More on my @LondonIncMag July cover story about @_stmnt_ #LdnOnt

              Asking me to write about fashion is like asking Doug Ford to write about public relations – we have a vague notion of the concept, but we aren’t great at executing it.

              So, when I met up with sisters Jenessa and Madison Olson, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. After all, they have started a business based on sharing fashion – Airbnb for your closet, as Jenessa says. As it turns out, the concept isn’t really about fashion at all. Yes, it allows people – women only right now – to rent clothes from individuals and participating boutiques. “But it’s really a software play, technology connecting people and their fashion,” she says.

              Well then, if it’s a software play, I’m right at home. After all, I have a smart phone and a computer! So, what else is there to know?

              The sisters’ company is called STMNT – that’s STATEMENT minus the vowels. That’s one thing many software plays have in common: Drop the vowels, or add some. Ditch the capital letters, or add some. In any case, the statement they’re making is that you don’t need to spend $500 on a dress for a single occasion and then shove it to the back of your closet or try to return it, swallowing your guilt and avoiding eye contact with the sales person.

              You can read all about the sisters and their growing company in the summer edition of London Inc. magazine, itself a business success story, thriving early in its 3rd year of publication.

              For now, the business operates in London and Toronto. But the sisters have much bigger dreams that include global recognition of the STMNT logo, located at clothing shops that participate in the rental program. So, you could travel Europe with a small carry-on, picking up and returning your clothes as you need them, booked for specific functions, all with no fuss.

Behind door No. 1 at Heritage Renovations @LdnIncMag #LdnOnt

              One of the first things I ever learned watching HGTV – even before I saw how easily a DIY project can come together if you insert commercial breaks whenever you face an obstacle – is that people really like red front doors. If you want some instant curb appeal, pull out the overgrown shrubs and paint that front door red.

              If that’s not enough, slap up some shutters to frame out your windows. Paint those too, but not red.

              It comes down to this: Every home has some kind of front door and a collection of windows. We want them to function of course, but beyond that we want them to look good.

              That could be the motto at Heritage Renovations Windows & Doors: Work well and look good. The business has been selling and installing higher quality doors and windows in London since 1990. But, as you can read in my June London Inc. cover story, it changed hands in 2016 and has been growing impressively since.

              The new owners are the sister and brother team of Shannon Ruffell and James Baker. Their father, former London airport head poobah Steve Baker, hatched a plan to a) entice his grown kids to return to London, and b) to create a family-run enterprise that could be passed along to generations of future Bakers. With the transformation of Heritage, you’d have to say he succeeded on both fronts.

              This month, Heritage moves into its expansive new home on Exeter Road, where it will feature a showroom nearly the size of the entire business three years ago. At 3,500 square feet, the showroom will feature more than 100 door and window displays, a never-ending home show for anyone looking to upgrade.

              It will also feature separate offices for Shannon and James. They shared a rather small office to help alleviate crowding at the old location. More importantly, the new place provides a base from which Heritage can continue the growth sparked by the new owners and their enthusiastic father, who is cheering – mostly – from the sidelines.

@alcanadalabs is set to revolutionize #agriculture @LdnIncMag May cover story #LdnOnt

              Near the end of our conversation about his company, A&L Canada Laboratories, Greg Patterson offhandedly mentioned that, “plants talk to each other.”

              I nodded, as though I understood exactly what he meant. As you can read about in my London Inc. cover story this month, A&L is on the cusp of an agriculture revolution. It has identified 4,500 unique bacteria, fungi and other biologicals that prompt plants to do predictable things.

              These “bugs,” as Patterson calls them colloquially, help strengthen all kinds of crops, restoring the natural conditions in which they otherwise would thrive. Much of the action takes place in the rhizosphere, a narrow band of soil where the roots live. Patterson compares the plant microbiome to the human gut, where millions of microorganisms live and keep us healthy.

              And that’s where the talking plant angle comes in. A recent Swedish study showed how plants secrete chemicals into the soil that prompt neighbouring plants to grow more quickly.

              “It’s not magic; it’s science,” Patterson says, eyes twinkling. “There are ways to stimulate the plant biome, which means healthier plants with less fertilizer, among other things.”

              A&L began almost 35 years ago when potato farmers in Alliston hired Patterson to do some rudimentary studies on their crops. Today, it runs tests for farmers, processors and – most recently – for cannabis producers. But its real growth area may well be in biologicals, in the soil where plants talk to each other, pulling in bacteria and fungi as needed to improve their health.

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.

ed holder.jpg

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.

voyago.JPG

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.

music hall.jpg

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.