Tag Archives: Shop

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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Leisurely Shopping at Lee Valley


Many years ago, I was introduced to Lee Valley Tools when I required some specialized equipment and supplies for a wood working project. Since that time, I have often returned to their stores for specialty items, but quickly realized that there is much more to them than meets the eye.

Not only does the store have fun and creative little stocking stuffers (it may only be November, but the holidays are just around the corner), but these tools are practical and useful – for things you never knew you needed help with.

As an example, my wife once received a portable can opener at a Secret Santa event. It’s small, safe, and easy on the hands, using a butterfly-shaped crank design instead of the usual handles that require great strength and effort. She loved it so much, we immediately ordered a new one when it inevitably broke years later.

Ever since then, she’s loved the place. She told me that any and all types of gifts she was in search of, she could get at Lee Valley. We were recently going through the website and commenting on the cool and practical things we had found on there. It may be important to note that not all items online are available in-store.

The folding phone holder, for example, makes every outlet your personal charging station with a simple, albeit ingenious, solution. Hang it over your charging plug, and create a small shelf for your phone while it charges. Your phone is kept safely out of the way!

The people who work at the store are very helpful, knowledgeable, and polite. In fact, they’ve helped me with my own specialty projects in the past.

For those looking for good quality service and unique items – be it for a gift or a project, I highly recommend checking out Lee Valley Tools.

Lee Valley Tools


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Breaking Boundaries at Best Buy


Although I wrote about Best Buy a few months ago, this is an unrelated experience, and one which I felt was worth sharing.

Let’s rewind the clock to a couple of weeks ago.  I had been shopping for a laptop and was checking out different options, going through reviews, pricing, visiting different stores, and somehow ended up at the Best Buy at Downsview.

I was very pleased with the knowledge of the sales staff, and in addition, Best Buy had the best prices of all the competitors I was looking at.  In fact, these days, they apparently even go so far as to match prices from other reputable businesses.

In addition to buying a laptop, I needed a Microsoft Windows license.  As a result, the salesperson suggested that I get a Geek Squad membership, which would save me a significant amount off of the regular cost. At first I was skeptical, but when I did the math, between the Windows license, a monthly movie pass, and the added benefit of technical support, I thought it was very much worth it to try out for six months.

In terms of technical support, I’ve brought in different items to be fixed or looked at by Geek Squad. So far, all have been fixed to my satisfaction, and in fact, they’ve consistently exceeded my expectations in terms of getting my things back to me as quickly as possible.

During my most recent Geek Squad visit, I was probably pushing it a little, and really put them to the test. I had been having problems with my phone charger, and while the Geek Squad representative was able to partially fix the issue, the end result was that I needed a new one after only having bought it a couple of months ago.

Since I didn’t have my receipt (my fault) I didn’t have much hope that they could do anything, however, without hesitation, one of the employees at Best Buy provided me with a new charger!  I was completely stunned. My jaw dropped and I walked out of the store with a huge smile on my face.

While the phone manufacturer is known for making their customers jump through hoops to address issues, Best Buy stood behind the product, and their goal of leaving their customers satisfied.

In last week’s blog, I suggested retailers were going to have to step up their game in their battle against Amazon and other online retailers.  From my recent experiences at Best Buy, they clearly understand what they need to do to be successful, and they’re doing a terrific job!

Best Buy (Downsview)

Geek Squad (Downsview)


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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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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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How Starbucks Became my “Third Place”

Starbucks Secret Menu

When it comes to my caffeine fix, I will admit that I love Tim Hortons and always go there for my morning coffee. The coffee tastes great and I find it less expensive than many coffee shops.

That said, in more recent times, my visits to Starbucks have become more regular, since my wife and daughter enjoy a number of their drinks, including their “Secret Frappuccino Menu”. In addition, over the last few months, my daughter has asked me to take her to the local Starbucks so she can sip on a beverage and relax in the “big cozy chairs” after a day of skating or other fun activities.

Since I began sharing these experiences with my daughter, I have started to appreciate the Starbucks experience even more. Currently, I frequent my local Starbucks to catch up with friends, have informal business meetings, or get work done without the distractions encountered at my home or office. In fact, between the big cozy chairs, the free Wi-Fi, and some nice music playing, I’m wondering if I really need an office anymore!

During a recent visit, I was surprised to observe how many of the customers at the Bathurst and Joicey location were regulars. What was even more surprising, is how the employees knew many of these people by name, regardless of whether they were a manager, full-time or part-time employee. In addition to the personal touch, I also like how this location usually has seats available. Whether it’s the big cozy chairs, a table for two, or space at the communal desk, they have room for everyone!

I remember Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks saying that his goal was to have Starbucks be the “Third Place” in our lives…home being the first, work second and Starbucks third. Given my recent experiences, I see what he means, and I think that he might have succeeded.

So if you have some time to kill, want to catch up with friends, relax with a book, do some work, or just sip on a tasty drink, check out your local Starbucks.



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