Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year In Review

My favourite time of year is the week leading up to the new year.

This is when all the "year in review" shows flood the TV and internet. Why try and keep up with world news, sports and celebrities all year long when I can get a condensed version in one easy bite-size montage?

Best goals in Hockey and Soccer, worst race car crashes, top celebrity self destruction flip out stories of 2008, it all comes out this week. You have to love it, it's so convenient.

Anyway, here is one of my favourite sites . Lots of time waster clips, but these guys are actually quite humorous and inventive. They recently took over the Office Max campaign for "Getting Elfed".

Here is the Jib Jab 2008 year in review.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, I hope you see a spider web in the morning.

Check this out!



Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Today was a special day where I had the privilege of dropping off a truck load of donations our staff had collected for our Adopt-A-Family campaign. This year one of our staff had a relationship with a home that helps support teenage mothers and their new babies. The "family" we adopted was actually a home with a few moms. In the home they are taught how to be great moms and learn how to gather the skills needed to care for their new babies and cope with the mountain of responsibilities that lay ahead. Also the home helps mom learn how to run a house, budget and even build a resume.

Our staff did a great job gathering food, baby clothes, baby toys, highchairs, swings and even a few goodies for the moms like gift cards.

It was almost the delivery that didn't happen also, since we were into a full snow blizzard and even our delivery trucks were getting stuck. In the late afternoon the snow let up and we jammed everything into Sandy's Honda Van and I was able to get within a block of the house. Luckily the house mother was there to help and we were able to "git 'er done" as we say here.



Thursday, December 18, 2008

Supporting the Food Bank

It's nice we can support the local food bank with product from Costless Express during the holiday season. It makes us sure feel fortunate for what we have and what we can do to help others.

All year long, we donate product to the local food bank from drinks, coffee, snacks and even milk. If our product gets too close to expiry dates then our customers will not accept the delivery and we strive to give as long a date as possible when we deliver. So, although we manage our inventory closely there are still fluctuations in our sales patterns and product may get close to expiry. I would hate to see the product go in the trash and are proud to support such a great organization as the food bank. They do a great job distributing the product where it can be used the most.

On a side note - Funny enough, the "best before" dates on most products are there as a recommendation, and don't correlate with the actual freshness of the product. How about Coke in a can? The dates are usually 90 days from the time it is delivered to us from Coke, and we strive to give our customers about 60 days. Now, I'm no scientist, but I'm sure a can of Coke that is basically sugar water will last more than 90 days. Heck, if it will eat thru metal and clean your toilets (urban legends) then I'm sure it will last for years! Just my take :-)



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Party!

One of the best parts of Christmas for Sandy and I during the holidays is the entertaining. Today we hosted our annual staff get together at our home.

As usual we served up wave after wave of those little finger food appies everyone likes along with just about every other kind of snack, meat, cheese, crackers and dessert found at Costco. Yaaaaa the secret is out - I'm a Costcoholic! We also had a fully stocked bar that rivalled any nightclub, but this year it was barely touched, although there were plenty of designated drivers. Maybe it was that it started snowing, or just a sign of the times that booze in a work setting is becoming the exception, not the norm. I didn't mind, since I rarely drink other than wine in a restaurant. Glad to see this though.

The staff had a great time and everyone in the company really gets along well. It's nice to get staff from all our shifts together since we run the company 24 hours a day and the afternoon and evening shifts as well as the drivers don't get a lot of time to visit with the day staff. It was a real treat to have Kathie, our call center manager, bring her new grandchild along with several other staff and their children. If I did a head count, there must have been almost as many kids as adults. We always have some little presents for the kids that come to this party and it is encouraged. Next year I may just have to don the Santa suit. After all the food this year I probably won't need any padding either.



Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Cards

I remember seasons back when we received so many Christmas cards that we hung them up on strings thru the office. These past few years, the amount of incoming holiday cards has gone from a healthy daily stack from the mailman to just a trickle. What happened to all the cards, I thought. Doesn't anyone love us anymore?

Actually, at Costless Express we stopped doing cards a few years ago to save paper from an environmental point of view. Cards just seem such a waste, use it once and toss forever. We choose to support the food bank instead.

So, what was everyone doing to get the holiday message and spirit out to their customers, suppliers and coworkers? I asked our sales staff this question and got the answer hands down. Email cards have unequivocally taken over for the paper card.

Our sales people showed me everything from simple one liner emails to the more extreme. Here is the best I saw from a customer. They created a nice email and attached a cool game as part of the greeting. All customized and still very personal. Is is a very addictive game - think Guitar Hero but Hockey. I made it to level 10 after much wasted time. Here is a collection off Metacafe that will keep you entertained too.

Amazing how one more industry is forever changed by the internet. Millions of cards are diverted each year from landfills and that's a great this for the environment - not so good for the card business.


From: Cindy French
To: Cindy Sutter 
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2008 09:27:18 -0800
Subject: Christmas Greeting from Cindy French
Hi Cindy!
Hope you are having a wonderful snowy day today! Instead of sending out Christmas cards this year, we decided to make 60 hampers (full of fleece blankets, sweaters, socks and Christmas treats) for the homeless people on the downtown eastside who are desperate for warm clothing in this harsh and unexpected weather. We did not want to let our clients go unrecognized over the holidays however so, in light of the season, we have created our own homage to the holidays to say thank you for all your help in 2008:
Just a warning, it's very addicting! Send it around to anyone you think might enjoy it. Hope you have a safe and merry Christmas and I look forward to working with you in the New Year.

Cindy French
Receptionist/Administrative Assistant
Blow Dryer Christmas Card

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Special Dinner

Tonight was a special night for Sandy and I, as we hosted a little "Thank You" dinner for two special staff at The Salmon House in West Vancouver.

We chauffeured and then wined and dined them for the evening. The restaurant was fantastic as always, and we all participated in their Tasting Menu that paired a wine with each of 5 courses. After dinner, we sat in the lounge for coffee, and were entertained by an extremely entertaining one man piano virtuoso. It was great to say job well done in such a relaxed setting. For me, it was extra special to get some one on one time with both of them, and I felt like I got to know them both a bit better.

Chrissy and Wendy had just completed a long standing project of returning a back log of customer returns to one of our office suppliers. Over the past few years, we had accumulated over $50,000 in returns (RTV - Return to Vendor) that the supplier, under policy, would not return for one reason or another. While I was in San Diego this August for a conference, I was able to negotiate with the supplier for the return of these products, as long as we processed everything by the end of 2008.

In the office supply industry, customer returns can exceed 5-8% of total sales. It's just a part of our business where the customer gets something delivered that is possibly not what they were expecting when they shopped for it online or in the pages of a catalogue. Our industry, including Costless Express, also has a very liberal returns policy for customers. "Return in 30 days in resalable condition for a full credit." It doesn't take long to get get backed up, and since our suppliers have a 30 day returns policy also, so there are many times we are unable to return items fast enough and we take the loss. All we can do is try to resell the items ourselves on a blow out sheet. I'm sure you have seen a few of these from us recently.

It was great to free up the cash and space in our business, and all the credit goes to Chrissy and Wendy for tackling such a large project.

Thanks Girls!


Friday, December 5, 2008

A Customer Email

Received a nice email from a customer today by way of our sales department.

It's nice to know our prices are almost too low to be true! The email reads as follows:
From: James
Sent: December 5, 2008 7:04 PM
Subject: Re: Fair Trade Coffee for Offices

Thanks for sending me this. I'm hoping this week to setup a meeting with a few people from the executive and show my research. Based on what you sent me it looks like switching to Ethical Bean will only be a nominal cost to us, as it's almost the same as we currently pay for our coffee (if we buy from you that is). I'm really excited about this and based on what I've heard from you and Jeff, I feel like your company would be the best fit for us (now all I have to do is convince the rest of my company!).
I am a little curious about one thing and I hope I'm not over stepping my bounds. The cost estimate another company gave us for Ethical Bean Coffee was almost double the price you sent me for the same amount of coffee (I believe it was the same type as well). I'm not quite sure how to explain that and I think my colleagues would be interested as well.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Here Comes Keurig!

Keurig B60 - Available from Costless Express!It was like Christmas early at Costless Express, as we received our first order of KEURIG coffee machines and coffee. We had 4 pallets of machines and over 1000 cases of coffee arrive just in time for a Christmas blitz.

First, for those of you who have yet to hear about Keurig, it is a nifty one cup coffee system. I have one in my house and at the office and we all love the coffee and the convenience.

As soon as the shipment arrived, we launched the news at 10am on our website and sent 2000 emails to customers. Our special cup price of 49¢ each ($12.25 per box) is far below anything available online or in a store.

We are offering customers the choice of two machines - a small brewer for under 25 employees, and a large plumbed in brewer for over 25 employees. Each is available to our customers at no charge when they buy the coffee and supplies from Costless.

Response in the first few hours alone was crazy. Customers signed up and also wanted to purchase for their home. By 3pm when I left the office, we had commitments or sales for about a third of our machines.

Currently we have over 30 coffee and teas to choose from, and look for a few more coffee brands to arrive soon.


Sunday, November 30, 2008


Time to give Kudos where it's due.

Our night warehouse manager Malcolm has been with me over 6 years, and he and his team are amazing. They come in to work at 9:30pm and work all night assembling orders, doing quality control, loading trucks and cleaning up. It's like we have a magical team that comes and goes in the night so when we arrive at 7am to start the day - all is done.

His team is never sick and rarely makes a mistake. This is the real KUDOS of my story. We track all errors and Malcolm's team is made aware when they are to fault. It could be an item picked wrong, or packaged so there is damage before reaching our customer.

This month Malcolm and his team processed 78,462 pieces and made an amazingly low error count of ... drum roll ... 8! Yes, EIGHT errors! Past months have averaged 25-30 with a personal worst of 56, so eight is truly a feat worth spotlighting.

Wendy (whom I wrote about on October 13th) tracks every error, and she was the so excited as she read the numbers each Friday in our operations meetings. She knew they were on track for a record-breaking low errors month.



Monday, November 17, 2008

G&T For Sale?

Is Grand & Toy for sale?Hot off the presses, is Grand and Toy to be sold?

Did you know Staples (USA) owns Corporate Express, Office Max (USA) owns Grand and Toy, Lyreco is European and Office Depot (USA) stock is down over 90% since last year on allegations of overcharging customers millions. Thanks for supporting Costless - your local Canadian office products supplier!

Here is the news posted today on our industry news wire.
According to sources within the Canadian OP industry, OfficeMax subsidiary Grand & Toy could be preparing itself to be sold off.
Sources close to the company have said that a complete and unscheduled inventory of fixed assets has been taking place and this, along with recent cost reduction activity, would suggest a period of due diligence.
Early betting had Lyreco established as the firm favourite, with other potential buyers either lame (Office Depot) or not even at the races (Staples).
Any deal would also ease OfficeMax’s own cash worries as it struggles to cope with falling sales and margins.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Gospel of Green

Here is a great Fifth Estate episode that aired tonight. Very informative, but about 41 minutes long. At least they took out the commercials.

The Gospel of Green
As the world confronts the reality of global warming and the inevitable end of oil, the questions of what to do and how to sustain energy without oil or fossil fuels becomes more urgent. Bob McKeown and a fifth estate team travel to Germany to meet Hermannn Scheer, called "Europe's Al Gore," a parliamentarian who is leading the way to increase Germany's reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power. To date, 15% of Germany's energy comes from renewable sources. Scheer estimates that if Germany continues on this course, by 2030 that will be 100%. So, if one of the world major industrialized nations can achieve this, why can't a country like Canada? The answer may lie in the fifth estate's investigation of the influence, in this country, of conventional energy industry on politicians.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Field Trip Day!

What a day! We just had 17 kids from Greybrook Academy Private School come to Costless for a tour!

Greybrook is a customer, so when the grade 9 teacher approached me to host a field trip, it was my pleasure. Since I told Alisha our warehouse manager about the special guests a few weeks ago, she has been so excited (and nervous, she admitted) for them to come.

The kids came at 12:30 on the school's bus, and they sprinted across the receiving parking area in the pouring rain. Once inside, we had a quick meet and greet, then broke them into 3 groups.

GROUP 1 - Hosted by Alisha.
In her group they learned about pick tickets, warehouse flow, bin locations and safety. They were given a pick ticket and sent off in the warehouse to find the bin locations and pick the product. It turned into quite a race with lots of running, screaming and laughter. The highlight for GROUP 1 was getting a chance to strap into the full body harness and stand on the Cherry Picker Forklift.

GROUP 2 - Hosted by Nader
In his group they learned about receiving, shelf stocking and date rotation. They also picked some orders in our Repack Mezzanine Section. Since it was full of cookies, candy and other treats, the kids were loving being able to pick or "shop" as they liked to call it, all their favourites. The highlight was definitely the motorized conveyor system that moves the plastic totes with orders from upstairs to down by pressing the up/down buttons on the controller.

GROUP 3 - Hosted by yours truly.
In my group I had our boardroom set up as a sample tasting center. I conducted a live focus group with the kids and had them sample items we were contemplating selling to our school customers. I had them sample everything from juices and spritzers to kettle corn, fruit bars, cookies and snacks. All the items met the health guidelines for schools, but I wanted to see if kids would actually like the product.

After testing, a few items I felt would do well the kids shot down, while others I felt were not worth listing, the kids loved. For example, we have a new line of cookies from Dare called Bear Paws. There are three flavours - Chocolate Chip, Honey, and Molasses. Well, what flavour did they like best in blind taste testing? ...Molasses! Who knew! What is funny about that story is the kids called the flavour Gingerbread, and it does smell like gingerbread. I think Dare needs to call in a focus group of kids and change their packaging.

The field trip was the best the teachers had ever been on, they told me at the end. It really did mean a lot to all of us to hear that. I'm sure the goodie bags full of drinks and snacks helped.

Later that afternoon, I went to make a delivery to Greybrook and the Grade 9 class saw me in the hallway. Several kids ran up and were thanking me and high fiveing me.

What a great day.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out With The Old, In With The New!

At Costless Express, November is our "Spring Cleaning" month: Time to make room for all the new 2008 items that are starting to arrive!

Over the next 2 months, we mark down prices on items we will not carry in our 2008 catalogue. That's great news for customers, since all the products are still relevant, but at huge savings!

Most items we discontinue are replaced by new pack sizes or flavours, or sometimes the manufacturer discontinues the item.

Bye-bye to Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail 300ml bottles!One item discontinued this year that was a surprise was Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail in 300ml plastic bottles. It was a huge seller for us, and customers loved it. The reason the product was discontinued was that Coke bought Ocean Spray, and delisted the item for some unknown reason. In the end, we switched our customers to our 300ml Everfresh Cranberry Cocktail, another hot seller for us.

Keep a look out for our "Clean Sweep" deals on our updated hot sheet!


Friday, October 24, 2008

My Favorite New Product

3M MPro110 Projector - Available from Costless ExpressLike I was mentioning in my October 18th entry, the best new product I saw at the show was the 3M MPro110 Projector.
Have a look, it will revolutionize the projector market. At the size of a cell phone and a cost of under $400, it replaces most uses for a briefcase sized projector.

We sell them here at Costless Express for $379.99 - and I ordered one for myself. Seems I am turning into a total Techno Geek. See it and gotta have it!


Saturday, October 18, 2008


The past three days I have been in Toronto at the Annual General Meeting for our buying group, CIS.

This is a group of 65 office supply companies who collectively negotiate with suppliers to receive the best prices. The same group I wrote about on September 25th.

The AGM is a busy time and well worth attending. This year I brought Darrin our Controller, Bill from Purchasing and Cindy from Sales. We spent one day at a supplier hosted trade show, picking up bags and bags of free samples and testing out cool new products for 2009. One of the best new products was the 3M MPRO110 Projector (I'll discuss it in my next update). Another day was spent on workshops. Each of our staff spent time learning about their special interests, from Sales and Marketing to Purchasing and Accounting.

The highlight for me was speaking as a guest presenter on the topic of Environmental Corporate Practices. I had prepared a 30 minute PowerPoint, and shared how Costless Express made changes to be Canada's first Carbon Neutral Office Supplier. It was quite rewarding to see some of our group embrace my presentation and become enrolled in making similar changes in their business. "Thanks, I just needed to see how someone else did it for me to start," was what one owner said to me. That's what I was hoping for, an opportunity to share our experience and educate others on how to become more environmentally friendly.

Outside of all the classes and speeches, we were also treated like royalty with cocktail receptions, dinners and impromptu meetings in the lobby bar. I have been to many of these meetings and so has Darrin, but for Bill and Cindy it was a first and they really learned a lot and enjoyed themselves. The next meeting is in New Orleans; I'm sure I can drag myself there!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Did You Know?

Today I had an email from my friend Wade. He owns Chewters Chocolates, a fantastic company. The subject line on the email just said WOW!
In the body of the email was a link to this incredible 5 minute video. It covers some of the most thought provoking statistics about our future. Things like: The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010... did not exist in 2004.
Have a look, it will really get you thinking. Also, use it as a opener for a sales or marketing meeting. You'll have the whole room talking.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Commanding Officer Blomme

Atennn Hut!

Wendy receives her medalAt Costless we have a real life Commanding Officer working in our midst. Her title in the office is Wendy the accounts receivable queen, but outside our doors she is known by the troops as Commanding Officer Blomme.

Wendy recently was awarded a medal for an astonishing 22 years of military service. Here in the picture is a handsome devil presenting Wendy her award - that is her husband! He too has lots of shiny things on his chest but this is all about Wendy.

Wendy joined the forces back when she resided in Whitehorse, Yukon. (That's why she volunteered to shovel snow last year - see Calvin's Corner January 30th, 2008)

She was then posted in Manitoba for 3 years, moved to BC in 1987 and met her husband in the military. She raised 2 darling girls over the years, worked full time and managed to offer her time and experience to training young cadets. She is currently the Commanding Officer in New Westminster.

Wendy and I get along great. I have her assigned to my most important research - order accuracy.

One of her duties at Costless is to track every single order/customer experience error. We call it a WAGU - aka "when an order goes wrong" (I'm still not sure how we got WAGU out of that but it seems to have stuck with us). She tracks each WAGU with military diligence, identifying the problem, documenting the solution, recording the data and God forbid - calling out the offender if it was human error.

Great job Wendy on your medal and job performance!



Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Subprime Crisis, Xplaned

How did the economy get to be a mess so quickly? What is all this about the credit crisis and why did all these big banks and companies get so deep into trouble?

This country is facing a serious economic crisis. But do we all understand why and what it means? I'm very excited to share a new video that clearly defines the flawed subprime lending mortgage practices that led to the current situation on Wall Street.

The four minute animated movie, which can be viewed at, takes viewers through the process starting in 2000 and ending in the current day. It details the role that home buyers, mortgage lenders, banks, financial institutions and ultimately asset backed securities played in this financial mess.

I hope you enjoy it.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Introducing Flavia!

Flavia machine"Patience is a virtue" is an old saying. Well, today was a great day at Costless, because after waiting, we just became a Flavia Authorized Distributor!
What is Flavia? Well first, some background and why we were waiting.
Over the past few years, there have been some new coffee machines to hit the office and home market. You know, the ones that make a single cup at a time. Some take cups, others take pods, envelopes and on and on. Also, some of you may now own a machine... and you can't get the coffee any more!
Yes, there were so many choices a few years ago that we decided to wait until the cream rose to the top. Hence today, why we signed on with Flavia. This system has shown it is the most versatile in the office environment, and clearly leads the way in coffee and tea choices. More than any other system.
What Flavia does is brew one cup at a time, so there is no waste and all the convenience. One person can have Mocha Latte and immediately after, the next person can have a Orange White Tea, without fear of any taste contamination. Once the drink is done, the packet ejects into a bin so there is no messy clean up. It really is a revolution in office coffee, and we are happy to work with Mars Drinks (of the Mars chocolate company) to roll out this amazing technology to our customers. Click here to watch an online demo!
I have a special offer for any customer who wants to have a Flavia coffee machine installed in their office! I will give you a CREDIT of 10% back on all your coffee purchases till the end of 2008. So if you buy $2000 in coffee, I'll give you a $200 credit at the end of the year. Please let your sales rep know you saw the offer on Calvin's Corner.
If you want we can come drop off a machine for 3 days of free trial drinks, just say the word, and we will come.
You'll be hearing much more about Flavia from Costless Express. Click here for a sheet about the system and our drink flavors.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Riding With Helijet

All aboard!I really enjoy cars, planes, boats and just about anything else fast, so today was special for me since it was my first ride in a helicopter.

One of our customers, Helijet, flew me to their Victoria harbor base as part of our new Ethical Bean coffee roll out. Helijet offers their customers a full coffee and snack program for all their bases in BC. All supplied by Costless Express. Each flying guest is able to choose complimentary items like bagels, drinks, coffee, snacks and much more at the fully stocked coffee bars they have set up.

Each year I work with their management to keep the selection fresh and interesting. At their request we added fruit and oatmeal (just like Starbucks) and a local organic fair trade coffee from Ethical Bean. All cups and cutlery were also switched to biodegradable materials to keep with Helijet's policy of being as eco friendly as possible.

Helijet's new coffee stationThe coffee stations turned out great and the early reviews from customers was very positive. A funny side note while in Victoria is that a cabinet minister and I were chatting about the mini biscotti we supply, and he wanted to order cases just for himself. I set up a deal between him and Helijet, and now when he flies, he can also pick up his coveted order of Wally's 3D Fudge Mini Biscotti!

Although the weather was overcast, my first flight on Helijet was great! Something well worth experiencing. In the past, our staff has had an open invitation to fly when we wanted but never really took advantage. Well, that may change now that I have experienced what a convenient and VIP service they offer. Thanks!


Monday, September 29, 2008

A Visit With Ethical Bean

Calvin and VirenToday I stopped in to visit our newest supplier Ethical Bean. Viren the sales manager gave me a tour and showed me the process of how the coffee beans are actually roasted. Quite interesting that it only takes 20 minutes to roast almost 100 pounds.

Viren is the big picture guy, practiced at the art of conversation, new father of twins and a heckuva nice guy. (Actually, I got that from his bio online). He and the entire company are a real local success story, and I choose them because of our similar philosophy on sustainability and the environment.

You can now purchase Ethical Bean coffee portion packs from Costless Express. Something you won't find in the office coffee market except from us. The coffee is all 100% Organic, shade grown and Fair Trade Certified.

If you would like us to come do a taste test at your company please let me know.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Breaking News!

I just got off a conference call with our buying group.
Basics & Office PlusAll of us work in some kind of industry, and when big players merge, it makes for great water cooler talk. This is the kind of news that has the whole Canadian office products industry talking. Sorry if some of this story is a bit "behind the scenes".
First, to get you up to speed on some info. A buying group is a organization that consolidates the buying power of several businesses in a industry and negotiates as a collective. Many industries have this. This way a business with, say, $5 million in purchases can pool together with one hundred other businesses and have the purchasing power of $500 million - you get the idea.
In Canada, there are two office products buying groups. CIS (Canadian Independent Stationers) and BASICS Group. TODAY, CIS AND BASICS MERGED! I made that in capitals in case you missed the news. (I kind of feel like one of those people you meet at a party where they corner you and tell you all about their job — their really boring job — but to them, it is the center of their universe.) Shall I carry on?
Costless Express belongs to CIS (OP Office Plus), and we have enjoyed the benefits for a while. Across town is another office products dealer called MILLS, and they belong to BASICS. Now, although Mills and Costless are not merging, we both now have the exact same suppliers, products and prices on office supplies, because of our buying group affiliation. I guess the juicy part of this story is that our local nemesis and Costless are sort of "Brothers in Arms," in a way. We each now support the same buying group and reap the same rewards. AND go after the same customers and sales.
I'm sure over time the new buying group will be able to lower prices by negotiating from a stronger position on behalf of all Canadian members. It also opens the door for Costless Express to add some new suppliers that only Mills had access to in the past. We plan to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead.
So there, that's the news. We office supply folk sure know how to tear up the headlines!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Post It Notes, Animated

What does the simple post it note and pop culture have in common?

Well, if you are Jeff Chiba Stearns, a local Vancouver artist, the post it note represents the last 10 years of your life - one note at a time.

Have a look at this amazing and memorable movie he made with post it notes. I only wish we could have supplied him the notes.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Whole Foods

Whole Foods SeattleHave you heard of the grocery chain called Whole Foods?
Next to the Pan Pacific in Seattle, where Sandy and I stayed for Coffee Fest, was one of these stores. At first I thought it was a health food store, until I walked in. Ohhhh, was I wrong! Whole Foods is "an experience" in grocery retailing. I had never seen such a perfectly executed retail model. Let me explain:
As I walked in the doors, I was greeted with a fragrant corridor of fresh cut flowers. The smell really set the tone. The store is so clean and the signage is well laid out. I noticed immediately all the "fresh stations" that you can self-serve, like the Olive Station. 40-50 different kinds of olives for your delight, all at one price, $9.99 per pound. Just grab a container and start scooping and mixing. Then there is the cheese area with tons of free tasting plates and an expert ready to answer all your "cheesy" questions. It was like that all over the store. Salsa station, deserts, meats, breads, even a hot dinner station that you just scoop and go for one price, and the selections looked delicious.
Whole FoodsOK, here is the best part. Anyone who knows me knows I am always critiquing businesses on customer service. At Whole Foods I have to give them a 10/10. Everywhere I turned the service was spectacular. When I asked a question to a staff member, he walked me over to the shelf, then proceeded to explain all my choices in such a way that the vocabulary he used made me want to open the jar and start eating right there. I watched a cashier help a customer load her groceries into her back pack with such care, even suggesting the optimum loading pattern so the bread didn't get squished and the cans didn't dig into her back!
The best part was this — I was looking at the fresh fruit stacked and displayed in such a way you swear the pieces were glued together to stay balanced, and a staff member came over casually and said as he picked up a melon," Have you ever tried one of these (something something) melons? They just came in. The taste is life altering." No kidding, he said that with a straight face and with passion. He was serious and he had me sold. I ended up buying over $50 worth of stuff when I came in for a couple of waters!
Great job Whole Foods! You have a raving fan in me!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coffee Fest!

Calvin & Sandy at Coffee FestSandy and I drove down to Seattle for a few days to catch Coffee Fest, one of the largest trade shows all about coffee.
Coffee Fest has it all, from machines to beans! I really wanted to source some new items for our 2009 catalogue and the show didn't disappoint. We found biscotti, mints, coffee, tea and even cups made from bamboo reeds that are biodegradable.
It's Super Coffee Cal!Probably the coolest booth I found was the "RocketMan" coffee-dispensing backpack. Strap it on and stroll around, serving hot and cold beverages by the gallon.
I had to buy one. So, look for me in front of your office tower one cold morning, serving up some tasty java and biscotti soon!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Book Rescue!

Calvin on the forkliftYou know the saying, "One man's garbage is another man's gold?"

Over the past few weeks, my good friend Shawn was moving his business into a new building he purchased. Shawn's business is selling books online, and he is very successful at what he does.

He purchases trailers of books from different suppliers and sells them one by one on popular sites like eBay and Amazon. Most books he purchases are large coffee table style books, but there are times he receives books he can't sell online, such as children's books. "A small 10 page Dora the Explorer book just won't sell online, and even if it did, the shipping costs would far exceed the cost of the book itself," Shawn explains.

As Shawn prepared for his move, we realized he had over 40 pallets of books he could not sell and he was going to have to send to a recycler. There was a great opportunity to do some good here!

With Shawn's blessing, we decided we could donate them to some worthy causes. First we picked some schools who were existing Costless Express customers and also BC Children's Hospital. Our staff really got behind the project and spent several days sorting product on their own donated time!

We found books on everything! How about a children's cooking book (with apron), a book on juggling - balls included, card tricks - cards included and tons of kids' books that were perfect for a school. I remember a paperback book about a grade four class of kids who adopt a creek, clean it up and save the fish. There were over 100 copies of the book, so I'm sure the school we give these books to could hand out a copy to the whole class for a few years to come. Hey, maybe this book will motivate the class to save a stream!

It was very rewarding to save some of the books from recycling. We did the best we could, but still there were lots of books that needed to be shipped off. Some of our staff had tears welling up as the recycling truck drove off. They really wanted to save more books, but 40 pallets was just too much in the time we had. The great news is Shawn does accumulate these books from time to time, and he said we could come back again. Thanks, big guy!!

A side note: I will do my best to keep up to date on my Calvin's Corner. Shawn is diligent in calling me when I have not posted. There you go Shawn! A recent post — and it is about YOU!


Friday, September 5, 2008

We'll Miss You, Amy!

We'll miss you, Amy!

We really get to know our customers, and when they move on from their company, we feel we lose a relationship and a friend. When I heard Amy from one of our large customers was taking a new job closer to her home, we decided to pay one last visit and say farewell. I stopped in with one of our giant cakes and a card signed by all our staff. Amy was surprised, and promised to set up an account with Costless once she moved over to her new job. She said she would miss us too, especially Kathie her rep.

Although we lost Amy, we didnt lose the customer. Margret has taken over, and we didnt leave her out of the goodie giving! She was pleased we stopped in for an visit, and loved the candy and treats we gave to her.

Ahhh, a little chocolate seems to help make friends fast!

Ciao Amy, Welcome Margret!


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

School Snacks

Healthier snacks for schoolsWell, that's about it for summer. School's in!

This year, the schools have initiated the final step in removing all unhealthy food and beverages. Only items that meet the schools' nutrition standards list as Choose Sometimes and Choose Most are allowed to be sold.

I was quite discouraged over the past few years as to what we would sell to our over 200 school customers, but in the 11th hour, suppliers have come up with all sorts of modified recipes and packaging to meet the guidelines. New "baked" chips, raisins, juices, cookies, snack bars, nut mixes and more all taste great, and for the most part have been portion controlled to about 100 calories. I like this idea, since a snack is just that, a snack, and some portions were getting out of control, like giant bags of chips.

This year, our school catalogue will see a completely new selection of about 150 items schools can sell. I feel like this could actually be a good year for school sales. What will determine this is whether kids stay at school and pony up for a healthy snack.

If they leave to cross the street to the corner store, then school sales and profits for the school will drop to almost nothing. This year will be quite interesting. Maybe Costless should sell to the growing corner store market, and follow the kids? Near my house, I see the corner store has a security guard who only allows 6 kids in the store at once, and the lineup outside runs down the street. Hmmmm...


Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Over the next three days, we will be adding an incredible piece of software called GoldMine. It's a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) and will assist us in servicing our customers as individuals. GoldMine will help us track all the customers' needs, wants and requirements at a whole new level. Our sales people will be able to see hundreds of individual pieces of information, from what they are buying and notes from each time we talk to them - even when their birthday is. So watch out, we may just call you up and sing Happy Birthday to you if we find out your day!

Neil is the owner of a company called Longbow Consulting, and as part of our install we flew him up from Boston to train us and set up our processes. He said the next three days were going to be quite intense. I know our staff is excited and ready for the challenge. They even made a nice welcome card and basket of goodies and had it dropped off at his hotel for their arrival. Neil said that in the hundred or more installs he has attended, he has never received such hospitality! He said it really set the tone for what kind of company he was coming to train.

The software will take a few months to become fully functional, and I hope you see subtle changes in how you are serviced.

Great job staff!

Training didn't suck!
Update September 9th: In the picture, here is a group of our sales people at the end of our training, and Neil in the front holding a giant 10 pound sucker. Our gift to Neil to let him know "Training Didn't SUCK!"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catalogue Season!

Buckle up, staff - it's catalogue season! Our staff has seen what it's like when we start preparing our new catalogue - in this case, our 2009 Big Book.

We meet with over 100 suppliers; From coffee to cups, paper to pop, fruit to facial tissue and everything in between. What the staff likes best are the free samples each supplier brings in. So far we have some cool cups and cutlery made from corn and bamboo reeds, and "Amazing Raisins" flavoured with all sorts of tasty toppings that are at the top of our staff selection.

Our goal this year for the catalogue is to continue to add more eco friendly products, more coffee selection, healthier snacks and more fruit, to name just a few. Take a look on the front of our website; we have added a customer poll so you can vote on some of the items we need help deciding on. Also, under our Free Samples list, you might just find a few treats to try for yourself, before they come out in our new catalogue!

If you have specific feedback, or a wish list, please by all means let us know, and we'll consider all items.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Shredding The Competition!

One of our promo shredders.Now here is a sale to "shred the competition." We were able to negotiate a great deal on shredders and purchased 500. So instead of selling them, we thought we would just give them away! Yup, for FREE!
For the next two weeks, all customers will receive a free shredder when they place a qualifying order. The value on the shredders starts at $59 when you place a $300 order, and go all the way up to a $500 industrial shredder when you place a $3000 order.

I will wager the industrial shredders will be snapped up first, since we have so many customers who place large standing orders. They will automatically get one. What a great surprise!

If you happen to miss this special, please sign up for our Express News email list, as this is where you'll see this and other exclusive online deals.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Copy Paper Special!

Copy paper and toner!As you read in my August 11th entry, some customers did not know we sold copy paper and toners. So we came up with a great sale for the remainder of August: Copy paper for $25.00 per case when you buy any toner! Since paper is usually $33.99 per case, this should be a great offer, and we always beat the competition on toner prices. Let's see how it goes!
Update September 6, 2008: Here is a follow up to the special. Great success! We know at least 128 customers took advantage of the sale in the two weeks, and feedback from the sales staff was that some ordered paper and toner for the first time. Thanks for the support!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Customer Survey Results

She's our Wii-nner! Cindy poses with SylviaToday we handed out a Nintendo Wii game console to a lucky customer. Cindy stopped by and congratulated Sylvia from Watson Wyatt, who was the winner of our Customer Survey draw.

As most of our customers would have seen from our emails and website, we conducted a Customer Survey last week. Thanks to the over 300 customers who participated. The response and feedback was incredible.

For any of you who did not get a chance to fill out the survey, please click here to participate. Your feedback will really help us be the best we can be.

I wanted to share some of the results on how we are doing and to let you know we are listening.

Customer Service - Overall, customers gave us very high marks on the customer service side. We will continue to improve on product knowledge, and focus more on communicating and out-of-stocks and substitutions. There were a few comments that some of our phone staff is "too happy and chipper - it must be fake", but really they are all like that in the office, happy, laughing and loving their jobs. Customers comment also that our atmosphere seems really fun and some have actually asked to come work here. Anyways, good feedback.
Delivery Drivers - Almost perfect marks for our drivers!!! I was so proud to hear the bonds they had made with customers. Most singled them out by name, commenting things like "Mo places our order in the kitchen and puts our milk in the fridge, we love him!!"
Accounting Department - An area we can improve on. Customer feedback was, we could speed up all levels of communication and credits. Point taken, and immediately we put the wheels in action to bring Bill from Purchasing back over to Accounting to help Darrin and Wendy. You should hear from Bill in mid September, once he wraps up commitments in the purchasing department.
Warehouse - High marks for order accuracy, but there was a concern around one supplier who seems to be the route of most of our errors. This supplier ships to us "pre picked" and we needed to ensure the order in the box was picked correctly. Of the approximately 50 order errors we track each month (out of 4000 orders), this supplier was responsible for 75% of them. We have spoken to the supplier, and they in turn have put a double check on all shipments to us. In addition, we added incentives to our Quality Control manager to continue his diligent efforts to reduce any errors.
Communication - It seems we can do a better job communicating with customers. Over 40% of customers responded they didn't know we sold copy paper, and over 60% didn't know that we sold toners. Our goal is to be a single source supplier of consumable products to our customers. We need to let customers know what we sell in some new ways. Powerful stuff!
Pricing - About two thirds of customers responded we had great prices, while the remainder felt we could do better. Of the customers who felt we were priced high, most were comparing us to "non delivered" competitors, such as Costco or London Drugs.
We are always looking at our pricing strategy and we want to be competitive. If customers ever see a lower delivered price we will automatically beat the price. One important note is that we will create custom contract price lists for customers on the items that are most important to them. So consider our catalogue and web prices a start for smaller orders and when you need help on a price or want to order big, we can work with you on pricing. Our company has succeeded for 18 years on service, convenience, selection and our flexibility to work with customers. Please don't leave and buy somewhere else if you see our price is not what you are looking for. Give us a chance to work with you. (Thanks!)
Web Site - I'd say this one caught me by surprise. We received lower marks than expected for our shopping cart. High marks for the front end specials and graphics (great job, Erin). We have had the same shopping cart for over 5 years now and it does about 65% of our sales. But to keep up with the times, the feedback was to have a better search and a fresh look. I am happy to say we have accelerated our plans to revamp our website, and will be working diligently to roll out our new and improved site over the next 6 months.
I also promoted one of our inside sales people, Chris Craven, to the position of Company Ambassador, and she will be visiting customers to train them on our current website. It still is a great site once you have some training and we do a bit of customizing to take advantage of all the powerful features.
Well, it looks like I have some work to do. Thanks again for the incredible feedback, you really are the best group of customers any company could wish to have.


Monday, August 4, 2008

2009 Calendars Are In!

Click here to read our 2008 Dated Goods flyer!In your orders over the next month or so you'll see our 2009 dated products flyer. Yes, 2009 calendars are ready to order!

In past years, we have printed our flyer and sent it out around the October time frame. But this year we moved up the date, because there is always limited supply from the manufacturers, and I wanted our customers to get an early start. By late November, all the 2009 supply will start running low, and by January 2009 the selection will be sold out. I know it's strange you can't order 2009 calendars in January 2009, but it seems suppliers just don't want to carry excess stock and possibly see it go out of date and then tossed in a land fill. (We hope they recycle!)

So have a look at our flyer online and get in your orders now (mark in in your calendar!), prices are discounted and selection is good.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

San Diego!

This week I took some staff to San Diego for a wholesaler conference I attend every year. Thank goodness the computer issues we had a few days ago happened before we left.

Four of us flew down — Sandy (VP Operations), Erin (Marketing/Web), Darrin (Controller), and myself — for 4 days of VIP treatment from our #1 office products wholesaler. It is an event our company really enjoys attending, and the best part is we are invited down at no cost, because of the volumes we purchase throughout the year.

We are treated like royalty from the moment we land. The time is filled with cocktail receptions, trade shows, classes and peer roundtable discussions.

In particular, I spend most of my time in these round table meetings with other owners. As there are over 4000 people who attended this year, there was no shortage of people to meet and share ideas with. My little note book is jammed with great ideas and contacts for me to follow up on over the next few months. I also had an opportunity to share some things that worked well for us at Costless. In particular, other dealers loved our Free Cookies when you buy 6 cases of paper, Free Paper Clips for Life, and our Web Free Samples. I'm glad to share what works for us in such a giving and high-energy environment.

The USS MidwayThe highlight of the conference had to be dinner on the deck of the famous USS Midway aircraft carrier. With a 40 piece big band playing, and the entire flight deck filled with people under a star filled San Diego summer night - it was a most memorable time for all of us.
Next year we will be attending the conference in New Orleans, and our staff is already lobbying for who gets a chance to go. Past entertainment has included Bill Cosby, Jay Leno, ZZ Top and Lonestar, so you know the stakes are high and staff is on their best game! Good luck to everyone, and we'll see what 4-5 staff get to come with me.


Monday, July 28, 2008

One Of Those Days

Darrin working on the serverToday was "one of those days". We had a major failure of one of our servers. This server operates our in house software and controls all order entry, pricing, and our website shopping cart system.

At 7:30am the server does a day-end reboot to prepare for all new orders, and this time it just died! Darrin our controller and our IT Manager Frank were very surprised this happened and explained it to me like this.

Imagine flying in a plane and without any warning both engines just stop. That's essentially what happened to us - both hard drives failed at the same time. You see, we have spent a significant amount of money on our computer systems and have built in the best possible redundancies, back ups and even auxiliary power. So when a server has both hard drives fail simultaneously without any blips, hiccups or warnings it truly is a one-of-a-kind "bad luck" situation.

We scrambled to order in parts and repair the main server. That took a few hours and we were powering up our server. From there we needed to rebuild the server system and data from back ups. This took several more hours. What impressed me the most was that our contingency plans, back up data and technical help all ran smooth. I had always wondered - what if we had a fire, an earthquake, a major server failure, are we prepared?

Is your business prepared, or have you had to deal with the loss of all your critical data? Were you able to be up and running quickly? Maybe now is the time to do a test or dry run to see how you fare. We all rely so heavily on technology, how long can our companies survive without it? My policy is to spend money for the best and most current IT we can afford. Even then, as we experienced, there is no guarantee things won't go wrong.

I want to say a big THANK YOU to Darrin, Frank, David for their IT expertise and a special shout out to our sales staff and customers for their understanding and patience today.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Our Green Catalogue!

Go Green!Today we released our first, highly anticipated Green Catalogue.

It's printed on 100% recycled paper with soy inks, of course. This catalogue showcases our commitment and strength in the recycled products category. We packed over 2300 items inside, along with lots of "Eco Tips" and other useful information on the whos, whats, and whys of this fast changing segment.

We'll be adding the catalogue to orders, and our fantastic account managers will discuss the new catalogues with our customers. Please have a look when you get one, or log onto our website and order a catalogue right now.

All the items in the new Green Catalogue have a suggested price, and then we put a line thru the price. The reason is, we have discounted and will continue to discount the prices in the catalogue, so we did not want to commit to prices that could be too high, and scare off our customers from trying recycled products. Usually the cost for a recycled product is about the same as a non recycled product nowadays! Have a look online for up to the minute prices. More product keeps arriving in our warehouse every day.

We also launched our new mini website, Costless Cares, that tells about all things ECO in our business. Have a look, Erin our designer did a fantastic job.

Thanks for supporting the environment.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Girl Power!

Girl power! Chrissy, Sharon & Alisha"Girl POWER!" was the call I heard from the warehouse today. I had just announced we were hiring another addition to our purchasing department - Marcia who will start August 18.

Alisha is the gal who runs our daytime warehouse operations and she had shouted "Girl Power" because - as she pointed out - there were all girls in the warehouse and purchasing!

During the day, Alisha, Sharon, Tina and Chrissy run a tight ship in the warehouse receiving and stocking, while Sandy, Wendy and Marcia will run the purchasing and vendor operations in the back office.

The warehouse is always spotless and organized. Great job girls!!!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Costless ToGo

Some of you who know the history of Costless Express will know I actually started the company delivering furniture and appliances for Costco Wholesale. After ten years and 30,000 home deliveries later, I turned Costless Express into the Internet and Catalogue retailer we are today.

We actually stopped delivering Costco furniture for several years, until recently, when we were approached to start back up the program for their new downtown warehouse. I decided it was best to keep the new service separate from our current business model, so a new company — Costless ToGo — was created. A sign was placed in the warehouse ,and brochures were printed and voilà, we were back in the home delivery business.

This week we have added 4 more warehouses onto the service, and Costco has been very pleased with the results. They are a sharp organization and see where the service has benefited their sales. Members spend more in store when there is a way to have large items delivered. Even when there is a fee, members know they are still saving over shopping at another store.

Costless ToGo will deliver over $2,700,000 in merchandise this year in the Lower Mainland, sales that Costco may have missed out on if there were no delivery service.

I want to pay a big thank you to Vicky Johnson, our inside Costless ToGo manager, and Tal, our newest Home Delivery Driver.

Great Job!!


Friday, June 20, 2008

A Lesson In Poor Customer Service

Nordstrom'sRight on the heels of some World Famous Pike Place Market service during my Seattle trip, I was quite taken aback by some poor service at Nordstrom's.

Nordstrom's has been known as the pinnacle of customer service in the retail industry for decades, so when my wife wanted to pop in to the store, I was all ears, looking to be blown away. You see, for many years, new employees were given a copy of the famous Nordstrom's Employee Handbook -- a single 5 x 8 inch grey card containing 75 words.
We're glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.
Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.
WOW! I couldn't wait to see Nordstrom's spectacular service.
My wife shopped around, and in short order found something to purchase. She had been given a Nordstrom gift card and was finally able to use it, since there were no stores in Canada. Unfortunately, while making a purchase using the gift card, the teller accidentally blanked out the balance on the card, and it was now reading as empty. The teller was not sure what happened, and we assumed there possibly was no actual amount on the card. We left the store disappointed the card did not work. As we went back to our hotel, I called the support 1-800 number on the back of the card and the customer service person assured me the money WAS on the card and had been debited to the store. So we now had no purchase, and they had our money.
This is where the service fell apart. The phone operator said I needed to go back to the store and explain the issue - she could not help me. I called the store and spoke to the manager who assured me they would look into it and call back the next day. 3 times people at Nordstrom called - once from the "Data Center" in Colorado - to let me know they were looking into it. After a day of wasted time and cell charges, the manager offered to mail me a new card in 5-7 days once they were sure the money cleared their system - whatever that meant.
Humm, how hard can this be? We just wanted our money back on the card, so we could spend it while we were in Seattle. I decided to stick to my guns, and after complaining to manager after manager, I finally reached someone who was able to make a decision. At this stage, I wanted cash back, and no more gift cards. The manager agreed, and asked us to come over to the store. We said we would be there at a certain time, but when we arrived... she was on a 1 hour lunch!
In the end, we received our cash from the gift card, and walked over to Banana Republic and spent it. Tough luck this time, Nordstrom. Time to take some customer service lessons from the small shops in Pike Place Market! (Read my June 19th entry below)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pike Place Market

The original Starbucks mermaidToday, Friday and Saturday, I am in Seattle. I drove down with my wife for a meeting with Starbucks, and I decided to stay for a few days extra.

Costless has been a Preferred Starbucks supplier for many years, and strong supporters of the brand. While in town for the meeting, we had to stop by the First Starbucks store near Pike Place Market. As we walked close - there it was, complete with its original logo of the bare-breasted mermaid. Starbucks changed the logo from brown to green and went with a PG mermaid when the company began to grow. Amazingly, the store was jam packed, with customers spilling out into the street. A jazz band was blasting away right out front on the sidewalk.

Pike Place Public marketI love visiting Pike Place Market for another reason, and if you have never been there, it's truly a world in itself for the best of the best in retailing.

I'm sure you've heard of the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market, where the guys toss the fish to each other. It was another location where people packed in just to see the show and take pictures with the staff and some giant fish or crab. How did a bunch of fish mongers become so famous?

John Yokoyama purchased Pike Place Fish in 1965. At that time, John was one of several employees of the quiet, unassuming little fish stand. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to sell the business, John’s employer offered him the opportunity to purchase Pike Place Fish. As a young man of 25, John was at first hesitant to buy the business.
The first step was for them at Pike Place Fish was to decide who we wanted to be. In the words of John Yokoyama: “In one of our early Pike Place Fish meetings with Jim (our coach from bizFutures), we began an inquiry into "Who do we want to be? We wanted to create a new future for ourselves. One of the young kids working for John said, “Hey! Let's be World Famous!” At first he thought, “World Famous…what a stupid thing to say!” But the more they talked about it, the more they all got excited about being World Famous. So they committed to it. They added “World Famous” to their logo and had it printed on the shipping boxes. Amazing how things turned out!

I've seen John and some of his staff do an inspirational talk about their company at a conference a few years bac,k and I have to say they are a true inspiration to me. I have a World Famous Pike Place baseball hat in my office that brings me great confidence and inspiration. If you have time in Seattle it is a must see as are all the retailers in the market. The "game" has really been set at a new level.

Before I wrap up I must give mention to a fruit stand not far from Pike Fish. They too are world class in my books! You can't step foot in their store, because all the staff is right out front waving you over to sample their fruit. "Hey you, check out these Fuji Apples, just picked yesterday! Have a slice! You ever tasted anything so juicy?" The staff just carve off samples with a small knife, and pass out the best fruit you have ever tasted. If you want to buy something, they insist on running in the store and bringing it back to you. Although the front of the store is jammed, nobody is moving, they are either sampling and or buying. The energy is awesome! There is no way I can walk past without buying some fruit.

OK, I also love the way the guys in the Magic Shop and the Bookstore on the second floor go to market. So grab a coffee from the original Starbucks, and head over to Pike Place Market for some World Famous retailing the next time you visit Seattle.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Beating Staples... That Was Easy!

Staples buys Corporate Express.
The "paper clip wars" was what Wall Street called it.
How does this affect Costless Express? After running this company for almost 20 years, I can tell you, it's great news!
Whenever a large competitor makes massive changes in their organization, our company grows in market share. We pick up new customers, and also add new employees that find themselves squeezed out during the merger. Also, the cost of our products usually go down in price. Really!
Swiping a Staples customer? That Was Easy!
Here's why. It is expected that there will be significant vendor rationalization with the two companies, which could leave some vendors badly needing the business from the independent channel. I will be assessing the vendor strengths with Staples and Corporate Express, and will be actively approaching the "fall out" vendors.
What does this merger mean for you, the customer? It shows you are very smart to have chosen Costless as your supplier. No drama, just consistent fantastic customer service, and products at the lowest prices. We beat Staples prices, day in and out. If you didn't know about our price guarantee, then ask your sales rep to do a cost comparison. You'll be amazed at our catalogue prices vs. Staples.
Click here to see a few comparisons we've done:
Here's one for Customer M.
Here's one for Customer R.
Fun Fact: Every time we steal a Staples customer, we run over and whack the Staples Button: "THAT WAS EASY!" It sure was :-)
Click the link below to read the full story:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bailing Out A Friend

Robin and CalvinI received a call today from a dear friend. He was in jail!

His name is Robin Ross from Costco Wholesale, and his crimes are being too aggressive with his wit and silver tongue.

Actually Robin was at the Port Coquitlam Costco, locked up in a makeshift jail until he raised $4,000 for BC Children's Hospital.

I have known Robin for years, and when he rang me to come bail him out, I couldn't resist stopping in to see Robin actually standing still for any period of time. He recently was promoted to the Costco head office in Issaquah, Washington to run something important for the corporation, we're still not too sure what. We just know that when you fly on the Costco jet with the CEO, then you must be important.

Robin was the one who invited me to sit on the Retail Wholesale Council for BC Children's Hospital, and I am grateful for the opportunity. He was in town for the big Miracle Weekend fund raiser that the hospital and Global TV put on each year.

Although we email each other, it was great seeing Robin in person again. I offered him a choice of a Costco hot dog, or a nice donation to bail him out. He choose well, and met his goal.

All the best!


Miracle Weekend!

What a weekend!

It was a busy time at the BC Children's Hospital Miracle Weekend. The end total raised was an amazing $15,607,607.

Steve Darling goes for a rideThe show on Global TV Saturday night started out with the presentation of our Retail and Wholesale cheque. It was great television, as Steve Darling rode on the side board of one of our Costless Express Trucks wearing a super hero cape as we drove into camera view (that's me driving).

Here comes the cheque!On the side of the truck was a huge cheque for $3,527,022! This money was raised through out the year from all sorts of fund raising efforts. The main supporters included Costco, Overwaitea Food Group, Thrifty Foods, Best Buy and more.

Calvin makes calls My other highlight was sitting on the Miracle Maker phone panel and raising money on live TV. This was my second year, and it was a privilege to be hand-picked to raise money for the hospital. Sitting on the panel was my friend Robin Ross from Costco, Glen Antonuk from Sleep Country, and others. We really had a great time, and raised some good money towards the weekend's total.

It was an amazing experience to see the effort and coordination from everyone to pull off this incredible event.

Watch for some fun things Costless will be doing over the next year to raise money for the (NEW!!!) Hospital.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Welcome, New Customers!

Flyers!Recently we sent out 55,000 flyers to businesses in the Lower Mainland.

I'm happy to say the response has been exceptional, with over 190 new customers in the past few weeks. Welcome to all!

Our staff does a fantastic job of tracking all sorts of statistics in our business, and I wanted to know the main reason customers were joining Costless Express. All new customers to us come from a competitor, since businesses will always buy office supplies. It is just a question of from whom do the buy from.

During a brief meeting, my sales staff explained there were several factors as to why customers switch to Costless Express. Factors such as our environmental position as Carbon Neutral, being local and BC owned for 18 years and more. But the number one factor, unanimously, was our prices. Customers love our low prices. But there was more. It was us showing them proof they will save money in a cost comparison that the new customers enjoyed the most.

When a customer switches suppliers, they want to know they made the right decision, so we have a program where we will take a customers top 10 items they have been purchasing from their current supplier, and match them up with our Costless prices. We show them how much they will save, and offer alternative items to save them even more. We also give the customer a free one pound bag of Starbucks Coffee as a thank you for their time.

Once we show customers our prices and they get to experience our fantastic customer service, I see why we have so many new customers.

Thanks so much to all our old and new customers, we promise to never take your business for granted.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Poem

We try hard to differentiate ourselves from our impersonal big box competition. How we do that is with long lasting real life relationships with our customers. Customers get to know us, and we get to know them over years of service. Some customers we have had for 18 years! We get to know the names of their children, their pets and their personal ordering preferences. I love seeing our sales people read their caller ID on their phone and answer the call with the customer's name. Thats a relationship!

Kathie, our call center manager, recently shared this lovely poem from one of her customers. The customer was leaving her company for other opportunities, and wanted to show her gratatude for the years of wonderful service Kathie and Costless had provided. Kathie welled up with tears, if I recall, from the emotion. To understand the last line, Kathie had sent over a giant cake on the customer's last day to say farewell.

Here it is:

On My Last Day
What can I say?
It is my last day.
It has been almost two years,
I really have to shed tears.

My colleagues and friends
who have helped me along the way,
You will never be forgotten,
This is a promise that I make.

For it has been a pleasure working with you,
It's truly inspiring;
It seems I have been working hard and felt down and yet
others are still very caring.

And now as I move on, I wish you all well.
What an unforgettable experience, in my heart this will dwell.
I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.....
And hope that this is not the end, but just the start.......


Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Letter From Starbucks

Mmm... Starbucks coffee!If you have ever received a letter from a lawyer, you know whatever's in the envelope is probably not good.

Recently, we received a letter from a lawyer representing Starbucks Coffee. Of concern was how we used the Starbucks logo. I was quite perplexed, since we have been a Starbucks Preferred Supplier for 10 years, and never had a problem. I worked with the lawyer, and we agreed on how the logo can and cannot be used. I received a nice response from Starbucks that they were now a happy corporation, and can continue their quest for global domination of every street corner. (I hope I don't get a letter for that!)

Something still didn't sit right with me about why Starbucks' lawyers came calling. I made some calls throughout the coffee industry, and found the reason. One that made me so proud to own Costless Express!

It seems there are several of our office coffee competitors who called and complained to Starbucks that we sell our coffee "too cheap" and this makes them look bad. Hey, its true; We sell our case of Starbucks Coffee for as low as $49.99, while my competition charges $69.99 (up to $79.99!) per case for the same thing. I guess the only way to get to us was by complaining about our use of the logo.

Well, it didn't work. I'm glad to say Costless still has the lowest price on Starbucks in town. I think I'll put it on sale for $45.99 soon. Keep an eye out!

Having fun and saving customers money, one cup at a time :-)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Recycle Those Water Bottles!

Recyclable bottlesDuring my research on water bottles for the April 27th Calvin's Corner I found some interesting ECO info on the bottles. Consumers seem to feel torn that these bottles are bad for the environment. Here is some stats to help "quench your thirst" for knowledge.

  • Did you know? A water bottle may become your new living room carpet... or it may keep you warm as your new coat or sleeping bag on your next camping trip.... PET bottles are easily recycled into many polyester based products...
  • Bottled Water is an environmentally friendly product in British Columbia and Alberta for two reasons; There is a recycling system that has kept up with consumer demands, and that system has a proven track record of keeping used beverage containers out of the landfills by supplying post consumer plastics to manufacturers that make non-food-related products, like carpet or polyester fibers for clothing. Recycled plastic containers further reduce the demand for new petroleum based resins.
  • In 2006 in BC, 813 million non-alcohol plastic beverage containers were returned to recycling depots last year, 72% of the total containers distributed. Alternative recycling systems including curbside blue box and office recycling programs could increase that number closer to 90%.
  • Beverage Container Stewardship Program awareness campaigns continue to improve the recovery rates. (In some US markets it is estimated that fewer than 15% of plastic beverage containers are recycled ...boooooo!)



Sunday, April 27, 2008

BPA & Bottles

Water bottleSunday, and here I am in Denver waiting for my connecting flight from Dallas, Texas to Vancouver. Sandy, Darrin and I were at a conference on our company software. I was sipping a bottle of water, and started thinking about the recent news on the chemical BPA that is found in some plastics. Was this one of the unhealthy bottles? What is the story here, and how does it effect our customers?

I'm sure you have all seen the news about BPA and how some retailers like The Bay and Mountain Equipment Co-Op have removed product from their shelves. What I have found is there is ample evidence that North American human exposure levels are approximately 100,000 times below (TDI) Tolerable Daily Intake levels established by various authorities. The big news recently is the announcement by Health Canada that they are ready to become the first jurisdiction to take the unprecedented step of listing BPA as a "dangerous substance".

At Costless Express we sell over 3,000,000 recyclable containers, and many are plastic water bottles. I am happy to report that plastic water bottles are not made with BPA. Feel safe and chug away. It does raise a concern for me though. What is on the list of nasty things we are consuming that is on Health Canada's Tolerable Daily Intake list?