Innovate or Die: Empire Club Talk with Canadian Tire's Michael Medline



By Manny Alamwala

The Canadian Tire Corporation is a Canadian retail legend. It has survived the ups and downs that economy has thrown at the retail industry in the past 70+ years; recessions, international competition, digital revolution. As the old adage goes, the only thing harder than getting to the top is staying at the top. This is what current CEO and Canadian Tire veteran, Michael Medline, knows all too well. We have seen it too often with companies at the top of their game, only to a note in history books (example: the great Canadian retailer Eaton’s).

On October 14, 2015, Michael Medline delivered a talk at the Empire Club of Canada around the theme “Innovate or Die”.  At the end of the talk he made a bold statement of Canadian Tire’s new vision:

"To be the most innovative retailer on the planet."

It is no secret that Mr. Medline is a great advocate for pushing innovation, which can be seen by massive changes that have occurred at Canadian Tire and all its brand in the last 3 years: $300 million investment towards digital, creating tech labs all over Canada (especially in the tech hub of Waterloo).  He noted the investment will only continue in the next 3 years as Canadian Tire pushes to lead instead of follow.  The investments are starting to show outstanding results which is positively affecting the bottom-line:

  • Digitally enhanced customer experiences at Sport Chek flagship locations,
  • Moving Sport Check to a completely digital flyer,
  • 140,000 sq ft interactive showcase Canadian Tire flagship store in Edmonton,
  • Digital loyalty program with 8 million members,
  • Click and collect,
  • Enhanced eCommerce site,
  • First retailer in Canada to have an innovation lab.

Innovation is about disrupting business models and finding new ways to delight customers, Mr. Medline highlighted 3 things innovative companies do well:

  1. Leapfrog the competition: If retailers in Canada play catch-up, they will get crushed. Being a follower is too slow in the fast changing world of retail today. Mr. Medline mentioned that the CTO is just as important as the CFO.
  2. Play your own game: Take advantage of your own competitive advantage instead of looking at others. Just because Amazon is testing drones, doesn’t mean that Canadian Tire will be jumping on that as well.  Leverage your own assets.
  3. Dream big, act old: If your vision is not called a little crazy, you’re not trying hard enough.

Michael Jordan missed thousands of shots, missed, failed and that is why he succeeds.  Retailers must be willing to take a lot of ‘shots’ to win.  Stepping out of the comfort zone and taking risks is the only way innovation will happen.

Mr. Medline is not scared of the future, but rather embraces it and takes control of it.  Brick and mortar stores are here to stay, retailers must not look at eCommerce as a threat, but as an opportunity. The shift in consumer behaviours is creating an exciting environment for retailers to rethink how people interact with brands and the store.  Mr. Medline believes in the Canadian tech scene and sees Canada as an innovation force to be recognized globally. With that, he put out a challenge to all Canadian retailers to bring their A-game because Canadian Tire will be making bold moves in the near future to be the “most innovative retailer on the planet.”

Manny Alamwala has retail in his blood with 10+ years of experience from the sales floor to the corporate office.  He is the founder of, which provides stylish men’s accessories at affordable prices for Canadians.  Manny is on a path to be a change leader in the retail industry by embracing, implementing and utilizing technology.


Canadian Retail News From Around The Web: October 16, 2015