Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons is an iconic Canadian establishment. A village turns into a town when it gets a Tim Hortons (and then a city when it gets a Canadian Tire). It’s been around since the 60s, and currently operates in 14 countries. Roll up the Rim was a matter of parliamentary debate in terms of odds of wining (it actually changed some of our laws).

From ’67 until ’90 it remained a rather small scale operation – Canada wide for sure, but really focused on coffee & donuts. In the mid-90s it merged with Wendy’s, which main benefit was figuring out how to get hot meals into the pipeline. It was not viewed as a positive by the Canadian public. Early ’00s, Timmy’s overtook McDonalds as the fast food location of choice in Canada, split off from Wendy’s and owned 76% of baked goods and 63% of the coffee market. That’s damn big.

In 2009 Cold Stone Creamery (ice cream) was put into 50 stores. That shut down in 2014. The coffee chain continued to grow, and in 2014 was merged with Burger King, or more accurately an international conglomerate of faceless capitalists. By 2018, its reputation had fallen to 67th in terms of Canada’s most reputable companies.

Now you’re asking, what the heck does this have to do with anything? Well, it’s related to yesterday’s post about nostalgia and the feeling of friendship with a company.

Timmy’s grew on a very simple concept. Decent coffee and baked goods, served quickly, at an affordable price, and early in the morning to boot. There were certainly donut shops prior to this, as well as diners, but the sheer brand appeal of a consistent experience was the seller. I mean, that’s why brands exist in the first place, right? There aren’t too many non-franchised donut shops around, right?

The fast-food boom of the 90s was not lost on them, and the partnership with Wendy’s allowed them to integrate processes to quickly get food to customers. When I say quickly, I don’t mean the 5 minute wait at a burger joint. I mean 90sec and you are served and out. This mattered most at the drive through, where people were used to ordering, showing up at the window with all the items prepared, and simply paying. The time it took to process payment was the time it took to get food prepared for the next person. The logistics in this are impressive… but for another topic.

This worked for a very long time, as the choices made on what food items to serve fit within the service standards – at least for a while. The ice cream integration is a really good example of poor planning. DQ gives you ice cream cones in 20 seconds, soft-serve. SCC uses a mixing palette to get you ice cream, a process that takes 2-3 minutes per order. While the novelty was interesting at the start, it eventually caused massive queues in the stores that prevented the “coffee and donuts” folks from getting what they wanted. It also cost a pile to keep things cold and clean (it’s much more space than keeping things warm).

This experimental phase of adding and removing complex menu items kept going. A sandwich seems like an easy thing to manage, but when you have options and substitutes, things get complicated. The workers are doing an amazing job, given the area to work in, but it’s nearly as much effort to make a Timmys sandwich as a Subway version. At low demand, this is manageable. When someone orders 4 different sandwiches in one go… things buckle.

Further, the need to increase franchises means that the quality of ingredients has to suffer. It’s a matter of scaling… there is only so much AAA product available on the market after all. If you mix with AA or A level products, it’s still comestible but will costs WAY less. Price points are important in quick serve food joints, so those businesses need to work on volume with smaller margins to make a profit. Starbucks can sell a $9 coffee, and 4x slower speed of Tim Hortons $2 version.

The value of Tim Hortons was based on food quality, speed of delivery, and price point. As the menu and franchises expanded, the quality of the food suffered. As more complex menus abound, the speed of delivery suffered. As other companies started to offer alternative options for coffee, the price point itself became a debate. As a result, the opinion today of Tim Hortons a lot lower than it once was, and sales are down. They still do great work in the community (TimBits hockey is a sort of ritual passage), but as a company, the type of loyalty they used to command has long since moved on. There are no boycotts here… simply that people have seen alternative options that meet their needs and shopped elsewhere.

Which begs the question, would Tim Hortons have taken a different path if they opted not to enter the food market? Time travel is the only way to answer that one.

What does merit discussion is how this particular thought process, of growth for the bottom line impacted the client’s perspective of the company. They have moved from the conceptual mom and pop family friendly location to a cleaner corporate image. That has distanced people’s attachment to the company, and once trust is lost, it’s incredibly hard to regain. That particular nuance is something that we are clearly seeing in the AAA game space… Will Tim’s take a different approach here, with a return to a more customer focused experience, or stay with the corporate objectives? Will we see that in the video game industry?

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