Spice Girls Are Not the Headliner Anymore!

If you’re an avid baker, you may have realized that there is a worldwide shortage of vanilla beans. Not only is the price of supply skyrocketing, but it’s also making it difficult to find good quality beans. Since my wife had a recipe that required several vanilla beans, I went on a search looking for beans at a reasonable price. During my research, I came across a store that I used to be familiar with when I lived downtown. House of Spice located in Kensington Market in Toronto on Augusta Avenue.

I called up to find out if they had the product I was looking for, and much to my surprise, they stocked a few different varieties of the bean. The most popular is the Madagascar vanilla bean and while other places quoted as much as $12.00 a bean, House of Spice was selling them for $6.95. My wife and I decided to go down there to check out the quality. Much to her excitement, the beans were fresh and of high quality!

While we were there, my wife started looking around and found a number of different and unique ingredients that she had been searching for. Items like pickling salt, Ethiopian spices, and several different types of coffee were all right there, tucked into the little store. In addition to the wide selection of products and reasonable prices, perhaps what was just as important, if not more, was that the staff were extremely friendly and very knowledgeable.

When it comes to something like simple salt and pepper (this store had 4 different varieties of specialty sea salt and truffle salt!) you don’t need an expert, but with other products you need someone who understands what they are for, and how they should be stored. The employees at House of Spice were helpful, and clearly know their business! Although it is a small store, they manage to stock a lot of different items, so I would plan on browsing the shelves. In fact, why not make an afternoon of it? There are lots of other food stores in the neighborhood, as well as great restaurants to grab a bite.

House of Spice is definitely a worthwhile place to check out for anyone interested. Enjoy your cooking and shopping and remember to invite me for dinner!

House of Spice
416-593-9724
http://www.ehouseofspice.com

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Keeping Great Customer Service Up and Running

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog highlighting my great experience at The Running Room. At the same time I was dealing with The Running Room, one of the SQM employees directed me to another shoe store that she’s been dealing with for years, known as Running Free, and in particular the Ajax location.

The owner, Steve Ockrant, immediately called me to introduce himself and while he suggested it was best if I came in, due to his schedule and distance he offered to bring some shoes over to my office, for me to try on. Realizing he was doing me a favour, due to our mutual friend, I must say I’ve never had such special service for a retail product!

Steve came, we chatted, and he brought six pairs of shoes for me to try on. Based on the sizes and styles he brought, he was able to narrow down the shoes that would work best for me, and then a few days later he returned with more shoes. He even left me with a couple of pairs for me to walk around the office in before I made my final decision.

Although I returned both of the pairs that made it to the shoe finals, I eventually made it out to his store where two of his amazing employees found the perfect pair for me.

If you are ever looking for great shoes, at a great price, but more importantly amazing and knowledgeable staff go to Running Free, ask for Steve, and mention my name.

Running Free

(416) 410-3733

www.runningfree.com

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An “Amped Up” Amazon Experience

Whether for pricing, selection or convenience, I find myself more frequently turning to Amazon to make a variety of purchases. While I’ve always felt they provide great customer service, my most recent experience re-enforces this….

Back in mid-December, my wife purchased a Bluetooth speaker to give to a friend as a Christmas present. Since she was very excited about the speaker and our friend loved it, I decided to surprise her and recently went online to purchase another one. When I looked at my order history, I realized that the speaker was now less than half the price that it had been selling for a month earlier. I decided to put Amazon to the test, and called up customer service to see what could be done about the difference in pricing.

While I thought it would be easier to simply credit my account, the Amazon customer service representative indicated that their system works differently and that I would have to return the item and reorder it. When I explained I didn’t have the original item because I gave it as a gift, he allowed me to order two items, and give one back with the return label he was providing me. To minimize my inconvenience, he even allowed me to order the new items with the fastest shipping method. To me, this sounded great!

I placed the order on Saturday afternoon, and much to my surprise, on the Sunday, I received an email that Amazon had already attempted to deliver it to my office (I didn’t think they would deliver on a Sunday as they indicate “business days” for shipping times). My item was received the very next day and a day later I received confirmation of the credit reimbursement.

Given how Amazon stood behind their lower price and made it quick and simple for me to return and receive the item, it truly was an amazing experience. I still love going out to the stores, but this is another example of why mortar and brick retailers really have to step up their game.

Hats off to Amazon!

www.amazon.ca

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Making Happy Customers with “Grate” Service from Microplane

Microplane Product Review

About a year ago, my wife purchased two relatively expensive, high-quality, cheese graters from Microplane…a manufacturer that sells a wide variety of kitchen tools. Shortly after purchase, the box grater broke. More recently, the hand grater broke, much to her dismay.

Understandably so, my wife was a little bit upset. Given the cost of the product, she expected it to last much longer then a year or so. After licking her wounds, she went onto the company website and reached out to them via email.

Her email simply asked if there was anything that could be done about her broken cheese grater, and despite sending the message right around the holidays, she was surprised when they responded almost immediately. The employee indicated that they were out of the office for the holidays, but wanted to get back to her quickly. The employee asked if my wife could send a photo of the broken items, so that she makes sure she is replacing the correct product, and that she would take care of it upon her return from vacation.

By the end of the first week in January, my wife had replacements for both graters. Not only, did they send brand new replacements, but the box grater was upgraded to their newest model!

Based on this experience, it is clear that Microplane stands behind their products. They truly value their customers and provide fast, friendly customer service. Finally, they certainly exceeded my wife’s expectations, both in terms of getting back to her over the holiday season and by sending more than just the replacement product.

If you’re ever in the need for quality kitchenware backed by a great company, consider Microplane and “Make your cheese GRATE again!”

Microplane
956-777-5272
www.microplane.com

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Unforgettable Ways To Spend Time with the Family…On Family Day!

Family Day Activities

With the upcoming Family Day weekend, many people in Ontario are looking for something fun to do on one or more of the days of the long weekend.

Whether you’re in the Toronto area, outside of the GTA, or looking to travel elsewhere, there are a ton of places to go and things to do:

Great Wolf Lodge – Although some find it expensive, I know a lot of people like going to the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. What better way to spend the weekend than right down at the falls, enjoying the view and making a splash? It’s perfect for people of all ages…after all, who doesn’t enjoy a good waterpark? Alternatively, there’s the Fallsview waterpark in Niagara Falls! Whichever you choose, book early! There is a good chance are that both of these options will be busy on weekends… especially the long weekend.

Rochester, New York – I absolutely love visiting Rochester. They have an amazing outlet mall, and depending on what time of year you go they have a fantastic hockey team or Triple A baseball team. There’s a great waterpark, lots of restaurants, an amazing children’s museum (Strong Museum of Play) and the George Eastman Museum dedicated to photography and film. I like staying at the Hyatt because there’s an indoor pool, and if it’s a weekend, generally the rate is a bit lower.

Deerhurst Resort – You could always escape to a northern resort like Deerhurst in Muskoka, where they have skating, fat biking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. They also accommodate kids, of course. To truly enjoy the winter wonderland that is northern Ontario, I suggest you and your family head up to Muskoka!

Snow Valley – I’ve written about this place before, after visiting it for an afternoon of snow tubing. While I personally had a great time tubing, you can also try your hand at skiing, snowboarding, or snow shoeing. There’s smaller hills for kids and those who are just starting out, as well as lessons for first-timers. Snow Valley has a small chalet where you can warm yourselves up by the fire and grab something to eat before hitting the slopes.

Skating Rinks – There are many skating rinks across the province…both indoor and outdoor. Here in Toronto, there’s a new outdoor skating trail which runs under the Gardner Expressway around June Callwood Park to the east of the Fort York Visitor’s Centre. Unlike your typical skating rink, this is a trail, where skaters can skate between the pillars that hold up the highway, so it’s a little different than skating in circles. They also have regular entertainment throughout the week, if you want to take a break from the blades.

Indoor Activities – If you don’t want to be outside, there’s lots of indoor swimming pools that are heated! In addition, if indoor activities are more your forte, go to an art gallery or museum. Have your tried trampolining? Hit up your nearest SkyZone and watch the kids have a blast, while you get in a great workout! I would also suggest Ripley’s Aquarium, where you can explore the deep sea while staying dry at the same time. That said, be forewarned that there’s usually long lines at the aquarium during the weekend or on holidays.

Whatever you choose to do, have a safe and enjoyable Family Day weekend!

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Imagining a Great Movie Going Experience!

Photo of the interior of an Imagine Cinema

As always, the holiday week between Christmas and New Years was filled with lots and lots of family activities, eating, going out, and just generally having fun. One activity that I always look forward to is catching up on the long list of movies that I never seem to get around to. This includes older movies that I never managed to see and of course, hitting the theatre and seeing the new releases.

As part of this year’s movie going activities, I checked out a new theatre that I learned about, from of all people…my daughter.

For many years, there’s been a move theatre at the Promenade mall…known as Rainbow Theatres. The facility has recently been re-branded as Imagine Cinemas, and renovated….for the better!

All the seats are now very wide recliners, lazy boy style, which allow you to lean back, with the front popping up so that you can put your feet up, as well. The seats also have cup holders for your drinks and plenty of space for you to lounge in. All the old seats have been replaced with these new ones, so each theatre now only has about 40 seats. You get way more privacy, space and to top it off, it’s super comfortable to watch a movie.

In addition to the comfy seats, the tickets there are also less expensive than other theatres, with children costing $8.00 and adult tickets costing $11.00. The concession snacks are also a little less expensive than other theatres.

Finally, I found the employees to all be super friendly, polite, and professional. During my visit, they were always cleaning, restocking, and hustling around.

Overall, my first visit was an excellent experience, and the movie (Coco – if you haven’t seen it, run to your nearest Imagine Cinemas!) was great as well.

I highly recommend checking out the theatre for a reasonably priced outing and a comfy movie experience!

Imagine Cinemas
Promenade Mall
905-886-7464
https://imaginecinemas.com

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The Running Room: A Company Running with Great Customer Service!

People Cheering for the Running Room at an event

Over the last few weeks, I’ve written about some of the challenges facing the retail industry, and highlighted some retailers that are changing the way they do business. Recently, I’ve come across another company that really seems to capture the essence of customer service, as it clearly comes from the top down.

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I really have a difficult time finding shoes that fit me. While I’ve frequently gone to The Running Room for my daughter’s shoes, I never seem to find anything that works for me, so an employee suggested I go online for a wider variety of their shoes. They told me that there are no shipping fees or returns fees involved.

I thought I’d take a shot at it and (of course) immediately ran into an obstacle when the one pair of shoes I really liked were not available in my size. They had every other size except mine! Throwing up my hands in frustration, I decided to put The Running Room to the test and I contacted their head office. Their head office phone number is answered by a recorded greeting of their founder, John Stanton, and includes an option of hitting a button to speak directly to John. I wasn’t expecting to speak to someone, but to my surprise, he immediately answered.

I had a lovely chat with John, told him my problem, and without hesitation he offered to find someone to help me and said I would get a call back in just a few minutes. Not fifteen minutes later, one of John’s colleagues called me up, asked me some questions about my needs, did some research, and found me some options for shoes that would work for me.

While I was given the option of picking the shoes up from the store, it was easier to have them delivered to my house and within a few days, I had a pair of shoes that fit and easily returned the others that I chose not to keep.

It’s rare to find a company that goes above and beyond to keep customers happy, and it’s even more rare to have a President who is as accessible as John is (answering his own phone). Clearly, The Running Room gets it. Thanks to John and his team, I now have a pair of running shoes that fit my needs….and my feet!

The Running Room
1-800-419-2906
https://www.runningroom.com/hm/

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