Growing your Franchise from Canada to the United States


The Canadians are coming, eh? Yes, and they’re planning to stay!

By Ryan Smolkin

Canada is known for its love of hockey, a hearty population that can put up with extremely cold winters, a pervasive interest in culture and undoubtedly, entrepreneurism. It has long been the first choice for international expansion for many U.S. franchisors. Additionally, during the last decade, several Canadian companies have begun expanding in the United States, successfully connecting with American consumers due to strong branding, marketing and development strategies. 

Although translating a brand from Canada to the United States brings a host of different customs, regulations and culture, multiple companies are starting to establish their U.S. presence. Several colorful brands including Tim Horton’s, Pizza Pizza, Canadian Tire and Smoke’s Poutinerie, which have gained a strong following in Canada, are now translating that brand loyalty to U.S. audiences. 

Through striking brand images, American audiences have begun to develop a stronger understanding of the Canadian identity. Canadian franchisors have leveraged their unique branding to help tailor their franchise development strategies. American entrepreneurs around the country are drawn to these iconic images and the unique franchise opportunities they offer.

Here are six key points to keep in mind if you’re considering franchising your Canadian concept in the United States.

Create an iconic brand image and find your authentic voice

Think about the most iconic brands that are translatable to all cultures and languages. Some companies that come to mind are Apple, Google, IKEA and Ralph Lauren. These brands are successful for a variety of reasons, the most noticeable is their strong identity. A striking image positioned as the root of your company can help translate your brand for many cultures and serves as a memorable icon. 

For example, the branding for Smoke’s Poutinerie revolves around a legendary character, Smoke, a recluse living near the Quebec border who is stuck in the 1980s, only wears red plaid and loves classic rock music. Smoke connects with consumers because he embodies Canadiana culture. There’s a little bit of Smoke living in all of us – Canadian or not. Consumers can find themselves in the brand, or find themselves amazed and entertained.

Zero in on your demographic

While Canadian and American consumers have similarities, it’s important to identify your target demographic in the United States. Once you’ve found your ideal customer, focus your brand with a white-hot intensity that appeals to them specifically. 

For example, that could mean putting U.S. locations in markets and venues that draw a crowd from lunchtime through late night, and between the ages of 18 and 35. You don’t have to market to the masses; find your demographic in new markets and embrace it. 

Harness the power of social media by leveraging your following in Canada

Brands that have already established a Canadian following can use those fans to help spread their message about U.S. expansion. Their loyal fans can be some of the best brand representatives for word-of-mouth popularity to friends and family in the United States.

For example, Tim Horton’s, founded by the Canadian hockey legend of the same name,  has more than 2 million Facebook fans. The company is rapidly opening new stores in the United States and increasing its U.S. distribution of retail products. Nearly every post on Tim Horton’s Facebook page receives dozens of comments from American and Canadian consumers who worship the brand. These fans are the best and most loyal brand ambassadors a company can get.

Recognize where you need to make modifications

There are some Canadian preferences that will not translate to American audiences. This includes menu items, messaging and brand design. It’s important to consider making small tweaks to your product, either using ingredients or materials your key demographic will recognize and respond well to, or simply revising the content to be more familiar and branding to appeal to American consumers at large.

For example, Americans are used to loaded fries, cheese fries and Coney fries, but are not quite as familiar with poutine, which is essentially the same thing. The way to market to Americans will be different based on their experience and awareness of your particular product.

Be aware of regulatory differences

Franchise disclosure documents and franchise law, in general, are similar between Canada and the United States, but it’s always important to read the fine print. Canadian franchisors must adapt their concepts to meet U.S. regulations. Without a clear understanding of the laws, franchisors put themselves at risk of failure.

Additionally, be sure you’re surrounding yourself with smart and savvy insiders who understand local regulations, culture and customs. Rely on your trusted team members and consultants for their expertise in international business.

Don’t be afraid to go big

Lastly, it’s important to be confident in yourself and your brand. We are Canadian, hear us roar! Canadian brands are dynamic, loud, boisterous, and we’re coming to you. Don’t be afraid to make a statement with your brand, product or marketing. You are unique and it’s time to show other North Americans what you’re all about.

Maximizing Impact at Tradeshows

Most franchise development strategies include participating in the top trade shows for your industry. These conferences and trade shows offer an opportunity to showcase your influence, meet potential franchisees and vendors and tout your brand. Our tradeshow strategy includes about five shows a year in a variety of industries including franchising, restaurants and entertainment. 

Many tradeshow participants may choose a normal-sized booth and regular display, but we advocate “going big.” Big impact yields big returns. We recently showcased in New York at the International Franchise Expo. Our booth took up six spaces. We turned the conference room into a replica of our global headquarters with huge couches and posters while we blasted music from the 1980s. We also had members of our street team outside the conference center passing out free poutine from our food truck all weekend. This attention to detail and “larger than life” image helped seal the deal for multiple franchise inquiries and potential deals for us that weekend.

Ryan Smolkin is founder and CEO of Smoke’s Poutinerie. Find him at