More on my @LdnIncMag April cover story on @BigBlueBubble #LdnOnt @Downtown_London


              Not that long ago, when you were snaking through a crowded parking lot in search of an open spot, finding someone at the wheel of his car was a good sign. It would only be a minute or so until he’d back out and be on his way. Well, those days are over.

              People don’t drive away anymore when they jump into their cars. Unless they’re late for their next stop, they’re more likely to linger in the spot and grab their phone. Granted, that’s much better than doing it while they’re driving, but it’s still off-putting if you’re sitting waiting for a spot that isn’t going to open anytime soon.

              Not everyone on their phone is playing a game, but plenty of them certainly are. They may answer a text or like a photo, but a game notification at the top of the screen is hard to ignore…

              Games on phones have evolved very much as phones themselves have. Everyone has a phone today, and nearly everyone who has a phone has at least tried a game. For 15 years, Big Blue Bubble has quietly plugged away from its downtown London office, creating more than 100 games, some of which are among the most popular in the world.

              As you can read about in my April London Inc. magazine cover story, BBB is going to attract more attention in the coming months. A TV show based on its mega-hit game My Singing Monsters is in the works and should arrive sometime this year. It will be accompanied by a full marketing campaign, including stuffed animals and plenty of other toys to support the loveable characters.

              As exciting as that is, BBB isn’t stopping to celebrate. Next up is Concert Kings, like Monsters a music-based game. The ideas just keep coming, and millions of people sitting idly in parking lots, can’t get enough.

More on my @LdnIncMag March cover story about Zucora Home #LdnOnt

My experience with the first extended warranty I ever bought should have prompted me to buy warranties, when available, on everything I bought thereafter.

              I extended the warranty on my first new car: a 1989 Chevrolet Sprint. It was a tiny car with a tiny engine and a tiny price: $8,000 new. But it got me to British Columbia to live for two years and then back to Ontario. At some point after my return, my father borrowed the car for some reason and returned with some disturbing news.

              An engineer who worked at GM and once took his car apart just to see if he could put it back together, he knew cars. And he said my three-cylinder, one-litre engine sounded odd. “I think you might have a cracked cylinder head,” he said, sympathetically.

              Sure enough, a mechanic confirmed the news within days. I needed a new engine, at a cost of roughly one-third the cost of the car. You don’t buy a tiny, $8,000 car if you’re flush with cash, so this was bad news indeed. Except I had an extended warranty, and for the price of a small deductible, I got a brand-new engine for my cheapo vehicle.

              So, I’ve been buying extended warranties ever since, right? Ah, not exactly. I still blanch at the cost, resentful that the manufacturer’s warranty is so lousy. Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I don’t.

              For the last four decades, London-based Zucora has provided the warranties offered by most of the country’s large furniture retailers. If you bought a couch at The Brick or La-Z-Boy or a dozen other retailers, the extended warranty came from Zucora, whether you knew it or not.

              As you can read about in my London Inc. March cover story, the company is expanding its suite of services and methods of delivery, offering homeowners a worry-free experience, for $70 a month or less. Its new Smarter Living Plans offer protection on furniture, appliances and home systems. In theory, there’s no reason to worry about anything in your home breaking or wearing out. Zucora Home has you covered.

              Scoffers, please note the experience at La-Z-Boy, where Zucora has offered warranties on the retailer’s motorized recliners etc. for years. The coverage costs 12-15 per cent of the price of the item, and 85 per cent of buyers buy it.

              That’s a lot of people willing to pay a little more for long-term peace of mind – exactly what Zucora provides.

What I learned from Ed Holder's brochure (hint: not much) #LdnOnt @LdnOnt_2018 @cityofLdnOnt #mayoral #municipalelection

Here’s a news flash: Ed Holder, one of the leading contenders in London’s four-way mayoral race, is in favour of job growth. Holy cow, that’s a stunner.

Have I got your attention because here’s another bombshell: He’s in favour of synchronized traffic signals. Has any politician anywhere ever argued against synchronized traffic signals? They’re to the transportation system what waste and inefficiencies are to budget deficits. Oh, and London council approved a synchronization project last year.

Council also approved the Adelaide Street underpass recently to keep trains and cars apart at that busy intersection. Holder has boldly thrown his support behind that project too.

Look, I don’t know if Ed Holder would be a good mayor or not. I do know he’d be a lot better than Paul Cheng whose next specific policy proposal will be his first. I don’t know whom to support for mayor, so when Ed Holder’s brochure arrived in my mailbox today, I read it. Twice. And I’m still looking for anything resembling a specific idea.

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Holder has five top priorities, each one a collection of empty words or no-duh pronouncements. The only specific item is his opposition to the Bus Rapid Transit plan. Fair enough. I can’t decide if that’s a good idea or not. But having said he’s opposed, his ideas to move people around the city more efficiently boil down to the Adelaide underpass, already approved, more efficient bus service to retail centres and a better mobile app for London Transit users. And, of course, synchronized stop lights.

Beyond that short list of easy-to-endorse ideas, he offers nothing specific among his five priorities. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m sorry to say I’m not. There is nothing specific anywhere else in his five-priority action plan.

He boldly supports job growth but says nothing about how he might help create jobs. He’s in favour of collaborative leadership. Awesome. He reminds us he was a federal cabinet minister and claims that experience will help secure provincial and federal funding for infrastructure projects in London. Which projects? How much money? Don’t sweat it; he knows a guy.

His last priority, to “help London’s most vulnerable,” will be accomplished by “continuing to work closely with many stakeholders including other levels of government, social services and the not-for-profit sector.”

That’s it. That’s his platform as described in his brochure. The rest of the brochure lays out his resume, which I acknowledge is impressive. But come on Ed, give us some specific ideas, not just the highlights from your LinkedIn account.

Synchronized traffic signals? Seriously?

More on my @LdnIncMag Oct. cover story about @MyVoyago #LdnOnt

Here’s a little game I’ve been playing, often against my will, for the last few weeks. Be warned, if you live in the London area and read this, you might find yourself playing the game too.

Ever since I wrote about the transformation of Voyageur Transportation Services to Voyago, (this month’s London Inc. cover story) I’ve seen Voyago vans and buses all over the place, every single day. I guess they were there all along – after all, the company made the switch several months ago. But I did not notice a single Voyago vehicle until the middle of last month after meeting with company president Theresa Matthews and COO Corey Jarvis.


They made the switch for many reasons, but primarily to take the company and its dispatch system into the new age of Uber apps and on-demand transportation. The Voyago team has big plans to expand its school bus service across Ontario and into other parts of Canada. Same for its patient transfer service, now called Voyago Health.

It continues to operate Checker Limo in London. It was a testing ground for the company’s new technology and now runs with all the efficiency and customer service of Uber itself.

When you’re driving around London in the coming days, count the number of Voyago vehicles you see. It won’t take long to rack up a handful of sightings, I guarantee it.


More on my Sept @LdnIncMag cover story on @LondonMusicHall #LdnOnt

When Mike Manuel has a big idea, the consequences spread in concentric circles, as though he dropped a pebble in a pond.

A series of big ideas – and big bucks – over more than a decade have combined to create the London Music Hall, a music venue with a national reputation among artists, promoters and fans. Since he began by creating by Rum Runners in 2004, he has added amenities, features and technology to make the Music Hall something special, home to about 250 shows and events annually.

The consequences of his big ideas include a growing local concert scene, new music festivals, a local music hall of fame, and weekly opportunities for students to interact with musicians in the former Nash Jewellers building, now part of the Music Hall.

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Further down the list of consequences is a note I get every two years from London Inc. editor Gord Delamont, asking me to write about Manuel’s latest adventure. My cover story in this month’s London Inc. is the fourth story I’ve written about Manuel, always keyed by his latest big idea.

This time it’s the installation of more than 200 bar stools in the main room, in a sloped configuration behind the standing-room main floor. The project will be done later this fall, giving fans a new way to enjoy concerts, without turning the venue into a theatre with padded, folding seats – anathema to Manuel’s vision for the Hall.

A revamped Rum Runners will reopen around the same time, and the latest iteration of the Music Hall will forge ahead, bringing in bands from across the country and beyond. Meanwhile, Manuel will be dreaming up his next project. I look forward to hearing all about it in two years or so.

More on my July @LdnIncMag cover story about @SoleScience #LdnOnt

             You have to assume Colin Dombroski enjoys a good pun. The pedorthist named his foot treatment practice SoleScience when he started in 2002. It’s a clever name that hints at the more official description of what he does: provider of custom orthoses and pedorthic services.

              Simply put, he and his growing team assess people’s foot pain and figure out how to treat it. He has a PhD in health and rehabilitation services, but he’s not a doctor in the sense that he would fix a broken toe, for example. However, most people who come looking for relief from foot pain have already eliminated broken bones as the cause. They need to understand why their foot hurts and what will make it stop.

              The Dombroski team is comprised of 13 people, operating 18 clinics in 15 cities. London is home base. Among the 13 are Dombroski’s parents, his brother and his brother-in-law. His parents moved from Barrie to join the operation.

As you can read about in my London Inc. July cover story, the business recently moved into the refurbished Ironworks building on Maitland Street. There, SoleScience makes its own orthotics, ensuring speedy, personal service for its patients.

The large space is also home to Dombroski’s first serious foray into retail. He purchased J. Seigel Footwear when its third-generation owner, Jeff Seigel, decided to retire. Seigels by SoleScience occupies the front portion of the new location and offers a variety of shoes designed for people with foot pain.

Thousands of people had come to rely on Seigel for the shoes they needed to battle foot issues. Dombroski knew how important it was after referring patients there for years and seeing the emotional reaction of many to the news it would be closing.

So, he bought the company and the name and rolled it into his new one-stop-shop for foot pain assessment and treatment. It’s an impressive operation, combining the latest in technology with the ongoing personal touch for which SoleScience is known.

More on my June @LdnIncMag cover story on @NashJewellers #Ldnont

           When I was 15 I went to West Germany (as it was then) with my high school concert band. We spent two weeks playing concerts and billeting with German families.

            Leafing through some of the Oshawa Chamber of Commerce schlock we had given our host families, the father in the house where I was staying noted a reference to one of the city’s oldest buildings.

            “How old?” he asked in rudimentary English.

            Not knowing, I took a guess at something around 100 years.

            The look of disappointment on his face transcended any language barrier. In Europe, 100 years qualifies as fledgling. We didn’t talk about old buildings anymore, focusing instead on our common love of ping pong and ice cream.

            It’s safe to assume that German father would not be impressed with the milestone Nash Jewellers is celebrating this year. But for most people in London, Ontario, running a family-owned business for 100 years is indeed noteworthy.

            And that’s why I’m glad my story about Nash Jewellers at 100 is running this month in London Inc. magazine and not in the Wangen Weekly Business Journal. On this side of the ocean, it’s kind of a big deal.

            The official celebration is in November. That’s when the company will release a coffee table book about its history. Working with an archivist, John C. Nash has been researching his family’s past and putting the book together for months.

            He’s the third generation to run the business, following his father, John B. and his grandfather, John A. The pattern ended with the fourth generation. Colin, one of six John C. sons, bought the business in 2010 and moved it to its stylish new home on Wonderland Road North six years later.

            With 18 employees, Nash Jewellers offers a surprising array of services. It’s the exclusive home for brands like Rolex, Mikimoto, Gucci and John Hardy. Its talented designers create unique pieces. And its technicians repair jewellry and also fix glasses.

            Happy Anniversary Nash Jewellers. The Germans may not care, but lots of families in this part of the world have been relying on you for decades.


More on my May @LdnIncMag cover story @arcanebrand #zucora

              The first time I interviewed Eric Vardon, he was a 26-year-old wannabe fashion magnate who had just co-founded a clothing company called AllMaple. That was in the summer of 2003.

              Three years later, the company was small but growing, and Vardon’s attention was focused on the chest of Pamela Anderson. Or that’s how I portrayed a particular moment in the second story I wrote about Vardon’s entrepreneurial exploits.

              Anderson was hosting the 2006 Juno Awards in Halifax. For the second consecutive year, AllMaple had supplied merch for the celebrity gift bags. Vardon and his co-founder Marco DiCarlo watched the show intently, hoping Anderson would change into an AllMaple shirt at some point in the broadcast. It wasn’t to be.

              More important than anything Anderson did that night was something about Vardon I glossed over at the time. AllMaple was one of at least three companies he was running at the time. It was an offshoot of an Internet arts magazine, which itself was an offshoot of the central business, Velocity Studio.

              Velocity was early in the website design business. In 2011, Vardon and a new partner, John D’Orsay, founded Arcane, which took the website design concept and blew it out to include marketing of all kinds, but particularly social media, search engine optimization and custom software solutions.

              I wrote a few stories about Arcane through the years, in particular when it moved to its sleek new home on Talbot Street – the Cube.

              I was there again last month, writing yet another story about Vardon and his latest career move. The cover story in the May issue of London Inc. magazine is about that move, a step back. He and D’Orsay are giving up some of the day-to-day responsibility at Arcane but continuing as two of the four owners.

              As ever, Vardon gives away little about what’s he planning for the next month or year or beyond. As capable as the company’s new CEO and COO are – and they’ve been working at the company, learning the ropes, for more than two years – it would be foolish to think Vardon is going to simply walk away.

              But it would be equally foolish to suggest he’s going to hibernate in his funky corner office and rest on his digital laurels. This summer, he and his wife will have their second child, so presumably that’s where some of his energies will go. However, you read it here first: Within two years, my bet is he’ll launch a new venture. And there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be there to write about it.

More on my Feb. @LdnIncMag cover story on pot producer @IndivaInc #LdnOnt

Difficult as it is to believe, it was the last-gasp, get-off-my-lawn Harper government that started the process leading to the legalization of recreational pot this July across Canada.

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That might not have been the Conservative government’s intention, but the changes it made to the country’s medical marijuana regulations five years ago paved the way for Justin Trudeau to promise legalization during the last election campaign. Once Health Canada started handing out licenses to grow and sell medical grade pot, it was only a matter of time until the recreational market opened up as well.

Estimates of the market fluctuate wildly, but they’re all in the billions of dollars. And that’s why more than 80 companies have applied to become licensed producers of marijuana in Canada. It’s not just the medical market but the promise of the larger recreational market that draws investors and dreamers. Beyond that is the even more lucrative possibility of exporting high-quality marijuana to Europe and other jurisdictions that embrace, or at least allow, its distribution and use.

My cover story in this month’s London Inc. magazine profiles Indiva, a London-based company with millions of dollars of investment and plans to start selling medical marijuana this summer. Its high-tech, growing facility is more like a medical lab than a greenhouse. It grows two strains of pot and is hopeful federal regulations will allow it to branch out into selling oils, creams and edibles in the coming years.

Meanwhile, it is relying heavily on master grower Pete Young, who has been a pot advocate for decades. He is in charge of making sure Indiva grows a sustainable, high quality crop. Company co-founder Niel Marotta has already expanded the London facility once to increase production to 3-million grams of medical marijuana per year. But plans call for much more expansion, 10 or 20 times as big, to compete in what he believes will be a robust and competitive market in Canada and worldwide.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering where all the pot puns are. Is it possible – legal? – to write about pot and not include puns? I don’t want to take any chances, so let’s end with this: Indiva is on a roll, aiming high, and proving where there’s smoke there’s fire.

More on my Sept @LdnIncMag cover story on @DavisMartindale #LdnOnt

            When I met Paul Panabaker in 1999, it was as the father of three young kids at the school where my daughter Emily had just started kindergarten. I had no idea that four years earlier he had merged his small accounting firm with a slightly less small accounting firm called Davis Martindale.

            As our kids went from JK to grade six at Brick Street public school – RIP – we became friends. Our kids played together on the weekends. We all went to the family fun nights at the school. We golfed on occasion, and Davis Martindale became the sponsor of the kids’ soccer team.

            Davis Martindale was growing and getting ready to move into its shiny new office on Commissioners, the site of a former Big V pharmacy. I wrote a story about the move for a local business rag, and learned a little more about what was going on at the firm.

            But let’s be honest, the goings-on at an accounting firm are not usually the stuff of Christopher Nolan movies. Aaron Sorkin maybe, but he has yet to give it a go. The absence of any Aaron Sorkin moments is something I mention in my London Inc. cover story this month, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the firm.

            Recognizing accounting is not seen as the most exciting of professional pursuits, Davis Martindale long ago branded itself the Accountants With Personality. And those personalities have relied on that slogan to define their corporate culture ever since. Yes, they have experts in every conceivable tax and business planning niche, and yes they’re members of an international association, giving them global reach. But it’s the personality and focus on being human that has helped the firm grow to be the largest independent firm, by a lot, in Southwestern Ontario.

            When I met Paul, I had no idea the firm would reach its current heights. I’m not sure he did. But it’s an accomplishment worth noting and celebrating. Congratulations to the accountants with personality.