclaimed the ads. “Protect your tire investment and save gas by having a proper alignment.” The disclaimer said shims and adjustors may require additional parts and labor. A cooling system flush, in preparation for summer, also was discounted.

There was no mention of Canadian Tire’s private brand tire, Motomaster, which is the third most popular consumer tire brand behind Goodyear and Michelin.

 The ads did ask for business: “Call your local Canadian Tire now to book your vehicle maintenance appointment.”

Midway Auto offers seniors (60 years old and older) a 5% discount on all work performed during the last week of each month. The Canmore Lube & Muffler is “now selling tires,” according to its classified ad.

JB’s Power Centre sells Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/T all-season performance tires. A P275/60R15 runs $144.99 in Canadian dollars. U.S.-based retailers Autosales Inc., dba Summit Racing Equipment, and Performance Plus Tire & Automotive advertise the same tire for $139.08. That sounds about right, given the 3% difference in the exchange rate in favor of the Canadian dollar.

If you buy three tires at Bow Valley Ford in Canmore, you get the fourth one free. The car dealership also charges car owners $79.95 for a cooling system inspection and flush. Truck owners pay $89.95.

3. Oil changes are expensive. In contrast to tires, oil changes appear to be more expensive in Canada than in the U.S., even with the exchange rate. Bow Valley Ford charges $39.95 Canadian for an oil change and filter, which includes a 60-point vehicle inspection.

Chrysler Canada Inc.’s Mopar dealers charge $69.95, which includes up to five liters of Genuine Mopar Motor Oil; a Mopar filter; a tire rotation; an inspection of the cooling, brake, exhaust and suspension systems and all fluid levels; an electronic battery test; and a “free” washer solvent top-off. Vehicles with V6 or Hemi engines pay extra.

The average cost of an oil change in the U.S. for essentially the same services is $21.65.

What does all this tell us about our tire dealer neighbors to the north? That they face many of the same issues as dealers in the states, such as increasingly stiff competition. The products and marketing are the same for all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t wish Kal Tire Inc. a happy 60th birthday. Based in Vernon, British Columbia, Kal Tire is the largest independent tire dealer in Canada with 240 outlets. It is advertising its anniversary on TV.    ■

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at [email protected].

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