Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is your brand accessible?

I read a great blog by Fiona Walsh this week talking about Sending your Business to Your Competition. She makes a great point… “There is no point in spending a ton of money on marketing unless you make sure you deliver on what you promise. If you don’t meet customer expectations, they will tell others and they will move over to the competition.”

I believe in 360 degree marketing and that at every touch point you can disappoint a customer’s expectations of your brand. And everyday I see a problem that goes deeper than just meeting minimum customer expectations. After 2 years of navigating a stroller through all sorts of stores I wonder how so many businesses miss it. Can your customers actually get into and around your business?

It seems an easy question to me. Unfortunately for a lot of Vancouver area business’ the answer is no. So many are worried about cramming as much merchandise and displays into their business that they forget about the actual customers. They forget that not all their customers walk into their stores. They forget the customer experience isn’t just whether the store looks pretty and the staff is friendly. If I can’t easily navigate around your store chances are I WON’T shop there anymore.

This issue applies to a wide range of the Canadian population including: families with strollers; people with disabilities who use wheelchairs or need guide dogs; and the elderly population who may need a cane or walker. And in some cases I wonder how able bodied people walk through some of these stores.

Some questions to ask yourself?

  • Are your aisles big enough for 2 of your store carts to pass each other without incident?
  • So you have an automatic door button that allows people with disabilities to enter your store. But can they navigate a walker or a wheelchair around your ‘wonderful’ aisle displays?
  • Do you have stock sitting in your aisles waiting to go onto your shelves? \
  • Your business is focused on appealing to families. Can a stroller fit through your aisles? In fact, can it get past the stairs entering your business.
  • Do your staff look annoyed when someone is trying to navigate a stroller around your aisles?
  • Does your store need an elevator? Where is it? And does is big enough for a stroller and a parent? Better yet does it fit a double stroller AND a parent?

This isn’t just a small business problem. It applies to the big and small guys. London Drugs is notorious for those great in-aisle displays. My local dollar store aisle’s barely fit one of their own carts and then they leave boxes of merchandise in the aisles – I only go there as a last resort. Superstore has one way only traffic in their chips/soda aisle because of the large pop displays. And a local kid’s store has a step up to its front door. Sure I can lift my single stroller up that one step – but should I have to?? Or the Bay who puts some of their clothing racks so close together not even a child can walk between them.

There are those that get it right. A small local kid’s consignment store has the aisles organized to fit a side by side double stroller. A busy Granville Island store full of funky art, jewelry and household items approached me as I entered with my stroller and said to let her know if I had any problems navigating the crowds. She’d be happy to help. And a neighbourhood café has a spot set aside for strollers and lots of room to navigate it between the tables. There are always families at their café. And we walk the extra block to get visit them – right past their competition.

If you are wondering why customers in your store always seem grumpy and your traffic numbers are down. Take a closer look at your aisles and ask yourself a few questions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Branding my Kid

I’ve worked in advertising most of my adult life. I’ve even worked on a few well known kids’ brands. I was still shocked by the amount of branded baby gear out there. When I first got pregnant I spent a lot of time searching online for the perfect nursery room set. I knew my child would be inundated with brand messages all his life. But does it really have to start as soon as they exit the womb? I mean do you really want the first thing they see clearly to be a Disney character mobile? I didn’t. So my guy’s nursery was decorated in a great blue, red, folksy farm animal nursery set.

His life hasn’t been brand free. But we’ve been selective and careful not to inundate him too soon.

Fast forward to today. We will be celebrating our guy’s 2nd birthday in a few weeks. And I’m surprised that he is already developing his own brand loyalty. No outside marketing. Just word of mouth from things in his everyday life. And I have to admit most of it is our own fault.

It will be no surprise to my husband’s family that his first brand love is Lego. His Dad has been obsessed with it since his own childhood. And you can see by the photo of his 1970’s space collection, that that obsession continues today. Our guy started to play with his own Lego at about 18 months. Today one of his favourite toys is his “Lego truck”. He knows when there are pieces missing. And loves to get me to read the little “Lego book” that came with the toy and he points to the different pieces and names them, ie: horsie, tractor, doggie. Now at this point he really doesn’t understand the brand promise or competitive differentiation of Lego vs other similar products like Mega Blocks. But he knows this building stuff is something he really likes and will happily point it out when he sees it in a store, picture or at a friend’s house. And interestingly he hasn’t mistaken any other building toy brands for Lego.

The 2nd brand in his life are his crocs. He knows the difference between boots and shoes….and his crocs. He knows the crocs are different than the other shoes and asks for them accordingly. When he loses one he shouts out “crocs”. This way we know he is without a shoe. My theory here is that he likes to name the shoes he can put on by himself – boots and crocs. He will pull on either and run around the house to let Mommy know he wants to go to the park or outside. In this case I think his brand association has developed as a way to show off and get what he wants… to go to the park.

Finally our little guy LOVES trains. My husband got a couple of Thomas the Train books at the church garage sale. And since then we constantly hear “choo, choo, choo…”. After a few months of static book trains we decided to let him see some moving trains on TV. At 22 months this was our guy’s first introduction to TV. And each day he asks for his 10 minutes of “Train… TV… Train… TV”. I tried to show him Mighty Machines and Bob the Builder. But NO. Only “Train… choo choo” will do. He loves to sit on the couch with Mommy or Daddy and watch his trains. In this case I’m not really sure if he is in love with “Thomas and his friends” or just trains in general. But I know that the song is still stuck in my head.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Honestly there were highlights

This post is part of the Carnival of Maternity Leave over at Strocel.com. Visit for more posts on maternity leave from August 3- 15th.

I re-read my post on the Highlights and lowlights of mat leave. And I realized it was really just about the lowlights or lessons learnt. I certainly had some bleak moments in that year, and I obviously needed to get some of that out and into the ethernet. But there were lots of good times too.

1 - mat leave top up

My organization topped up my mat leave for 17 weeks. This was very helpful financially and one of the reasons my husband was able to take 5 weeks off when the little man was born. I married a younger man not as far along in his career. So the loss of my income for a year was daunting. The top-up really helped us out.

2 - exercise helps

On the day I went into labour I had to call my pilates studio and cancel my lesson for that night. And just days before I had been dancing at a friend's place (hubbie and I swing dance). So as soon as the Doctor said it was okay I was back to my exercise. The little man and I took Salsa Babies every Friday. And hubbie did bedtime routine on Wednesday's so I could go to pilates. This little break each week did wonders for my spirit and my body.

3 - time off to travel

We took 3 weeks in the spring to travel to Germany to visit relatives. It was a bit tough financially (the top-up helped), but felt it was the best time to go when I was on mat leave and before the little guy started to walk. It was a fantastic break from the daily routine. And we had so much fun as a family treking around with the little man in his ergo carrier.

4 - finding my groove

With over 15 years in my career I'm used to making fast decisions based on past experience. When you are a new mom you have all sorts of conflicting advice coming from all directions. Books tell you to do things this way, Omi tells you another. It takes a while to figure out your parenting style, the one that works for you, your hubbie and your child. For us getting the sleep sorted was like the foundation to our parenting house. After that we had (a) some sleep and (b) some routine, so we were able to think more clearly through the rest.

5 - cloth diapers

Some may think that I'm grasping here noting cloth diapers as a highlight. But it really was. We started with a service and the intention to CD part time. And we were surprised by how much we both LOVED it. Yup it took a bit more work. And yup it took a bit to get settled into a routine. But in the end it fits perfectly into our parenting style and we are happy to do our bit for the planet.

The best part of all

And of course the best part of my mat leave was my little man. My very active, very head strong, very determined, eating, sleeping, running, talking, laughing little man (who is currently tugging on my shirt to turn his stuffed transformer back into a robot). Going to go give him a hug!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Highlights and Lowlights of Mat Leave

This post is part of the Carnival of Maternity Leave over at Strocel.com. Visit for more posts on maternity leave from August 3- 15th.

As I sit here trying to look back at my maternity leave I realize it has been almost a year since it ended. I tried to find one theme that ran throughout but then realized it was a year full of interesting highs and lows. There wasn't just one idea. So I thought I'd talk about memorable parts that still resonate with me today a year later - both high and low.

1. Do you thank him or hurt him

My hubbie took 5 weeks off when our son was born. We both felt strongly that this would allow both of us to bond with our new son. And we were right.

I also thought his time off would be a big help to me. He could make sure I ate, help with diapers, take the baby off my hands once in a while, manage all the family coming from all over to visit, etc. I thought he'd take over running of the household so I could focus on the little man. That was what we had discussed anyways. And while he loved analysing the best way to put on a cloth diaper to minimize blow outs. The reality was that most of this still fell to me. He was there when I needed him to help me, and he did stuff when I asked him. But he wasn't the forward thinking hubbie I dreamt he'd magically become. When given clear instructions he took care of it, otherwise he used his 'downtime' to rebuild the engine in his MG.

What was true was that I had support when I needed it. He was just a walkie-talkie radio call and a hand washing away. And this was very important as I had a really hard time with breastfeeding.

2. Milk stains don't always come out

They said if it was natural and if it hurt you were doing it wrong. So I never expected the pain and conflict in the early days of breastfeeding. And was a bit angry actually when friends told me afterwards that they had had problems too. This is the type of info that is helpful at a baby shower, NOT tasting different canned baby foods. If I had known earlier I would have researched support options before I had problems.

We had problems getting the little guy's latch right early on. And even after we got it right it took a long time for the damage to heal and for nursing not to hurt me. So I spent probably the first 2 months of my son's life walking around the house topless (to let the damaged area be open to the air as much as possible). And we had milk stains everywhere... and I mean everywhere...

I also couldn't wear anything touching my breasts. So I had these little plastic cup like shields that let me put clothes on without actually having anything against my breast. Worked well for when we had guests and to go out on short outings, but it left too long the cups would overflow with milk - usually at the most inappropriate time (like at IKEA where I had to run to the bathroom and empty my cups).

I was so very thankful for having my hubbie around to help me through this stage. In order to help give me a bit of a break we did the late night/early am feeding by bottle. I would pump in the other room while Daddy had some nice one-on-one time with the boy.

Hubbie also held my hand through my cry fests and near panic attacks before feedings. It was an emotional roller coaster for sure. And I'm so glad he had that time to help me through it. Breastfeeding was an important choice to me, and without hubbie having taken those 5 weeks off I know I would have given up.

3. Sleep is NOT overrated

Our guy was always a good night sleeper when he got to sleep. But we would spend hours some nights trying to get him down. He wanted to be held to go to sleep. For naps I'd sometimes be walking/rocking him for close to an hour for him to go to sleep for 20 minutes. My whole world seemed to be about getting him to sleep. I was tired and my knees were killing me. Sleep issues caused more stress and arguments than anything else ever has in our marriage. So we hired a sleep consultant when the little guy was about 5 months old.

After that it was like I had been liberated. Sure I had a schedule to follow, but I knew what to expect on a given day. So I could plan outings for us. And most importantly it gave hubbie and I some time back to ourselves.

4. Wish I had found twitter earlier

I found my mat leave very isolating. Sure the first few months were busy with visitors, but they eventually stop, and your hubbie goes back to work. Then you are alone, with sore boobs, little sleep and very few people to talk to. I went to my local community health nurse group (was the BIG outing in my world for a long time). I spent a lot of time online researching breastfeeding resources, strollers and slings. And of course updating my facebook with pictures of the little man. But I wish I had found twitter and the great group of Mom's I have found there earlier. It would have been so helpful at 3am while I was pumping and hubbie was feeding the baby.

5. Transition to NOT going back to work

This time last year I was organizing daycare and planning my transition back to work. I was looking forward to the adult company and to use my brain in my chosen field again. Unfortunately my position had been eliminated in a re-org and they couldn't find another place for me. So my mat leave was unexpectedly extended. This was a tough emotional pill to swallow. While I loved my son and the time I had with him. I had not enjoyed the isolating, tiring, housework filled day-in day-out rhythm of being at home with my son. I had really been looking forward to going back to work.

The second real hit was the timing of my layoff just weeks before the economy tanked. So a year later I find myself still not working. I have grown a lot as a person in the year since my mat leave ended - but that is another story.

What does this all mean?

The biggest surprise to me as I wrote this, was that I still don't seem to have a sense of humour around most of it. I can usually find something funny to say about myself, but I found little of that in my story above. Okay yeah the idea of me walking around half naked for months or emptying my cups at Ikea is kind of funny. But I had to work to add the humour there.