Regular Joes behind Tim Hortons' success

Tim Hortons (file photo)

Tim Hortons (file photo)

Shawn Jeffords, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:46 PM ET

Part 2 of 2-part series

TORONTO -- When you want a cuppa joe in this country, you head to Tim Hortons.

It's a given. But the path to coffee shop dominance and a place in the lexicon of Canadiana has been paved by having a good product, a deft touch when it comes to image, and a bit of luck.

So says Douglas Hunter, a York University PhD candidate, who has written a biography of Tim Horton and also of the coffee shop company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He said the franchise has come a long way since it was established in 1964 in Hamilton, Ont.

"There has kind of been stealth growth to it," he said. "The biggest change came around 2000 -- a lot of competitors like Country Style and Robin's got into trouble. Tims really moved into places where they weren't the dominate brand."

In 2013, the company continued to be a powerhouse, making $3.2 billion, with profit up over 4% from the previous year.

When Hunter wrote his biography of Horton in 1994, there were 900 outlets across Canada. Now there are 3,000 across the country and 600 in the United States. He thinks Tim Hortons became a cultural touchstone organically, saying it owes a debt to comedy troop Royal Canadian Air Farce, whose "doughnut gang" skits seemed to imply they were taking place at the restaurant.

"I don't think they ever intended it to be Tim Hortons, but by the time that series ended in 2008, Tim Hortons was everywhere and dominating the market," Hunter said.

"It became a short-hand. Air Farce really created this idea of the average Canadian Tim Hortons voter. The idiot savant sort of people of wisdom chewing the fat over the issues of the day."

Hunter said the company has since done small things to tweak that image, but hasn't toyed with it or pressed it too much. That light touch has built enormous goodwill with customers, he noted.

 


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