Canada’s Technology Retail Giant Shows That It Pays To Be Nimble

The Source
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

The Source is Canada’s largest technology retailer, a stalwart of the country’s shopping centres for over four decades. Its secret is to evolve and adapt with lightning speed as technology makes leap after leap, but never to sacrifice service or expertise.

The Source is not just a vital part of many of its customers’ lives; it’s also regarded with awe by its competitors for the way it has evolved in terms of its name and ownership, its offerings, its market footprint, and its ability to remain relevant as a technology retailer. All this when so many traditional retailers have buckled beneath the costs of brick and mortar operations, or have moved entirely to e-commerce platforms.

The Source has managed to make a success of both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce: remaining rooted in shopping centres across the country, while also growing and sharpening up its online presence and the connectivity between its e-commerce platform and in-store experience.

Many people can recall the early days when the company operated under the name Radio Shack. At the time, it was a place for technology hobbyists to find components they needed for their own projects. It remains a go-to for these consumers, but now offers so much more.

In 2005, the company was acquired by Circuit City and rebranded as The Source. At the time, it carried exclusively Rogers and some other telecommunications brands, while today, under the leadership of Bell Canada Enterprises since 2009, it carries Bell branded products and is well equipped to support a customer’s entire technology ecosystem.

“That was a real turning point for the organization,” explains Claire Gillies, President of The Source. “We introduced all of the Bell services to the company, but of course we wanted to maintain what was important in the community and that was carrying the latest and most popular technology brands, being trusted and recognized in the local community.”

Covering Canada
While some things have changed at The Source, others have remained the same: customers can expect the same high standard of experience in customer service, technical knowledge and support regardless of which location they enter.

With 400 stores nationwide, both corporate stores and dealer relationships, and 3000 employees across that footprint, The Source’s influence and reach is expansive, and is jealously guarded.

The Source is a trusted resource that customers in Canada, with varying degrees of technological knowledge, address with queries ranging from the simplest to the most incredibly complex. Of necessity, and for the satisfaction of everyone involved, the layers of support it offers go far beyond simple face-to-face customer-associate interaction.

Headlong into the future
While the rapid transformation of technology is certainly a main focus of the company, it also poses a mighty challenge – especially from a product and expertise standpoint – and staying ahead of the headlong pace of change is a massive task, although an exhilarating one.

“Unlike many other retail industries, our products are reinventing themselves each and every day, both the hardware and the software that we carry,” is the way Gillies describes it. This is also true of the systems that the company employs across its national footprint.

To better manage operations, The Source has invested in the implementing of strong systems and technology, “to reach the consumer, to support our over 3000 employees across the country. We think about technology and data in everything the company is doing,” says Gillies.

“With so much access to information, and customers being more informed than ever, we have to make sure we have the right tools because no associate, based on sheer memory alone, can provide the right information to the customer.”

Ecosystems come home
As Gillies points out – and it’s worth repeating – a pillar of The Source’s strength is its ability to stay up to date with current technology trends and offer relevant and exciting product categories. Gillies says, “We have to have the products that people want today and the products that they are thinking about for the future. We also have to look at what they’re buying as well as what’s emerging in the tech space.”

Take, for instance, the smart home ecosystem. The Source is continually expanding its offerings in this category, both in-store and online, and stages full-blown product demonstrations to educate both associates and customers on products and connectivity solutions, and how they combine as components of a greater home ecosystem.

The market is no longer dominated by single-use products and single-function devices. Rather, the technology, the devices and even the infrastructure upon which they all depend are all component parts of interconnected technology ecosystems – ecosystems that range across brand and product lines.

For instance, consumers can rely on their Alexa device to perform tasks like controlling the lighting functions in their homes. Likewise, their Samsung phones can control their Sonos speakers, all of which depends on the connectivity offered by the internet service provider, connectivity which was previously unimagined.

The Source understands this interconnectedness and what it takes for technology to function optimally. Just as the technology ecosystems it supports are complex, so too are its interactions with customers and its partners in the market; relationships which are also deeply interconnected.

Partner power
In delivering an unmatched customer experience, Gillies could not say enough about The Source’s partners, both vendor and technology partners. “In this day and age, the partnerships and the relationships that you have in your business are critical to your success – the partners who have your goals and your vision and work alongside you and your organization.”

With a couple of the year’s most highly-anticipated retail holidays around the corner, Black Friday and Cyber Monday – the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season – The Source is preparing to make the most of this peak sales period, working with its partners to deliver the latest and greatest products and technology.

During the fourth quarter, consumer electronics will do forty percent of its annual business, which naturally takes up much of the retailer’s attention as the time draws near. “We focus all year long getting ready for that event,” Gillies says, mentioning enhancements to product categories, improving the appearance of its stores, as well as refining the technology and systems upon which the seasonal effort relies.

According to Gillies, “One of the things we work very closely with our vendor partners on is ensuring we have some offers that are unique and differentiated from the competition. So it’s not just the product mix, but the offers that customers feel will provide them with a great deal.”

Another factor in maintaining the trust of its customers is The Source’s determination to deliver the precise products and solutions that its customers need, and always provide the advice and expertise they rely on. This can mean resources like the extended aisle, where customers can rely on home or in-store shipping when a product isn’t available in their particular location, or the dedicated call centre, which provides instant expert support to an associate when an extremely complex issue might go beyond the scope of the associate’s knowledge.

Teams and tech
One of the reasons for the company’s continued success as a retailer is its team. By hiring strong candidates that fit the company culture, the opportunities are endless for both the associates and the company. For Gillies, “When you hire the right people, they have this tremendous pride: pride in how they serve their customers, pride in how the store looks, pride in what they do.”

She also notes that “ongoing maintenance and touch points for the team,” play a role in the company’s continued success, in addition to well-established and clearly defined standards, planograms, and employee expectations. “What is expected each day from our store managers with respect to coaching – it really comes through,” notes Gillies, and results in “having the right people that want to rise to set that standard and even exceed that standard at times.”

Quality candidates are thus attracted to the culture of success that has been created at The Source, as well as the opportunity to stay abreast of the rapid technological advances taking place in the industry. Employees can take advantage of exciting product developments as they hit the market, which is great for those with a passion for technology. As Gillies says, “They get to experience technology firsthand and be at the leading edge of product testing.”

Indeed, employees of The Source get to be a part of something bigger than their jobs; they get to impart positive change to the communities they call home, through efforts that go beyond the walls of the store, such as the brand’s continued philanthropic commitment to organization like Kids Help Phone.

The next move
When asked about what the future holds for The Source in a turbulent market where the retail landscape has markedly changed, Gillies responds, “If you ask any retailer right now, the goal is to survive the fourth-quarter,” including the holiday shopping events which they spend the entire year preparing for.

Everything The Source does is to reinforce its position as the largest retailer in the consumer technology market in Canada, but, nevertheless, being the largest isn’t enough: the company wants to earn the unchallenged reputation of being the country’s preferred consumer technology retailer.

“It’s one thing to be large, but it’s another thing to be loved – and to ensure that we are that helpful advisor in your local community who ensures that you are getting the most out of your technology, and out of the ecosystems that help you with your work and your life,” says Gillies.

Which is exactly what The Source has done, is doing, and looks set to do for decades to come.

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