Amid the bad news and hand-wringing of the media, and my criticisms of incompetent business owners, there is good news. We could debate how common it really is (I think the silent un-noticed majority are out there doing a lot) but my purpose here is simply to highlight cases I've run across.

Product Packaging
Good Features
Zoning progress
Smart Businesses & organizations
- It's a huge complement when .....
- Learn the product
- Praising older (and younger) workers
- Stock Exchange
- Architecture & Music
- Down in the Dark
- Even Taxpayer funded facilities
- Customer Service
- Advertising & Marketing
- and Humo(u)r

Interesting products that may or may not make it but deserve credit for trying:
> an umbrella that copes with the wind, they claim, at
> a book-on-demand printing kiosk, using a large laser printer or two with equipment to assemble and bind the book. Hopefully very reliable printers (an uncommon commodity in my experience - having to clear a paper jam doesn't suit the kiosk use) and robust book assembly mechanisms, else it will fail as an unattended kiosk. llustrations I've seen seem more like early prototypes than what is needed. claim access to 2.5 million titles.
> a stylish lady's shoe that is easily switched from modest to stiletto heels. I predict its success will depend on whether or not it actually is comfortable enough for all-day wear (it sounds like an invention that should be licensed by a shoe company with good capability). My question for is how they provide reasonable wear life on the surface of the modest heel, which I presume must be flat to support the extension when in place (the extension appears to pull out of a socket in the modest heel and stow forward of it).
Thanks to Victoria Boulevard magazine for illuminating those products.
And the British Columbia Automobile Association now offers a Bike Assist program - like the service for your motor vehicle, just call them and they'll come to help with your bicycle's tire or mechanical problem, 24/7. (The announcement is garbled as it talks of towing the bicycle, but nevertheless it is a smart move.) Now, for your body, they'll sell you a first aid kit to carry (but, I suppose, you don't have to carry the spare tire tube, wrenches, etc. - do remember to take your cellular phone :-).

I like useful packaging. Examples:
- 3in1 oil changed from their oval can of many years to a domed shape with long nozzle and flat bottom that you press to squeeze oil out of, just like oilcans of old. A much more useable package. Now plastic of course, and they included the no-cap tip valve they'd introduced on the oval can (a simple pull activation). Too bad the new package is not made correctly: the tip pulls out because it is not properly secured in the body, and the botton does not flex as much as an old metal can so is awkward to use. Another lesson in how to wipe out the advantages of a great idea by poor implementation.
- the makers of WD-40 penetrating lubricant have been trying hard to reduce the problem of the little red tube becoming detached and lost. Apparently they went out and talked to customers who impressed on them their annoyance with losing the little tube which once inserted in the nozzle was prone to being bumped off without noticing (didn't stay taped to the side of the can very well either) then cannot be found weeks later when needed again. Perhaps they go to that other dimension "the other sock" goes to from the laundry. [groan!] A couple of solutions are now on the market, one is a hinged nozzle that folds so the tube sits along the side of the can. Yes, costs are higher but overall utility thus value is higher so users are more likely to purchase more of or recommend the product.
- tools and multi-piece toys (like Meccano ;-) that come in a carrying case. Wrap it in lithographed shrink wrap if you want shelf attractiveness, and I suspect you'll still save on packaging cost including assembly (how do they efficiently stuff contents into those foam box inserts? probably not).
- pasta sauce in jars that are made to be re-used for home canning (buy home canning lids with that safe snap top invented many years ago, especially as the pasta jars have fewer threads than older jars).
- pet food in reuseable buckets.
[never mind the recycling fad, I'm frugal - I remember when flour came in sacks made of material that could be used to make clothing; granted re-use takes effort & energy & precious time but out on the farm in poor days it was a bonus]
- bottles short enough to fit on refrigerator shelves (whether or not you care for ketchup, Kraft is to be commended for that approach).
- bottles with a flip cap and small outlet hole, all the better to meter out what you want
- bottles with a large flip cap and small outlet hole, they stand stable with outlet end down so that the remaining contents are easily used.
- square bottles to save space on a shelf or in a truck (which reduces overall cost)
- grip areas molded into bottles (Coca-Cola bottles of all sizes now have a grippable shape, a few pint/litre milk bottles have similar (saw a great one in Illinois, good shape and nice graphics though perhaps pricey). (Coke has made an attempt to provide better serrations to help grip the too-small cap.)
- BEHR coating for cement floors comes in a rectangular bucket with a roller-friendly compartment for the primary liquid and another compartment for the accessories and activator. Everything in one package that helps use the product - should help sales.
- GoJo hand cleaner included a basic fingernail brush clipped on the side of the container (you always get grease under your fingernails working on vehicles).
- tabs to help peel the seal off small bottles such as pills come in (the Lift 'n' Peel (TM) design is very good - that's the one with an extra semi-circular piece that you flip up to pull upward on the seal)
- self-sealing closures for use after the package is opened (zip seals are common, even the provision of a large clip as with a Robin Hood Quick Oats package is appreciated).
- security seals, which not all food products have despite cases of tampering (Diane's sauces take note!). A good variation on the plastic patch over the lid of boxes is from Bayer: the patch is perforated at the bend, so you don't have to go find a knife to open it. That should also make it more difficult to peel the patch off of plasticized cardboard and re-attach it so tampering is not detected. (Honourable mention to a small can opener that has curved wings on the turn handle, to reduce local pressure on fingers thus facilitate applying more overall pressure. Small touches help, for small additional manufacturing cost. Ask Keith how to get more usability thus sales for your product, while keeping costs low for the functionality provided.

While basic function is essential, and it is easy for some people to add gimmicky features or complicate design or use - while not getting basics right, some features add worthwhile utility. Ones I like include:
- folding handle on small upright vacuum cleaner
- colour coding of connections on computers, audio systems, and such (actually that has long been done with basic audio and composite video, using the connector insulation colour, but the idea has only recently dawned on computer designers).
- alarm clock built into CPAP machine (even more important, the machine's display faces the user (what a concept! ;-).
- clock in portable phone, or PDA
- voice recorder in PDA, to keep notes of something observed while walking.
- an eyeglass repair kit had a short plastic tube on each tiny screw head, to facilitate inserting the screw and turning it far enough to stay in place so the screwdriver could be used.
- devices with a hook-loop strap to constrain the power cord when folded up (noted on some laptop computer power bricks from IBM/lenovo - that aids portability) You might be able to make your rougher own with a pre-cut strip that is cut to thread back through itself - check office supply stores, computer stores, and "dollar" stores for those.
- power cords with a right-angle plug into the laptop computer, such as on the tips supplied with one model of Targus power brick (but not another, not on IBM/Lenovo ones despite a right-angle cord attachment to the power brick). The cord lasts much longer.
- and the OneTouch manual can opener with a large fold-away handle so people with weak hands can open cans. Complete with several notches to open caps/lids plus a hook to lift the pull tab on sardine cans and beverage cans. (Seems also a good tool to buy for camping and household emergency kit in case of earthquake/tornado etc.)

Several recent articles in the Vancouver Sun have pointed to problems with zoning laws, including separating work from residence - which many real people do not want to do - quoting people who point out the need to be less restrictive (with indications that government is coming to accept that). Of course people used to live above/behind their work - what did politicians and voters find wrong with that? Apparently in some cities including Vancouver that is somewhat acceptable again, though some like Seattle tried to force it which doesn't work (in part because the market varies by area/ neighbourhood).
Finally politicians are allowing innovative ways of providing lower cost housing, and developers are waking up. Small houses (which someone described as "a condo on the ground", and I note as good for people with mobility difficulties who want to live independently), sometimes on the lane behind a big house) Of course politicians will claim credit for the result of getting out of the way of productive people, one tactic being the use of cutesy words to describe basic things that aren't new. (Will the fiefdom of Saanich object to laneway houses as effectively detached secondary suites, or advocate them under a different name as it tried to by urging what would effectively be secondary suites in redevelopment of a motel property on Gorge Road? A bit amusing, as the concept was like some motel rooms - two entry doors, and a lockable door between areas).
These may be cracks in a system of zoning that remains oppressive overall. For example:
- one fiefdom had to change its laws to allow a small park in a neighbourhood (hmm - just level the lot and plant good grass, then it is an "undeveloped lot"? ;-). (A few dirt piles would make it attractive to kids, they prefer that to fancy playground equipment.
- View Royal B.C.'s laws did not allow a charity to erect a residential building near a hospital to provide temporary accommodation for caretakers of persons from out of the area who were in the hospital. View Royal council did not want to simply revise the law, because they feared someone might build a motel near the hospital. So what is wrong with that? Especially in a fiefdom that lacks hotels for visiting staff and salespeople? (I'll bet Super 8 would be interested, the hospital has a cafeteria for meals and there is a small grocery store a few blocks away whose selection includes produce at reasonable prices and prepared food, even videos to rent.)

Jack Evrensel and family run four restaurants in the Vancouver/ Whistler BC area. (The Top Table Group: Araxi, Cin-Cin, Water Cafe, Ouest.) He delegates to his staff, and motivates them toward perfection. Profitably.

The November 18, 2001 issue of Pacific Northwest magazine describes a number of Seattle area restaurants that have succeeded for years, noting why. It should be available on

While in Seattle, retailers who want to know how to do things right should visit the grocery department of the Fred Meyer store at Overlake in Bellevue. They have signage at the end of each aisle, thus visible when going past the aisles. Simple, but rare. (The rest of the store may be a contrasting example of how not to organize and sign a store.) Safeway in Canada now have signs sticking out from sections down the aisle, and signs at each end though managers don't get the concept so obscure the aisle-end ones - but deli/bakery and produce are like different stores, unorganized messes. I've also seen an Albertson's store that really tried to communicate.)

"If you don't do it right, you don't get repeat customers. We do it right." says Vini Vergeman, a builder of armoured conversions to normal passenger vehicles for security-conscious customers. (Vergeman's Ultra Coachbuilders, Corona CA. How literally did he mean that?)

An article in YVR Skytalk of December 2001 indicates that Vancouver International Airport's Park 'n Fly parking lot provides good service, extra services, careful lot drivers, and helps customers. They have a location at Toronto International airport as well.

David Mew retired after 44 years of selling produce door to door in two suburbs of Victoria BC. He provided good service, including pointing out when a desired item was high priced (produce prices fluctuate widely). One customer says she has no idea if his prices were competitive - "He doesn't cheat" (and of course his service is convenient) so she just purchased from him. Mew came to Canada from Canton China in 1949. The frugal Mr. New kept driving a 1954 truck, past its third 100,000. mile turn of the odometer with third engine and third paint job.
....Jim Gibson's report in the Victoria Times-Columnist of December 29, 2001.

Jim also reported on the career of artist Len Gibbs, who made a living selling good art (positive themes, well executed). It took effort, including selling his work in shopping malls for $15. each or two for $25. as closing time neared, to feed his family. Recent times have been more rewarding, with quick sellouts of shows at high prices. Len retired from painting as old age caught up with his health, not wanting to produce lesser quality art, and died, but his inspirational career and his work will remain.

I want to compliment the Toronto Dominion Bank - Canada Trust operation on one seemingly small thing. At least one branch has a reception desk signed Help and Advice. Straightforward, customer focussed - not bureauspeak. That is good. Why is it so rare? And they seem to have longer hours than other banks.

It's a high complement when a huge competitor praises you.
"They are very focused on their tenants, and you can see that," said Patrick Callahan, who runs regional operations for Equity Office (whose holdings include the 76-story Bank of America Tower in downtown Seattle). "They are very worthy competitors. I try to mimic what they do."
- in the Seattle Times, June 16, 2002, regarding the Benaroya family who develop business centers. One of the reasons for their success over the years is that they pay attention to the reason why their buildings exist - their tenants.

Labatt Brewing CEO Bruce Elliot ensures that his 4,000. employees are knowledgeable of the company's products. Yes, the learning may come easier for many when the subject is beer, but they learn about production and consumption of Labatt's products so can better represent the company - formally and informally - and do their work.
(Article on Training, Globe and Mail newspaper, November 20/02.)

The late Paul, of Paul's Restaurant and other ventures in Victoria BC, ran a good business - with dedicated employees and a clear approach to the food and service. See the article in the December 9, 2002 Times-Colonist newspaper.

Will Alexander of Western Industrial Labs in Edmonton AB has the sense to hire workers of "older age" but is puzzled that older executives don't want to. (The "she's too young" and "he's too old" lines seem to me to be collectivism, an odd approach for entrepreneurs to take. But I suspect that, in addition to sheep thinking, there is an issue of control - both groups tend not to take as much guff. (I suppose that word is a clue to which age group I am in. :-)

Stock Exchange The Frankfurt Germany stock exchange accepts filings already made for the US NASDAQ exchange rather than requiring a new registration statement - as most exchanges do. Bravo! to Frankfurt for not thinking they had to force people to remake the standard wheel. (Even though they force people to register.)
- According to Silicon Valley North - British Columbia newspaper of October 2001, page 3.
(In contrast, Canada's federal government is poor at accepting submissions made to other fiefdoms.)

ARCHITECTURE & MUSIC reports on an accoustic specialist with a realistic view of concert halls and budgets. From large big-city showpieces to modest small town facilities, he makes the facility work musically.

And working away in the dark are people who make parking garages more user-friendly. One engineer works for Reed-Jones-Christopherson in Toronto. They illuminate the subject, figuratively and literally (one simple technique being better lighting - one that can be applied after construction whereas some techniques need to be in the building structure such as the location of columns and elevator shafts). Unfortunately the parking lots under the libraries in downtown Vancouver BC and downtown Victoria BC are examples of how not to design parking garages.

Some branches of the King County library system (around Seattle) are open until 9pm Sunday evening. It appears as though a substantial proportion of the attendees then are persons who observe a religious day other than Sunday. That makes good sense - and is fair, since as taxpayers they pay for the library.

The Belleveue Aquatic Center is located beside a school near many apartment buildings. That's a smart location.

The city of Victoria BC and some suburbs put maps on the traffic-signal control boxes attached to some light poles. Complete with graffiti-resistant finish.

The Village Market in Sooke BC deserves mention for a unique twist - a "Puppy Park" enclosure for your small dog, just outside the store. Walk your dog and shop on the same trip. :-)

The Staples office supply store on Aurora North in Seattle WA is pleasingly different. Walk in the front door and you can quickly see where every department is. (Why is that so rare? Most Staples stores are definitely not like that - in fact the bureaucracy reduced signage that might have helped customers find things in its standard stores - believe it or not they removed signage because customers said the stores were too cluttered, undoubtedly meaning product displays but the bureaucracy didn't listen well.)

A year-round Christmas store located in the middle of nowhere? Many people would predict it has as much chance of succeeding as a tropical flower during a northern White Christmas. Yet David Mikalishen's "Country Christmas Store" in Westwold, a small settlement near Highway 97 in the Caribou area of BC, is thriving. Granted, the highway has a lot of traffic, a good airport is nearby (people fly in to shop!), and in the summer he sells some other merchandise. But it seems he succeeds because he has a very large selection of better and different product thus is a destination, and because he provides great service. (Reference the Vancouver Sun of December 24, 2003.)

Seattle-Tacoma international airport's Thanksgiving 2002 radio ads were clever.
They were realistic about the rigors of travel at a busy time, and provided advice on when to arrive and where to park or not. Their poetry will never be praised in literary circles, but they deserve an A for effort - and an A+ for doing something out of the box to get their message heard.

Speaking of Seattle, the Metro/King Country transit radio ad campaign using "the wheels on the bus go round and round" theme is a classic. OK, it sounds corny, but it was entertaining and well made. I especially liked the one that referred to the local bridge that sank. Very well written! Does anyone know the agency that produced it? (It ran in the early-mid 90s.) (Yes, bridges can sink. Floating bridges are popular in northwestern WA state's large lakes and wide inlets. Often made of hollow sections of reinforced concrete, they do need to stay water-tight through severe storms, two of them did not.)

And my nomination for straight speaking goes to a bureaucracy that I've been known to criticize. Each of the many parks operated by the Capital Regional District around Victoria BC has a sign that begins "Thieves operate in CRD parks." then proceeds to give back-ground and self-protection advice. A refreshing recognition of reality to help their guests cope with it, instead of running scared of "negative PR".

In Vancouver BC, a very successful seller of condominium apartment homes says "Consumers are very sophisticated. .... We don't put up a smoke screen, because they wouldn't buy it. They will evaluate things very objectively." The company "McNeill and Craik Real Estate Solutions" also gets involved with the developer very early, sometimes showing how to design for greater buyer value thus quicker sale, and communicates the development's life style to potential purchasers so they know what they are getting into. (Cameron McNeill quoted in the Vancouver Sun of January 17, 2004.)

Near the Cottonwood Mall beside the freeway in the Fraser Valley of BC a Petrocan gasoline station has a coin operated open car wash bay labelled "Car and Pet Wash". I didn't ask what kind of pets, though it is more horse than cat country and today horses are pets not workers. :-)
(The brand name "Petrocan" is not related to "pets".)
{Though there is a dog-wash kiosk being sold out of Australia, especially suited to car washes and clothes laundries.}

And off on isolated Salt Spring Island B.C., a fitness studio calls itself "Living Strong" and pitches its training for better use of your excercise time. That's smart - doubly smart.

Well done! Jeff Bezos. Reality bit the father of four, but he actually did something about it. He had his company, Amazon, make deals with toy suppliers to package their product in simple cardboard boxes instead of those difficult to open clear plastic packages. (They'll also be shipping some things like memory cards in slim packaging. For years they on occasion shipped one or two CDs in slim cardboard mailers that fit in mailboxes/slots, but more often put them in boxes far too large for even the several CDs in the order - doesn't that volume cost them more?) Now if he could only do similar for user friendliness of his business' web site and accessibility of help to customers with a non-routine problem, the lack of which is costing him business.

..and Humo(u)r
(I'm bilingual - je parle American and English. ;o)

A women's rights group in Turkey has a sense of humour, assuming the words translate: the Flying Broom Society.

A company in the serious business of military capability, EFW Inc, ends the first paragraph of its typical list of desired employee characteristics with:
"Are you good at abbreviations?"
(The military business is notorious for acronyms.)

A cute message on the sign of the Highland Nursery (garden store) east of Aldergrove B.C. said "Dormant until mid-February." IE, they are closed until then. (Their own winter break, but I doubt they are hibernating - more likely they make like the birds and migrate :-). Or at least travel to visit their grandchildren over Christmas.

And the Axxius car window shade company has taste and humor. Their very-pink version says "Princess Is Out" in big letters.

Copyright smilin' Keith Sketchley 2012.10.14 Legalities on home page.
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