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...