Business spin crucial for Cantel Quebec

Arecession - some call it a depression - is not a good time to prospect for business, especially when the product being offered is not an easy sell and the sales territory is socially and culturally different from the rest of...

Arecession – some call it a depression – is not a good time to prospect for business, especially when the product being offered is not an easy sell and the sales territory is socially and culturally different from the rest of the country.


But, such was the situation facing Cantel Quebec, that province’s arm of the Rogers Communications-Cantel cellular phone business.

Paul Jean, president of Cantel Quebec, concedes cellular phones have not made the inroads in that province that they have elsewhere in Canada.

Jean, in an interview with Strategy from his Montreal headquarters, reels off the differences between selling his product in Quebec and selling cellular phones in the rest of the country.

Linked to business

He says, for starters, cellular phone use in Quebec is ‘tightly linked’ to business, adding society there is a little more leisure-oriented.

He says focus group testing led to different signatures in Quebec to elsewhere in the country.

‘We found out there was no way we could use the English-Canadian signature for Quebec – in other words, a literal translation,’ Jean says.

‘In English-speaking Canada, it’s `Made to be better for you.’ And, in Quebec, it’s `Le pouvoir du reseau,’ (the power of the network.) So it gives you an idea immediately of the different perceptions that different markets can have.’

Slower acceptance

Cantel also found that in Quebec, acceptance of cellular technology is slower than in other parts of Canada. Penetration is lower in Quebec – at 5% – than in Ontario and b.c., which come in at more than 7%, for example.

‘It’s always the fact with French-speaking Canada that they don’t accept new technologies as quickly as other provinces,’ Jean says.

‘We’ve seen it with [automated] bank tellers,’ he says. ‘That took about five years before really taking off here in Quebec.

‘We’ve seen it also with the computer technology. Once it’s adopted, though, it’s a completely different approach.’

To illustrate his point, Jean points to committed users’ cellular phone bills.

He says they are much higher in Quebec than in other provinces, adding it is the same situation with the competition service from Bell Quebec.

And as for Bell Quebec, Jean says competing against a company of that size and strength – about 30,000 employees in the province – means Cantel Quebec has had to be much more entrepreneurial, much more aggressive.

Dislike contracts

He says one more thing Cantel Quebec has had to deal with is Quebecers’ reluctance to sign the three-year cell service deal common to the rest of the country.

He says it is probably a matter of ‘mentality, of culture’ that makes them prefer a one-year contract, although he says worries about changes in technology and the economy also play a part.

Jean says cultural differences and the business climate for cellular phones made it necessary for Cantel Quebec to take a different marketing tack in the province.

Personalized service

Back in what he calls the ‘early days’ of cellular service – 1985 – Jean says Cantel Quebec opted for personalized service as the way into the market since the phone monopolies did not then offer the service they do now.

‘It really started with our customer service,’ Jean says. ‘We offered a customer service seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for all cellular users across Canada.’

Not only that, he says, but the company was soon able, through technological innovation, to identify the customer’s language when they called Cantel Quebec from a cellular phone.

Language of choice

When the company’s customer service group got a call, it could respond with the language of the customer’s choice – registered when the customer first subscribed.

Also, Jean says, Cantel Quebec quickly built up a strong distribution network, and opened flagship stores in such cities as Montreal.

He says local Quebec entrepreneurs were also signed up as distributors in the province, emphasizing how this tactic was successful against mighty Bell.

As for selling cellular service in Quebec’s secondary markets such as Sherbrooke, Jean says some adjustment was necessary.

To that end, the company pushed the local distribution button hard, he says.

‘When I [say] that we were going with private entrepreneurs to develop the market in Montreal, those entrepreneurs were mostly larger corporations, with established businesses in Montreal,’ Jean says.

‘But, outside Montreal, we had to go then with smaller companies and local distributors, and that’s what really made our strength because then it was becoming a local presence and sense of ownership from people in the regions,’ he says.

James Warrington, president of Publicite Martin in Montreal, Cantel Quebec’s advertising agency, says, from the beginning, his shop realized Quebecers conducted business differently from people in the rest of the country.

Personal approach

Warrington says Quebecers do business with people they know and strike deals over lunch as much as they attract new customers with good service and competitive prices.

An early corporate ad exploited the personal contact angle, he says.

‘There’s [an ad] that says, `Cet homme a les bonnes connexions,’ (that man has good connections) Warrington recalls.

‘And this is a corporate advertisement that served as the basis for the launching of the campaign ‘Le pouvoir du reseau.’

Uniquely equipped

Warrington says that what this ad says is ‘Cantel is uniquely equipped to provide [customers] with a solid cellular phone service, and, through that phone service, you’re going to improve your personal business connections and your business network.’

He says the ‘Le pouvoir du reseau’ campaign has tended to recognize the uniqueness of the way Quebecers do business, and by doing so has allied Cantel Quebec with businesspeople in the province in a meaningful way.

Exhibit distinctiveness

He says although Cantel Quebec uses or adapts some company advertising that is being employed in English-speaking Canada, it is still ‘very, very important’ that the distinctiveness of the Quebec market be exhibited.

‘Quebec entrepreneurship is regarded as being at the forefront of business here. [There are] many more small- and medium-size businesses in Quebec proportionally than you have in the rest of Canada.’

As if to underline Jean’s view that cellular service is a business ally in Quebec, Warrington says cell phones do not ring in restaurants in the province to the extent they do in Toronto or Vancouver.

He says they are either left in briefcases in cars or turned off, adding that although many more portable phones are sold in Quebec than the rest of Canada people use them with discretion.

He says the individual user is not being overlooked in Quebec, and, in some circles, they have become something of a fashion accessory, with businesswomen talking about their style and look.

Jean says while the business market remains paramount, Cantel Quebec has plans for individual users.

He says most individual buyers purchase a cellular phone for security reasons, with women and older people equipping their cars with cellular service.

He says a final wrinkle in the Quebec market is the consumer’s choice of retailer.

He points out Quebecers seek a cellular phone specialist when they want cell service, and that is perhaps the reason why large retailers are not doing as well with their cell phone sales in Quebec as they are in other provinces.