Tag Archives: Retail

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


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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



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Woes of the Retail Industry


Typically, I use this blog to highlight outstanding businesses, however, from time to time I address particular and pressing issues that impact consumers or businesses.

The other night I was in one of the grocery stores in my area, to pick up a few items that we needed the next day.  I arrived at about 8 p.m., and the store was fairly busy with at least five customers in each checkout line, waiting to pay for their groceries. One of the five cashiers had just closed their lane, and despite the long lines, a second cashier indicated that she was closing as well, informing a customer in her line that he would be her last checkout of the evening.

In more recent times I’ve had similar experiences at other grocery stores and retailers alike.  In addition to the frequent frustration that customers are having trying to obtain assistance from a sales person (especially in big box or department stores), retailers are now making it more difficult and time-consuming to pay for purchases and get out.

As a person who works with many companies in the retail industry, I often hear from my colleagues that “the industry is changing” or that “retail is having its challenges.” While this may indeed be the case, I’m beginning to wonder if the industry is partially responsible for causing this to happen.

Let me explain…to be successful in any business, you have to provide an excellent experience for your customers. Time and time again, surveys show that customers want friendly and knowledgeable staff, products readily available, the best possible price, and in many cases, speed of service is also a factor.

Assuming that these businesses have the product in stock, their most important asset is their employees, and they are marginalizing their company’s strengths. As people’s lives become busier and more hectic, retailers are actually pushing their customers to look for better ways of getting what they need.

To add to this, there currently exists a giant online retailer, that provides outstanding service in a very efficient manner, and gets products to their customers in a short amount of time. Is it really any wonder that the retail industry is getting its ass kicked by Amazon?

Make no mistake about it, while Amazon is an amazing company, and gives customers another option for buying products and services, many people still like to see, touch, feel, or try on items (especially clothing) before making a purchase.  This results in them coming to a store and giving that retailer the first…and best…opportunity to make the sale.

Until the retail industry improves the shopping experience and reconnects with their customers, I’m afraid that their woes will continue.


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Canadian Tire’s Tireless Customer Service

Storefront of Canadian Tire.

About a year ago, I bought a portable tire inflator that plugs into a cigarette lighter adapter from Canadian Tire – the one on Sheppard Avenue, near Leslie. I find this gadget comes in extremely handy when the temperature changes (as it causes a change in tire pressure). It’s certainly much easier than finding a service station with an air pump that works…not to mention that most stations now charge a loonie for air!

Recently, the pump has been giving me a bit of a problem, and when I tried to use it a week or two ago, it shut off completely and wouldn’t restart. I didn’t have the receipt any longer, but since this tire inflator was Canadian Tire’s MotoMaster brand, I decided that I’d try going back to the store to see what could be done.

After a short wait at the Customer Service counter, a friendly employee listened as I explained my situation to her. She started to apologize and told me that the product does not actually have a lifetime warranty, but only a one year warranty, which I had admittedly exceeded. During the interaction, one of the store managers happened to overhear the conversation, and without hesitation, approved an exchange. The employee indicated that I should grab another inflator off of the shelf, did some paperwork, and within minutes I was able to go on my way.

At a time when retail manufacturers seem to stand more and more behind the fine print in their warranties, it was refreshing to see a manager step up to the plate to keep customers happy. It goes without saying that a happy customer is much more likely to be a loyal customer, and I would think that’s what ultimately any company is striving for.

I can’t vouch for all Canadian Tire dealers but I’ve been happy with my experiences at this location and this visit only reinforced my belief that I was shopping at the right store.

Canadian Tire


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Dickson Home Hardware Knows the Key to Success!

Storefront of Dixon Home Hardware

A few weeks ago I headed out to one of the big box stores in my area as I needed to cut about a dozen keys.

As one does in many large stores, I found myself wandering up and down the aisles in search of the key section. Once I found the area, I waited for a good five minutes, for an employee to come to help me. Since nobody came over, I continued my search up and down the aisles, looking for someone who worked there, who could cut the keys for me. Once I finally found an employee and returned to the key section, they told me they didn’t have the specific key I needed in stock but offered me a more expensive, fancier key with a logo on it. I’d hoped that, to earn my business, the employee would have offered to give me the more expensive key at the cheaper one’s cost, but they didn’t.

Since I wanted to keep the cost of the keys as low as possible, I left the store, but experienced similar challenges at another store in the same area. Suddenly it occurred to me that I should head to a small hardware store that had never disappointed me in the past, so without hesitation, I made my way to Dickson Home Hardware on Avenue Road. I had been to the store many times before and it amazed me as they always seemed to have what I needed even though the shop is a fraction of the size of a big box store. I really don’t know how they do it!

As soon as I walked through the doors a friendly employee was there to help me and, lo and behold, the keys I needed were in stock and less expensive than what I was planning on paying at the other larger stores!

The employees were polite, knowledgeable and friendly, and they quickly cut my keys and sent me on my way. As I was leaving I remembered I needed some topsoil and, to no surprise, Dickson’s had lots in stock at the same price as most other places I would have purchased it from. I bought the topsoil and without me even having to ask they offered to put it in the trunk of my car. In fact, one of the other great things about this small store is that they work on an honour system. They trusted that when I said I’d purchased five bags of soil that I was telling the truth and simply loaded them into my car, without checking inside or asking for a receipt.

Dickson Home Hardware is a great store that stocks everything the big guys have at the same, or sometimes cheaper prices. In addition to the fabulous staff, the store’s owner, Tony Dickson, is often there to chat with the customers and help out whenever needed. My takeaway from my experiences at Dickson’s is that sometimes you should consider supporting your local retailer. Even though they’re small, they’re just as good as the big guys. Dickson Home Hardware has never let me down. They have taken good care of me over the years and whether you’re looking for BBQ’s (they have a separate store that specializes in this area) or for something from the hardware store, I highly recommend them.

Dickson Home Hardware


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Putting the Fun in “Fundido”

Los Otates Restaurant in Cozumel, Mexico

As mentioned in my last blog, Cozumel, Mexico is one of the ports that I have had the pleasure of visiting during several cruises. Aside from scuba diving, one of my favourite things to do in Cozumel is eat at Los Otates, a local restaurant. Los Otates is an authentic Mexican restaurant, just off the beaten path, in an area that tourists rarely visit. If you didn’t know it was there…you would never find it!

I first learned about Los Otates five or six years ago while I was in Mexico with friends. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit the restaurant on that trip, but my wife was lucky enough to eat at this hidden gem. She raved about it and since that time, I too have eaten more than once. I always look forward to returning.

If I was to take you to Los Otates, you would probably think I am crazy based on its curbside appeal… because it has none. The restaurant is a small hole in the wall that has a green tin roof and a chicken wire fence on the side to close shop. The sidewalk leading up to the restaurant is in disrepair but it is in a safe part of town and the food speaks for itself.

Los Otates is the kind of place locals go to after spending a night on the town. All the taxi drivers know it and everyone ends up there, since they are open until four or five in the morning. Really – you want great food? Ask a taxi driver. These guys know their stuff.

They serve some of the best Mexican food I have ever eaten. They make the guacamole right in front of you, and melt the cheese for their signature dip, Queso Fundido, as you watch. There food is always fresh, served hot, and delicious.

Aside from the quality, you can’t beat the price! Whether it’s beers for a $1.40 US, or tacos for $2.50 US, you will leave extremely full without putting a big dent in your wallet. To put it in perspective, four of us stuffed ourselves silly, ordered beers and apple sodas and our bill only came out to $38.00 US. You just can’t beat that!

If you really want to experience authentic Mexican cuisine while in Cozumel, I really recommend that you abandon the tourist joints and head to Los Otates. They put the fun in “Fundido”!

Los Otatates


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Sky High Customer Service

Recently Southwest Airlines was named as one of the Top Ten Most Admired Companies in the World, by Fortune Magazine. With that being said, I believe Southwest Airlines is a great company and I would like to share my recent travel experience with you. For transparency purposes, SQM does do business with Southwest Airlines and I know people who work for the company.

Years ago I started flying with Southwest Airlines because they had a reputation of being a low-cost carrier. Even though they aren’t always considered low cost, these days, I believe that the company still has a great reputation! Today they are known for providing travelers with very good customer service, empathetic employees who genuinely care about their customers and front-line workers who enjoy serving the public.

A few weeks ago I experienced Southwest Airlines recipe for success when my daughter and I became stranded at the Orlando International Airport due to bad weather. While we were waiting in line to speak with a Southwest employee, I noticed the staff made it a point to ensure that every customer was taken care of before the employees left the gate area. Considering we were all tired and upset, the employees did a great job ensuring each customer received the time and attention he / she deserved.

When I reached the front of the line, the employees made me feel like they cared about my situation and wanted to help. Together, the employees came up with a solution to get myself and my daughter to where the rest of my family was located (Buffalo). In addition to rebooking my flight as early as possible, they went above and beyond the call, to help me find a hotel for the night when they learned I was having difficulty finding one and noticed that my daughter was exhausted and upset. Within a few minutes they provided me with some contact information and I spoke to someone who gave us a very nice room and a special “stranded traveler’s” rate.

While there are many times in business where a customer is left feeling like they are just another number, I really felt like the Southwest employees added the personal touch to this difficult situation, making me feel valued and appreciated.

For those of you living in Canada, close to the border, I truly believe it is worth a short drive to the US to fly with Southwest Airlines. Southwest is a great company to fly with and I am confident that you will enjoy your travels.

Southwest Airlines


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