Opinion Column

In Pursuit of Brand Status

Opportunity is knocking

Opportunity is knocking

The insecurity of acne-ridden youth is oddly reflected in generations many years their senior and it’s creating an environment that is eerily akin to the hallways of junior high. It’s not that we are stuck on who’s sporting a shiny new pair of Nike Airs or the latest name brand apparel that signify that they are among the trendy “it” crowd. However, when community leaders discuss what will get people to notice us the discussion soon involves the name brand franchises that they feel will raise our profile to a whole new level.
Unfortunately, our obsession with name brands as a status symbol to our peers never truly goes away. In the 1980’s, the enterprise on everyone’s minds was McDonald’s. “If we can only get a McDonald’s on our main street, then we’ll really be a major player for miles around.” Sure, some communities found success with that and the famous golden arches appear in communities of less than 5,000 people in some parts of Manitoba. But did it result in the defining identity that those locales so desperately sought?
The next brand on everyone’s mind was Walmart. Now, the hot button on every town’s radar is Tim Horton’s. When you talk to some of the economic development professionals and their respective boards and councils, it seems like everyone in the province is striving for that national coffee franchise as the cornerstone of their business district. But just like the pretty girl in school with whom everyone was dying to date, Tim Horton’s isn’t saying yes to just anybody – they can be selective with their suitors. Call them up and tell them you’d like to open a franchise – here’s what you’ll get: “You don’t tell us where you want us, we’ll tell you.”
Ah, but there is a fickle flipside to achieving this status as a site that is home to national brands isn’t there?
We see the divisiveness of Walmart here in Portage la Prairie, don’t we? Among our citizens, ardent supporters of local business declare that they refuse to shop at Walmart because it doesn’t raise our profile, but instead it kills the mom and pop shops on Saskatchewan Ave. Others feel the need to justify that they do spend their money in this national chain store that is supposed to represent that we are among an exclusive few centres in the province to have this amenity. So being situated locally doesn’t make you “local”.
Let’s think about what happens if we don’t support the ‘super center’ which has expanded to meet the anticipated growth in their market share? We are seeing frightening trends across the country with numerous familiar brands. Most recently, Sears announced challenges which will result in store closures in western Canada. Here, we have already seen Reitman’s withdraw, Safeway pull out, word on the street speaks of another large chain being soon to follow suit.
Is the future of Portage la Prairie hitched to our interest and ability to attract national chains? Are we fully prepared for the time and investment that will require? Are we aware of the impact on those local entrepreneurs that have invested so much of themselves and their own money to create a prosperous future for themselves and their families here?
Certainly, offering some familiar logos on the billboards to attract visitors into town is a draw.  But what truly makes one town stand out from another? I can speak from direct experience on this topic that when you are a frequent traveler you do reach a point where the last sign you want to see is that familiar franchise – especially for dining options. I have remembered and re-visited towns specifically for their one-of-a-kind cuisine. We don’t set ourselves apart from our neighbors by having the most national chains on our main street. Instead, we create our unique identity by presenting a successful business district filled with home-grown entrepreneurs that appear to be thriving. Those one of a kind shops and experiences are what people will be talking about when they think about Portage la Prairie. Though I often hear laments of the restaurant and bar options that people would like to see, we have to admit that we have some pretty stellar venues for a meal that should be the envy of the neighbors. And yes, there is room for more.
Let’s focus our energy on entrepreneurship and building our own Portage la Prairie brand from the ground up. Guess what, not only will local business grow and flourish, but we may just find that we are the ones being pursued for opportunities and not the other way around. You’re never sexier than when you’re seen in a committed relationship. Let’s focus our attention on the partners we have at present and let growth happen organically. I can assure you, there isn’t one single brand out there anywhere that will accomplish that for us otherwise.
Opportunity is knocking in the Portage region so let’s answer the door. You can find me in the office at 800 Saskatchewan Avenue West, reach me by e-mail at vmay@plprecd.ca, call me at 204-856-5000. Be sure to keep up with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PLPRED.

By Vern May

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