Canadian Plastics

Canada is a unique market and U.S. firms need to keep that in mind if they want to keep Canadian business

By Tom Venetis, editor   



Some years back, I interviewed the president of a major U.S. firm that had decided to re-open its Canadian offices (about a year earlier it had shut those offices down). The reasoning for shutting dow...

Some years back, I interviewed the president of a major U.S. firm that had decided to re-open its Canadian offices (about a year earlier it had shut those offices down). The reasoning for shutting down the Canadian operations were the usual ones businesses give: it saved money, brought greater efficiencies by centralizing operations and having a single business message across North America. So why re-open the Canadian operations?

The president was blunt: Instead of seeing greater profits by shutting down the Canadian offices the company lost business — lots of business. The company slipped behind its closest competitor, watched its marketshare shrink and got an earful of complaints from its Canadian customers. The president learned Canadians want and demand to deal with Canadians, even if the company is based in the U.S. By shutting down its Canadian offices, the company was sending a message, unintended as it might have been, that it did not care about its Canadian customers, certainly not enough to bother having Canadian support staff and services.

Canadian plastics processors often suffer from the same issue: too often large U.S.-based suppliers of equipment, resins and other materials tend to treat some Canadian processors as a secondary concern, simply an extension of the customer base in the United States. These companies have no Canadian offices, no local support staff, or product materials and services geared to Canadian processors. It’s astonishing the number of times I’ve tried to reach a Canadian representative of a company only to be given a phone number to a U.S. office, or to have seen advertising and support materials given to Canadians but clearly geared to U.S. customers.

But these companies are making a mistake by thinking of Canada and Canadian plastics processors as extensions of the American market.

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The Canadian market in many ways is different from the American market and Canadian plastics processors’ concerns are often of a different sort than those in the U.S. One only needs to think of how different the market is in Quebec than from the rest of Canada, or how the western Canadian market differs from Ontario and British Columbia. U.S. companies supplying Canadians need to understand this if they wish to have successful, long-term relationships with Canadian customers.

The same goes for advertising, and service and support materials. Canadian customers want to see information and support materials reflect the realities and issues of the Canadian marketplace. Canadians want to see Canadian-geared ads in Canadian publications with ways of reaching Canadian representatives or anyone for that matter who understands their concerns and issues. A recent survey I came across found those in charge of making major business purchasing decisions for Canadian companies relied on information gleaned from specialized business publications — a whopping 69 per cent! A 1-800 number to a harried switchboard operator is not going to generate increased sales or long-term relationships with Canadian plastics processors if they do not see that business objectively reported on in a Canadian business publication or see advertising for Canadians.

With the plastics market now under increasing pressure from foreign competition and price pressures, U.S. suppliers have to start really making an effort to better reach out and understand the needs and concerns of Canadian processors. By doing so, it becomes a win-win situation for everyone: the suppliers build long-term and profitable relationships with its Canadian processors, and Canadian processors can feel they have a committed partner who they can rely on to tackle the difficult times ahead.

Tom Venetis, editor

e-mail: tvenetis@canplastics.com

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