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Marketing Magazine
December 2, 2002

Excerpt from ….Turning Up a Winner?
By Sarah Dobson

Country Style, for many years an also-ran in the donut sweepstakes, is now firing on all cylinders with aggressive new promotions

With its troubled history, Country Style Food Services is a Canadian chain in need of a rescuer with a "save the world" attitude.

It's a tall order, but Patrick Gibbons is rooting to be just such a hero. He landed at the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based chain as president just over a year ago, ready for a challenge. And he was not disappointed. After 40 years in business, Country Style has suffered from stale food offerings, tired interiors and stores still standing well beyond their expiry date. Once a leader in the Canadian coffee-and-donut concept, the chain has fallen to a very distant number two behind-you guessed it-Tim Hortons.

As for the changes Gibbons has put in place over the past year, industry analysts like what they see so far, but are cautious. Any kind of awareness generated around the brand is a good idea if at the same time it also generates traffic, says Neville Pokroy, president of Stantech Marketing, a marketing consulting company in Vaughan, Ont. But he does caution Country Style against overspending on its promotions with hopes of increasing market share.

And while Country Style says it was the first to run a cup promotion decades ago, the perception in the marketplace is what counts, says Pokroy. "Tim Hortons has done it a lot more successfully and with a much higher profile. At the end of the day, they're going to own that property, and it really does make Country Style look like a copycat, and a bit tired."

In fact, Pokroy says he wouldn't be surprised if consumers "fleetingly" hear of the "Turn Up a Winner" promotion and assume it's for Tim Hortons. "That's the biggest danger," he says. "People are so bombarded by advertising messages, they don't always pick up on the fine detail. For the majority of Canadian coffee drinkers who go into retail stores, that's a Tim Hortons promotion. To run a promotion that's as similar as that, to me, is not a good marketing strategy."

Cathy Whelan-Molly, vice-president of advertising and merchandising at Tim Hortons, agrees that consumer perception of promotions is an important factor. "That's where it does get a little cloudy and we have to make sure we communicate that as effectively as we can," she says. "If you look at what we're doing, it's a lot different than our competitors." Tim Hortons watches the competition to see what they are doing, not to copy what they are doing, she says, adding that "Roll Up the Rim to Win" is an actual contest with value prizes as opposed to discounts.

Gibbons says "Turn Up a Winner" has been an annual event for 20-odd years. "I know people think we're copying when in fact we're the originators of the (cup) promotion, but it's so long ago, people forget that."

There's only so much you can do, he adds. "You tend to need to use the cup as a vehicle to communicate the offering."

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