Home Depot leaves well enough alone

Two solitudes, one strategy....

Two solitudes, one strategy.

Canadians grow up learning that the differences between Quebec and English Canada extend well beyond just language – that a sharp cultural divide separates the country’s two founding nations.

Conventional wisdom holds that anglophone businesses venturing into la belle province must be prepared to alter their marketing strategies in accordance with this reality. But when Home Depot made its first foray into the highly competitive Quebec market this past August, the company decided that the best change was no change at all.

The approach that the Scarborough, Ont.-based home improvement retailer has adopted for Quebec is pretty much the same one that has served it so well in Ontario and the West, says company spokesperson David Day. ‘Our message is always pretty consistent. It’s a service message, and we obviously talk also about pricing and product selection… Going into the [Quebec] market was really no different than any other markets.’

That said, Home Depot did make a few adjustments in its usual tactics when the chain opened its first Quebec store in Laval on Aug. 24. (Two more are expected to open in the province between now and early next year.)

For one thing, the retailer developed original advertising creative for the marketplace, rather than simply having English-language materials translated into French. This decision wasn’t prompted by any cultural differences, says Maggie Bahler, the company’s manager of advertising, but rather by a need to build name recognition in a province where awareness of the Home Depot brand is still quite limited.

The media mix was also different, making greater use of outdoor and transit than tends to be the case in Home Depot’s English-language campaigns. As Bahler explains, the out-of-home medium is much more popular in Quebec, running second only to broadcast (versus third in the rest of Canada). ‘It’s considered to be stronger in Quebec,’ she says.

The competitive arena in Quebec is very different from the one that Home Depot faced when it first entered the English Canadian market. The retailer established itself in Ontario and Western Canada by taking over what was, at the time, the only big-box home improvement store in those regions: the Molson-owned Aikenhead’s chain. Quebec, however, already has two well-established domestic players in this category: Réno-Dépôt and Rona.

(Interestingly, just as Home Depot is making its play for Quebec, Réno-Dépôt and Rona are invading its turf in Ontario. In the West, meanwhile, Home Depot faces new competition from Revy, a chain that is now heading East.)

While the fight for share in Quebec is expected to prove quite intense, Home Depot remains confident that its basic approach will serve it well in this marketplace. Mass advertising anchors the strategy, but the retailer also devotes a great deal of effort to building the brand at the local level, through involvement with charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, as well as through sponsorship activities.

Recognizing the popularity of soccer in the Laval area, for example, Home Depot has made a point of sponsoring local youth soccer there. The company also chose to support Quebec Olympic kayaker Caroline Brunet, a move that added a local dimension to its status as sponsor of the Olympic movement in both Canada and the U.S.

John Torella, a retail consultant with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group, says Home Depot is making the right moves, but will need to localize its strategy even further if it hopes to hold its own against the established players in the Quebec home improvement market.

‘In my opinion…the concept of think global, act local and sell personal is really the strategy for the future,’ he says.

That means hiring locally, encouraging management to become involved in the community, and making adjustments in areas such as hours of operation and credit systems to suit the needs of locals, Torella says. Some communities, for example, may have a higher concentration of artisans, who have different expectations when it comes to store hours and credit arrangements than large contractors.

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