Ottawa’s Giant Tiger eyes expansion, revamp

For 55 years, Giant Tiger’s smiling feline mascot has beckoned shoppers in small towns and those driving up to the cottage.

But after years of operating under the radar amid intense competition against rivals like Walmart and the now defunct Target Canada, the company is setting its sights on becoming a household name.

The Ottawa-based retailer, with its trademark yellow branding, currently operates 220 stores and has a goal of opening 10 to 15 new stores every year for the next three to five years.

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The company also has plans to revamp the design of its locations and increase its product offerings in order to build a better shopping experience. Growing its e-commerce business has also been a top priority.

Selling everything from groceries to big-screen TVs, the national discount chain credits the key to its survival and more importantly, its success over the last half-century, to delivering value to shoppers in the know.

“Giant Tiger is Canada’s best-kept secret,” touts Thomas Haig, president and chief operating officer at the privately-owned company.

But in growing its footprint, Mr. Haig says it will not lose sight of what has kept it sitting pretty: its local franchise owners who know their customers and knows what works for their specific community.

“These store managers live in the area, (have) lived there for several years and understand the clientele and understand the needs and wants of the community,” he said.

For instance, some locations carry hunting and cottage supplies if they’re serving rural areas, while others may sell medical uniforms if they’re close to a hospital.

As part of its expansion, the company says it’s looking for sites between 18,000 to 25,000 square feet in communities where there’s demand for Giant Tiger – including areas where there’s already a location.

Recent openings have included stores in Bathurst, N.B., Sudbury and Wetaskiwin, Alta. The company also recently announced a new store in Peterborough, scheduled to open next April.

For the past few years, Giant Tiger has been working on transforming its sleepy image in order to stay relevant to customers who want one-stop shopping for household items and groceries.

One of the biggest priorities the company has is the task of reorganizing store layouts so customers can navigate faster and easier as opposed to rivals who operate warehouse-sized locations that force customers to walk around aimlessly.

“(Our customers) are looking for a simplified shopping experience,” says Karen Sterling, vice-president of marketing at Giant Tiger.

Their target customer continues to be women between 30 to 55 years old, with two kids, who are the “CFO (chief financial officer)” of their families and looking for value from their purchases.

Ms. Sterling says their customers’ time constraints have also motivated the company to include more product selection, so a weekly shop for toilet paper, frozen pizza, workout clothes or back-to-school supplies can all be done under one roof.

“The smaller store size is a competitive advantage,” she said.

Along with updating its store look, the company has also been increasing its e-commerce presence. It currently has about 6,000 products online, with the option of shipping some of them to home or a local store for pickup.

Retail analyst Sandy Silva, who is with market research firm NPD Group, says part of Giant Tiger’s success comes from customers who like the idea of supporting a Canadian business.

But where the company can really make its mark is how it proceeds with online shopping.

Ms. Silva noted that some challenges for the retailer will be meeting expectations when it comes to home delivery times and product availability because the majority of their customers live in rural areas.

“E-commerce is going to be crucial to them,” she said.


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