Canadian Tire CEO who 'cancelled' e-commerce strategy aims for reboot

TORONTO – After being away from the top job at Canadian Tire for nearly two years, CEO Stephen Wetmore is back with a mandate of making the national retailer a powerful force in e-commerce.

In his first public comments since his return, Wetmore said Canadian Tire is currently working on 30 different initiatives — from improving search engine optimization to website experience — in a bid to vastly improve its competitiveness in the digital retail space.

“Like every legacy bricks-and-mortar retailer — timing and approach are critical because these initiatives are complex and reach across many different aspects of the business,” he told analysts during a lengthy 70-minute call Thursday.

“I have no intention of asking the organization to beat Amazon on an innovation play. I’m not into investing in drones.”

Instead, Canadian Tire is taking steps to test out how it can personalize the shopping experience for customers on a one-on-one basis, as opposed to the mass marketing it used to do with television and radio advertisements, Wetmore said.

The company is set to test out same-day delivery under its Sport Chek banner in the Greater Toronto Area in the fall, and in the past few years, the sporting goods retailer has been replacing its traditional paper flyers with digital options.

Wetmore noted the irony that he was the one who “cancelled” Canadian Tire’s e-commerce strategy in 2009 because the company was not adequately prepared. But this time, he says, it’s different.

“I have every confidence that we’re on the right track now and that we’re moving at the right pace for the enterprise to be successful in the mid- to long-term,” he said.

Wetmore, who is also president at Canadian Tire (TSX:CTC.A), replaced former CEO Michael Medline in a surprising executive shakeup three weeks ago. Medline had only been in the role since 2014, when Wetmore stepped down to join the company’s board of directors.

On Thursday, the Toronto-based company reported net income of $199 million or $2.46 per share compared to $186.2 million or $2.15 per share in the second quarter of 2015.

Overall revenue was $3.98 billion, up from $3.86 billion in the same period a year earlier.

Canadian Tire said same-store sales, an important metric in retail that accounts for sales at stores open for at least a year, increased in all of its core banners for the period ending July 2. Sales were up 2.9 per cent at Canadian Tire, 7.2 per cent at Sport Chek and 4.6 per cent at Mark’s.

The company, which was founded in 1922, also owns various other retail banners including Hockey Experts and Sports Experts, and also operates a financial services division, a real estate arm and nearly 1,700 gas outlets.

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