Business

Canadian software company grows business in U.S. by pretending to be more American

Much of it has to do with the rising America-first attitude and Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogan associated with President Donald Trump.

Some companies are trying to hide their roots amid rising America-first attitude

'We're trying to be more American,' says Jeremy Thompson, with Calgary-based Spira Data. (Duk Han Lee/CBC News Graphics)

A few years ago, when salespeople with Spira Data were meeting with potential American customers, they would hear questions and comments about how they were a Canadian company.

At first, the Calgary-based company didn't read much into it. However, as the conversations about its Canadian background continued with prospective clients, the firm decided it was best to hide its origin and wave the American flag a bit more.

On its website, Calgary was removed as the company's headquarters and instead labelled as the Canadian headquarters, while Houston was added as the U.S. headquarters. Other smaller changes were made including the job titles of its American staff to suit the U.S. marketplace.

Executives say much of it has to do with the rising America-first attitude and Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogan associated with President Donald Trump.

The changes made by the company to highlight their American ties were relatively minor, but seem to have made a difference.

"Just having that U.S. feel for the American customer is big," said Jeremy Thompson, vice-president of sales and marketing with Spira Data.

The changes made by Spira Data to appeal to American customers

2 years ago
1:08
In a competitive industry, Jeremy Thompson says the changes were necessary. 1:08

"With the growth of the MAGA phenomena, especially in the southern U.S., they want to do business with American companies and with Americans."

Spira Data was created 15 years ago and provides software for a variety of industries such as the hydrovac, trucking and construction sectors, although most of its business is with oil and gas companies. It has about 30 employees based in Canada and the U.S., with the majority in Calgary.

Last year, the company said sales were up in the U.S. and now equal revenues in Canada. This year though, sales growth is expected to be higher south of the border.

It's important to be American, as this giant U.S. flag displayed at a Los Angeles oil refinery in 2014 shows. The site was then owned by San Antonio, Texas-based Tesoro Refining. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Thompson says many other Canadian companies who operate in the U.S. are taking similar steps such as having separate Canadian and U.S. websites.

"We're trying to be more American," he said. "We're not closing in Canada, but we definitely want to be more in that American market and compete with other software companies in the U.S."

The practice of a company downplaying its country of origin is nothing new in the business world as corporations often try to cater to a market and present itself as local. It's the reason why Tim Hortons, for instance, didn't start hanging Brazilian flags at its coffee shops after it was bought by the New York-based Brazilian private equity group 3G Capital. 

It's the same reason why many Canadian banks only use the acronym of their founding name as they expanded across the country and internationally (such as Royal Bank of Canada becoming RBC), according to Roger Grant, chief brand strategist with Calgary-based Identicor.

If Canadian companies are discovering an increased America-first sentiment in the sector where they operate, he said it makes sense to hide their Canuck roots.

"From a straight business perspective, it's needed, because one thing any company wants to do in the sales cycle is take out any speed bumps," he said.

"The more you can come across as being aligned with your customer, the better."

EnCana, TC Energy and the strategy behind a name change

2 years ago
1:52
Branding expert Roger Grant explains why some companies are almost forced to change their names. 1:52

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, has not noticed a rise in MAGA attitudes in his state and said it's worth keeping in mind that for many Americans "Canada barely counts as a foreign country."

Still, as the U.S. has become a net exporter of oil and gas, feelings in the oilpatch may have changed, and there could be "a sense that if it is a foreign company, then really what is the benefit to Americans?"

In the past year, a pair of prominent Canadian energy companies removed the reference to their home country as TransCanada become TC Energy and EnCana became Ovintiv.

There are many reasons for the name changes including how the companies have a significant amount of operations outside of Canada. 

"It seems to be a growing trend of trying to hide the fact that you're from Canada," said Coleman.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kyle Bakx

Reporter

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.

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