Tim Hortons will find differences in U.S. culture

Diane Francis, of the Financial Post writes in the Vancover Sun, that Canadians and Americans are divided by a common culture and Tim Hortons’ push into the Big Apple may just present another example of that reality.

Canada’s corporate landscape is littered with failed attempts to sell stuff to the Americans from fast food to jewelry to car repair services, hardware and U.S. sunbelt hockey.

Conversely, Americans have also flopped north of the border.

There have also been those who have fled or faded, when faced with Canada’s established brands, bilingualism, metric system, orderliness and different politics.

It’s also important to note that Canada is the most successful exporting nation in the world, proportionate to its economy, and as big as China in U.S. trading terms.

What divides I’m bicultural and still find it fascinating that so many Canadians and Americans do not realize there is much difference.

My favorite publishing example was a Canadian bestseller called Coping with Back Pain which became Conquering Back Pain in the U.S. “Coping” would never have sold despite the book’s quality.

In politics, the two speak different languages: A small “c” conservative in Canada is left of the Democrats, policy-wise, south of the border. Canadians who agree with the republicans on most things are a rump minority in Canada and probably libertarians, who think governments should be erased.

Business-wise, I hope that Canada’s foremost retail icon — Tim Hortons — does well contrary to others but Manhattan and Brooklyn are huge challenges.

Manhattan tough sledding They are not the U.S. but islands off the coast of America with a unique fast-food system of outlets that are independently owned and called diners or delis.

These establishments have done what Tim Hortons was the first to do in Canada: The 24/7 coffee eatery.

This never existed and was the chain’s main competitive advantage, but the Big Apple invented round-the-clock dining.

In the city that never sleeps, everyone from actors to party animals, tourists and shift workers, can go to or order from New York’s diners any time.

They also, unlike Tim Hortons, offer vast menus the size of Peterborough’s phone book where everything from meat loaf to steaks, Greek salad, matzoh ball soup, bacon and eggs and alcoholic beverages are always available.

New York’s diners can also undercut rivals. They operate as family businesses, which take in massive amounts of cash, in order to pay cash under the table to their armies of illegal Mexican and Central American immigrant workers.

Their wages are lower than Canada’s — and benefits nonexistent — and yet the workers sign on gladly.

A cook in a local diner near my Manhattan condo makes about US$600 tax-free for his 50-hour week which keeps a dozen relatives in the chips back home plus is more money on a net-basis that a public school principal nets in Manhattan.

Two solitudes Another big difference between Canada and the U.S. is that retailing south of the border is truly competitive.

That’s because the U.S. system is geared toward encouraging start-ups, entrepreneurs and variety dramatically more so than is Canada’s free enterprise system.

Here’s why: – Canada’s big banks are not interested in lending money to start-ups and Canadian entrepreneurs are forced to use their own or family’s savings to launch a small restaurant.

– Even if money is raised, Canada’s big banks are biased toward lending to big entities from big developers to big fast-food chains, established American or Canadian retail chains.

– Big developers want long-term leases with big credit-worthy tenants, not start-ups or small family concerns.

– Big chains and retailers can outsource, outprice and outservice small guys.

– Lastly, Canada’s heavily regulated land-use system prevents the cropping up of little businesses in undesirable, unused or unpopular locales.

What’s important, however, to point out is how successful Canadian expatriates have fared in the U.S. and how prosperous certain sectors have been such as Canada’s entertainers, high tech entrepreneurs, traditional breadand- butter commodities industries or its innovative financial, real estate or auto parts sectors.

So my bottom line is that I wish Tim Hortons good fortune in New York City and hope they know they have to meet the type of competition they’ve never encountered before.

Vancover Sun