It’s not often you hear the words “Canadian Tire” and “interactive innovation hub” uttered in the same sentence.

That is, until today.

Canadian Tire, one of the country’s most recognized brands, has joined Communitech, a national leader in tech innovation and entrepreneurship, in an ambitious effort to update the popular retailer’s relationship with its customers.

The 91-year-old company has traditionally been associated with its colourful paper currency, alluring power-tool selection and the rubbery aroma of its stores – but it also owns the most-visited retail website in Canada, issues a widely read e-flyer and has a well-used mobile app.

By connecting with Waterloo Region’s innovative ecosystem via the Communitech Hub, Canadian Tire aims to aggressively expand on these efforts by “leapfrogging to the forefront of digital retail” through new technology in its operations and marketing activities, the company said.

“We are thinking about technology differently,” said Marco Marrone, chief operating officer for Canadian Tire Retail. “Retail is complex and competitive and we are leveraging technology to change the way customers interact with our staff, with our stores and with our brand.”

Communitech, Marrone said, “gives Canadian Tire access to experts and solutions that we could not develop independently, and the potential for our business being part of an interactive innovation hub is exciting.”

The Communitech Hub, housed in Kitchener’s former Lang Tannery, is a teeming 44,000-square-foot space where startup entrepreneurs, university incubators, the HYPERDRIVE accelerator, large multinational companies, service providers and mentors collaborate to commercialize innovation.

Canadian Tire has taken up space in the Hub’s open Concourse area, near those occupied by other iconic brands, including BlackBerry and Google.

Communitech CEO Iain Klugman said the arrival of such a venerable retailer as Canadian Tire in the Hub is a powerful reminder that innovation isn’t just for high-tech companies.

“For one of the country’s oldest and best-known brands to embrace leading-edge innovation so enthusiastically is really exciting, and we’re honoured to be involved,” Klugman said. “Today is a great day for Canadian Tire and for Communitech.”

Canadian Tire will be looking specifically at technologies “that draw customers to the store and enhance their experience once they walk through the door.”

The company is also looking to become more agile and collaborative in how it deploys technology to maximum advantage, Marrone said.

“Where we used to focus on massive technology builds that took months, if not years, we’re now moving from development to implementation in sprints we measure in days and weeks,” he said.

Among new additions to its tech toolbox will be the Canadian Way, a new digital portal to showcase Canadian Tire’s massive assortment of products. The portal will include customer testimonials, videos and stories collected from the company’s social channels, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The company is also rolling out “fast find” technology to help store workers find items quickly, and deploying 7,000 “super tablets” to give staff information to help answer customers’ questions.

Canadian Tire Corporation is a family of companies that extends well beyond Canadian Tire retail stores to include Partsource, Gas+, FGL Sports (Sport Chek, Hockey Experts, Sports Experts, National Sports, Intersport and Atmosphere), Mark’s, and Canadian Tire Financial Services.

CTC has more than 1,700 retail and gasoline outlets across the country and employs more than 85,000 people.

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.