Half a century at Canadian Tire

Jim Marshall has spent his entire career with one company in Newfoundland

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on June 10, 2013

Jim Marshall started working with Canadian Tire sweeping floors and putting together bicycles. That was 50 years ago. Today, he owns the Canadian Tire franchise on Elizabeth Avenue - having spent his entire career with the company. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

 

If the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary had gotten back to him sooner, Jim Marshall might be marking several decades as a police officer.

As it stands Marshall, 67, celebrates 50 years this month of working for Canadian Tire in Newfoundland.

"I had applied for the RNC out of school. Of course there was a waiting list there," said Marshall - the owner of the Elizabeth Avenue location - so he started his retail career in the meantime.

By the time the RNC came calling - two years later - he'd discovered a passion and an aptitude for selling hardware, and has worked for the same company on the island ever since.

"I was really enjoying what I was doing and I saw a lot of opportunity there," he said.

One of 10 children in his family, Marshall got a job because there wasn't much money for he and his siblings to go to university. He met the owner of his first Canadian Tire at a church camp, so when he finished high school, he went to work.

"I have not spent one day unemployed in my life. I don't know if that's a big thing or not. To me, it doesn't mean a whole lot, but everyone says they can't believe it," he said.

Marshall has outlasted entire Canadian Tire outlets, including some he helped open.

He started working at a Canadian Tire outlet at the corner of Elizabeth Avenue and Portugal Cove Road in June 1963, sweeping floors and putting together bicycles. From there he moved to a Kenmount Road location (where XSCargo is now). He applied for and received his own franchise in Port aux Basques and then moved to Gander, where he spent the next 11 years of his career.

"I was sort of settling in to spend my career there, when the phone rang and the opportunity presented itself to come home. St. John's is my home," he said. "I took that sight-unseen."

He's been in St. John's for the past two decades.

"I knew early on that I really enjoyed the interaction with people. I really enjoy people. I really enjoy retailing," he said, adding that Canadian Tire allows its operators much more independence - something he values - than a lot of other franchise operations.

"We were leading edge in retail in Canada back then. The excitement of the sales and all those things - back then, we dominated. We dominated back to school, we dominated Christmas. There'd be lineups outside. We dominated."

That was until Wal-Mart arrived in Canada in 1994, he said, which shook up the Canadian retailing industry - but ultimately made it stronger and forced Canadian operations to adapt.

"A lot of Canadian Tire retailers went by the wayside, but we managed to adapt and stay at the forefront," he said.

A half-century in a successful career yields a lot of highlights, including meeting hockey hero and Leafs goalie Johnny Bower, but for Marshall one accomplishment stands out above all others - receiving the award of excellence, a national award given by Canadian Tire for retailing excellence and community involvement, which he won in 2002.

He says he's getting close to retirement, but doesn't know just yet when he's going to hang it up. He enjoys travelling with his wife, Carolyn, golfing, fishing and spending time with his five grandchildren from two sons: Dave, a commercial bank manager in St. John's, and Peter, who has followed in his father's footsteps and manages a Canadian Tire location in Alberta.

"I don't know when I'm going to retire, and there's a lot of people interested in knowing that - staff and all," he said.

"I really don't know. I'm still enjoying it. I know there's a new, replacement facility on the horizon for us ... that new facility could open fall 2014, spring 2015. Will I take and operate that store? Maybe. But it's too far away. You have to look at the financials to understand what it is you're getting into, and I'll make that decision at that point of time. The staff here will just move on up then to that facility, with me or with the new guy, whoever it happens to be."

When Marshall does retire, though, he'll leave with no regrets.

"I would not want to have changed anything in my whole career, but work for this company. It's been amazing," he said.

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: @TelegramDaniel