Switching gears

Reginald McLay revisits those quintessential Canadian Tire moments to build an emotional bond with consumers.

As the senior vice-president of marketing and business development for Canadian Tire Retail, Reginald McLay describes himself less as a marketer and more as a merchant with in-store experience who now has the privilege of managing a marketing team.

With marketing efforts tracing back to 1929 (when Canadian Tire’s first catalogue showcased tire values and a road map of Ontario), Canadian Tire Retail now has 468 stores across Canada which together serve more than three million customers per week, selling them tools, hardware, clothing, home and gardening, camping and automotive products.

So it’s a big remit. Fortunately, McLay has 30 years’ worth of retail experience and lots of backup. Managing 250 people in the Canadian Tire home office in Toronto as well as in the company’s Pacific Rim offices, he has a mandate to position the Canadian Tire brand in the hearts and minds of the consumer and differentiate it from its competition. The solution? McLay ‘championed being customer-centric,’ says Kathleen Collins, GM of the Canadian Tire business at Toronto-based agency Taxi.

For the retailer’s newest campaign, ‘For Days like Today,’ McLay convinced his bosses to embrace the risks that accompany switching gears to a new corporate strategy, and championed the need to create an emotional bond between the consumer and Canadian Tire. ‘He helped Taxi navigate the strategy by setting up the right touchpoints with senior executives, providing a series of presentations and successfully launching the campaign to the internal team,’ says Collins.

The new, more emotional pitch is reminiscent of the classic Canadian Tire commercial ‘A Bike Story,’ shot by commercial director Bill Irish, which McLay says was a great example of Canadian Tire relating to consumers and tapping into Canadian heritage. The new campaign, which replaces the three-year ‘Aisle Sign’ effort, taps that nostalgia vein, but also weaves in the retailer’s expanded merchandise mix. Snapshots of men, women and children using Canadian Tire products for just about anything are an attempt to highlight the stores’ mix of living, driving, fixing and playing gear, while remaining customer-oriented.

The new marcom effort launched in September with a 60-second brand spot that aired nationally on TV and in theatres, as well as on transit shelter and tri-vision ads. In upcoming months, the campaign will spread via brand- and product-focused flyers, billboards, radio, magazine, online and point of purchase efforts. Taxi helmed the strategic and creative development phases, Toronto-based MediaCom led the media planning process and Fuse Marketing, also in Toronto, participated in the brand stewardship creative integration process.

McLay has been with Canadian Tire for 17 years, but his career began at Zellers, where he spent 13 years in the store management division and buying office. Armed with a degree in economics from Wilfrid Laurier University, he found that six years of store management taught him the value of really understanding the consumer to create a marketing strategy. During his remaining time at Zellers, he was exposed to the macro business strategy, in which he learned to competitively position the brand.

‘My early career experience schooled me in consumer-centric retailing from both a store level and a corporate office perspective,’ explains McLay.

Since joining Canadian Tire, he has occupied a number of senior roles, including managing the home and leisure merchandise division. ‘I believed that Canadian Tire was a retailer with tremendous brand loyalty, but also with many under-leveraged growth opportunities,’ he says. ‘I wanted to be a part of those opportunities.’

McLay says that the biggest challenge facing his team has been preparing Canadian Tire for the entry of world-class global retailers into the Canadian marketplace. And the biggest goal is to successfully launch the ‘Class Of’ prototype store concept, which originated in the early ’90s, when the brand needed to revamp its signage and layout and improve consistency. It is referred to as a ‘class’ because it’s evolving as Canadian Tire continues to define its image.

‘Reg McLay is a custodian of finding what keeps the consumer happy,’ concludes Collins. And perhaps as an insight into what that entails, McLay reveals that his favourite ad is the seasonal one with the catchphrase ‘Give like Santa, Save like Scrooge,’ because it’s about family, but with a nod to the wallet.