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The Tim Hortons coffee shop at 2183 Queen St. East in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood is photographed on March 5 2014. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
The Tim Hortons coffee shop at 2183 Queen St. East in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood is photographed on March 5 2014. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Guest Column

Three customer service lessons from Tim Hortons Add to ...

Tim Hortons Inc. is nationally recognized for its brand “Welcome Home.” By providing a consistent and comforting atmosphere, sustained levels of service and product quality, Tim Hortons has capitalized on a generation addicted to caffeine and convenience. Of course there are some exceptions to this otherwise untarnished image, but overall they have grown a small brand into a nationally recognized way of life.

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Achieving this level of significance has not come easy, but Tim Hortons has been able to grow their market through a continual focus on aligning their marketing campaign with their operational capabilities. With 4,485 restaurants in place today, and the recently announced plans to open another three hundred stores in the U.S. within the next four years, time will tell if Tim Hortons is able to continue its track record.

Achieving this level of significance has not come easy, but Tim Hortons has been able to grow their market through a continual focus on aligning their marketing campaign with their operational capabilities. With 4,485 restaurants in place today, and the recently announced objective of opening another three hundred stores in the U.S. within the next four years, time will tell if Tim Horton’s is able to continue its track record.

There are lessons small business owners can take from Tim Hortons success. Organic business growth is ultimately the ambition of every business, large or small. Too often our focus on rapid growth outpaces our capabilities in meeting growth objectives. You’ve likely witnessed this type of retraction from the market with companies like Staples and Rona after aggressive growth goals outpaced market demand and operational capability. It’s easy to forget that sustaining a consistently high quality in service or product offerings is the key factor in sustaining business growth.

In order to sustain business growth, it’s important to consider the three aspects of forming a consistent customer experience:

1. Brand value. They say that before you purchase a home you should spend time assessing the neighbourhood, gaining an understanding of the surroundings, neighbours, and overall community culture. When growing or expanding a business it’s common to consider engaging a new customer segment. Each and every region, market, and customer segment will have their own distinctions that can result in very different perceptions as to what is most valuable.

The culture of a rural community heavily populated with farms, for example, is very different than the culture of downtown Toronto. To create a consistently high and valued customer experience you must invest time in understanding the distinctions within each customer segment, allowing for the formulation of new and distinct value.

2. Dream big; execute flawlessly. Small businesses come and go. I’ve found that small business failure is the result of three causes:

i. Lack of market need or demand.
ii. Poor quality of service or product.
iii. Lack of capital to support growth.

It’s important to dream big and aim high, but it’s just as important to retain a foothold in reality. Rapid growth or expansion can result in business failure if not planned and executed effectively. I’ve known several business owners that quickly got themselves in over their heads in debt only to find that the market and demand didn’t support their desire for growth. Spend time considering your growth objectives, but then validate these against existing resources, capital, and time. Setting a realistic plan for growth, although maybe not as exciting as “winging it,” will allow you to measure your progress against expectations. It will also allow time for and force you to make strategic adjustments in order to achieve your goals.

3. Diverse input provides robust outputs. Intentions for business growth should not be a secret. Formulating a plan for growth requires an “all hands on deck” approach to ensure that your objectives are both achievable and supported. A client formulated their growth and expansion plans without ever considering whether the operation could actually support the intended growth. The result was excessive overtime, disgruntled employees, and unsatisfied customers. Don’t consider your business growth in isolation. Involve staff from the “front lines” of the operation to ensure that your objectives can be met, and to ensure that those closest to the customer have the opportunity to formulate the plan.

You might not have the financial backing of a conglomerate like Tim Hortons, or the desire to expand internationally, but remember that they started out just like any other small business. To date, their success in growing their business and their brand is a direct result of their ability to deliver a consistent brand experience to their customers, supported by a collaboration between marketing, operations and storeowners. How are you going to fuel growth to ensure a consistent brand experience?

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Co Incorporated, a consultancy focused on helping businesses improve organizational performance and build financial strength. For more information visit www.casemoreandco.com or follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.

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