Innovation Lessons for Event Planners from Tim Hortons

I landed in Dubai a few days ago to conduct a team building session for an executive team. We've been looking at innovation and strategies to transform businesses to confront the realities of succeeding in a turbulent economy. Alas, time was not on my side. With the presentation time cut shorter and shorter, I didn't get to share a number of the examples that I had prepared from the school of hard knocks. I'll share them in coming weeks. I firmly believe that event planning firms and other businesses can learn many valuable lessons from companies that succeed and those that run into challenges. Today, I'll tell you about a Canadian success story that is making headlines.

I was in Dubai in December but I didn't notice any Tim Hortons stores. They would have jumped out at me because Tim Hortons is a Canadian institution. I guess it's because the first Tim Hortons opened in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) only in September, 2011.

The presence of the franchise, that features affordable and fresh, coffee, donuts, bagels, soups and sandwiches, is clearly visible in the UAE market today.

Tim Hortons, a Canadian institution that is slowly going global, came from humble beginnings. In 1964, NHL hockey player "Tim" Horton started a donut shop in Hamilton, a small town in Ontario. It was to become a donut shop with a difference.

Tim's record on the ice was outstanding.

Toronto Maple Leafs in 1949 and performed as one of the steadiest defencemen on the blueline throughout his 22 years in the National Hockey League. He played in 1,446 regular season games, scoring 115 goals and 403 assists for a total of 518 points.

Tim Horton played on four Stanley Cup teams, was an All-Star player six times, and was honored in 1969 with the J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup in recognition of his outstanding service to the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club.

Tim Horton (1930 - 1974)

Tim's business achievements far outstripped anything he accomplished during his hockey career. The secret ingredients for the success of Tim Hortons include:

  • A franchising system through which a single donut shop has grown into an empire with 3000 restaurants across Canada and over 600 US locations. (It trades on the NYSE as THI
  • Product innovations such as Timbits, delicious, bite-sized round balls created by the "hole" in the donut.
  • Timbits Hockey, the minor hockey sponsorship program through which Tim Hortons gives back to the community, helps keep children's hockey affordable and, in the process, builds brand equity.
    Children all over Canada bore the Tim Hortons logo on the back of their hockey jerseys. Their parents viewed the Tim Hortons ads on the boards that surround hockey rinks.
  • Drive through windows so that Canadians don't have to get out of their cars on frosty winter mornings on the way to work or the hockey rink for children's early morning practices and games.
    It will be interesting to see if these are introduced in the UAE so that Emaratis and expats don't have to get out of their cars to purchase refreshments during the sweltering summer months.
  • Catchy advertising that capitalized on and at time poked fun at uniquely Canadian attributes including the "eh".
  • Contests like "roll up the rim to win" in which patrons could win the prizes tucked away under the rim of their paper coffee cups.

From Tim Hortons, meeting planners, conference organizers and owners of businesses large and small can learn the importance of product innovation, creative advertising and giving back to the community to boost brand equity. Many of the elements that have fueled the success of Tim Hortons can be incorporated into event marketing for conferences, business meetings and special events.

Tim Horton died in a car crash in 1974 but his legacy lives on and continues to teach important lessons for business success.

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