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August 01, 2011

Cover Story

O Canada!—A Look Inside Our Northern Neighbor’s Direct Selling World

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

Country Focus on Canada

by Jennifer L. Mills

Direct Selling News August 2011 Issue

Opportunity in Canada is as diverse and vast as the country itself. Occupying a major part of North America and touching three oceans, Canada is composed of 10 provinces and three territories, all grouped into regions referred to as Western, Eastern and Northern Canada. The three Northern territories—the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut—stretch across more than half of the Canadian land mass, but counted all together barely top 100,000 human inhabitants. Polar bears, beluga whales, caribou, musk oxen, fur seals and many other wild creatures share the wide open spaces.

The nation also contains landscapes that are beyond compare. Like the United States, Canada stretches from sea to sea; its western edge is the vibrant North Pacific coast. Awe-inspiring blue whales roam the icy Atlantic waters between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. And in the lower western middle lands, farmers, cattle and sheep make their homes in the grasslands and prairies.

With approximately 33 million people—about one-tenth the population of the United States—Canada also has one of the highest standards of living in the world and is home to thriving urban centers—Ontario is the largest province with a population of 12 million followed by Quebec at 7 million. In fact, the majority of Canada’s population is generally concentrated here in the southern provinces, and 90 percent live within 99 miles of the U.S. border.

This neighbor to the north is one of the world’s wealthiest nations. It is also a diverse nation with a welcoming immigration policy. From the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited it for millennia to the Vikings and later the British and French explorers who colonized there beginning in the late 15th century, new immigrants continue the tradition, entering its borders every day and adding to the mixture that creates a similar diversity to the citizens of the United States. Actually, Canada’s population has increased by 5.4 percent in the last five years primarily due to immigration. A direct result of this multiculturalism is that the nation has two official languages: French and English. The French were the first Europeans to make permanent settlements in 1605. French is mainly spoken in Quebec, though there are large French-speaking areas throughout Canada. In fact, law requires materials directed to the people of Quebec be printed in both languages.

With close proximity and relative similarities to the United States, Canada has significant opportunities for U.S. companies taking their first step in international expansion. Canada is the second largest country in the world by total area, next to Russia—and its citizens already utilize catalog and direct mail services to receive items not readily available in nearby retail stores. Previously familiar with shopping in different ways, the Canadian market is a wonderful supporter of direct selling. Even the French language requirements in Quebec create an opportunity for companies to test the waters with foreign-language materials.

Bobbie Creber, formerly President of the DSA in Canada from 1987 to 1992, and now serving as Managing Director, lia sophia Canada LP, advises that it is crucial to recognize Canada as its own unique entity when considering doing business there. “It’s very important to recognize Canada as a separate market,” says Creber. “While we are best friends as nations, and in many cases you would be hard-pressed to know whether you’re speaking to an American or Canadian, there are some cultural differences. There is a pride among the Canadians that they are Canadians. Companies need enough presence to let them know you are Canadian, that you understand the dynamics of the country.”

FACTS About Canada’s Direct Selling Industry

Canada Map

  • Over 900,000 Canadians are associated with the direct selling industry.
  • The Canadian DSA represents 48 companies with sales revenue of over $1 billion annually.
  • The direct selling industry accounts for more than 16 percent of non-store retail sales in Canada.
  • Canadian DSA member companies employ close to 3,000 people.
  • 91 percent of Canadian direct sellers are women.
  • Canada’s direct selling organizations donate nearly $8 million to charities annually.