Tim Horton’s: Honey-Glazed Competition

Here’s an little story, from my local newspaper, with a nifty little message about fair play in business:

Tim Hortons founder still loyal to the brand

The story is an interview with Ron Joyce, the now-retired founder of Canada’s much-beloved, and ubiquitous, coffee-and-donut chain, “Tim Horton’s”. (How ubiquitous? It’s got more than 2,500 outlets in Canada, twice as many as McDonald’s does. And it accounts for over 60% of the Canadian coffee market, compared to Starbucks’ measly 7%.) The chain is referred to colloquially as “Tim’s” or “Timmy’s,” and as coffee chains go, Tim’s is the anti-Starbucks. Plain decor; few specialty drinks; and they still call a large coffee “a large coffee.” No half-decaf grande mochas at Tim’s.
(Personal note: their coffee is actually awful, but folks swear by it. Their maple glazed donuts and apple fritters kick butt, though.)

The interesting part of the story, from a business ethics point of view, is this snippet, about a franchise that didn’t open in one small Nova Scotia town:

…there was a local man who applied for a Tim’s franchise several times but was repeatedly turned down by the company.
In frustration, he went to the competition and won a Robin’s Donuts franchise and set up shop just outside the village.
Business boomed.
It was shortly after that Joyce heard Tim Hortons became interested in the location and actually acquired property for a store in the centre of the village. Although he was no longer with the company, having sold out to Wendy’s for $250 million years earlier, he made a call to friends still inside the business and got the location killed.
He said it would be really unfair for the chain to open a store and take business away from a guy who had tried so hard to be part of the Tim Hortons family.

So — for you skeptics — here is one instance, at least, in which a huge chain, a multi-million dollar corporation, consciously chose not to pursue a profitable business opportunity, on grounds of fairness. (Note: though there’s no date attached to this anecdote, it’s almost certainly from the time when Tim’s was privately owned, and didn’t have shareholders to answer to: it was just this year that the company sold shares publicly for the first time.)
Not that Tim Horton’s hasn’t done the usual big-chain thing, driving lots of independent coffee/donut shops out of business. Tim’s was, and is, a tough competitor:

Joyce quickly adds that it is his belief that Tim’s has never actually put anyone out of business. Businesses only go bankrupt when owners don’t give the customer what they want, he said. And that message applies to businesses competing with Wal-Mart as much as it does for people competing against Tim Hortons.

Fair enough!


(Thanks to Nicole for passing this story along.)

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