Envisioning Going International?


Four picture-perfect lessons learned about franchising in Canada.

By Josh Robinson

If your franchise is growing and you’re looking for opportunities beyond U.S. borders, Canada may be a natural next step. The U.S. and Canada have a lot in common, and economic relations are extensive and friendly. In fact, about half of all new retail businesses in Canada are franchises, so it is reasonable to expect Canadian consumers to welcome your brand.

For Pearle Vision, Canada presents a great opportunity. Pearle Vision currently operates about 60 EyeCare Centers throughout Canada and is in the process of expanding its footprint there because of the growing healthcare sector. In 2018, Canadians spent C$253.5 billion on healthcare, with about 2 percent on vision services, according to the Canadian Institute of Health Information. Just like the U.S., Canada has an aging population and, therefore, an aging workforce for whom clear vision is a priority.

You can’t just drive across the border and set up shop, however. Here are four lessons that Pearle Vision has learned through expanding the franchise opportunity in Canada:

LESSON 1 - Think Globally, Act Locally

You may think about expanding “throughout Canada,” but just as people in New York and California have different lifestyles, tastes and cultural preferences, so do residents of Toronto and Manitoba. They are not the same, and neither are their markets or communities.

Interestingly, in the U.S., investors interested in franchising might go to a large expo such as the International Franchise Expo (IFE) to scope out the variety of opportunities available to them, no matter where they are from. In Canada, it’s different. Pearle Vision franchise development directors have had strong response at the Canadian Franchise Association’s regional expos held in the various provinces throughout the year. So — in Canada, at least — you should attend regional events to recruit new franchisees.

LESSON 2 - Hire a Local Lawyer

This may seem obvious, but the laws are different in Canada. You’ll be subject to federal laws as well as the laws in each of the ten provinces. Canadian employment laws are different from those in the U.S., and they can vary by province also. Quebec could be especially challenging, as its legal system is unique in that contractual agreements are governed by civil law instead of common law.

Also, you can’t assume that U.S. documents will suffice across the border. You’ll need to file for trademark protection in Canada to protect your brand and brand assets. You also will need a Canadian Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) before you can offer a franchise to a candidate in some provinces. 

LESSON 3 - Speak the Language

Yes, most Canadians speak English. However, you will need to list financial data in Canadian dollars and convert any measurements, such as descriptions for products, signage or fixtures, into metric units. 

If you are expanding into Quebec, you also will have to translate some documents into French. Unlike the rest of Canada, the Quebec province comprises mostly French-speaking residents. The provincial law dictates that signs and advertising must be either printed entirely in French or feature the French translation prominently.

LESSON 4 - Do Your Research

Canada presented a perfect area for Pearle Vision to expand its brand. The healthcare market is strong and expected to grow in that country.

However, the Canadian market may be vastly different, or not exist at all, for some other consumer goods and services because of differences in culture or taste. Before you begin franchising in an international market, you should invest in research and spend time in the areas that you are considering. You can learn quite a bit using data already available online. It also is helpful to conduct focus groups and talk to the people who live there. Find out what they buy and how their lives and homes are similar to those of your customers in the U.S. and how they are different. This may take some extra time, but it will be immensely valuable because it will allow you to make a fully informed decision about whether the market is right for your brand.

International expansion offers exciting opportunities for franchise growth, but you have to approach it much as you would an entirely new business venture to ensure success. Do your market research and make sure you have all of the paperwork in order and that you are following local laws. Hire local experts and recruit franchise owners who know the area. And finally, trust them to guide you as you move toward expanding your brand internationally.

Josh Robinson is vice president of licensing & development of Pearle Vision and is responsible for defining and developing business strategies to grow the Pearle Vision franchise system. Learn more about Pearle Vision here.