Monday, March 30, 2009

Trying Before You Buy – Baby Equipment Rentals

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Rebecca Atkinson credits her husband Mark as her inspiration for this week’s post about baby equipment rentals.

It’s not often that my husband and I will cross paths in terms of the work we do since he’s an automotive journalist and I’m a web-type marketer. However, he definitely gets credit for this post idea. Mr. Atkinson is currently working on a story for those not ready to buy a minivan, but who might have to give up the two-seater sports car dream. For this article he tested three different vehicles to better understand their capacity for baby equipment.

Not yet having our own baby gear, Mark tried to get in touch with one of the big baby equipment manufacturers so he could get some items on loan for the test drive and photo shoot. After a disappointing cross-border communications adventure, Mr. A had the bright idea of seeing if there was such a thing as baby equipment rentals.

A short Google search later he was delighted to find several companies in the GTA who did such things. After contacting Wee Travel, (the very first-Canadian baby equipment rental company) he was in business and the story lived to see another day.

In his talks with one of the founders, Lesley Cherry (who might become my new best friend if I ever meet her), he learned that not only do travelling parents rent baby gear, but that it’s also becoming a trend to try before you buy. That’s right – not sure if your car seat/stroller combo will fit in your vehicle with some groceries and no blind spots? Just rent the brand you’re looking to buy and see how it stacks up.

Not sure what monitor will meet your needs? Or what about if that bouncy chair really is a good investment and will put baby to sleep without you thinking she’ll fall out of it? Again, just rent it for a nominal fee and you’ll have your answer, allowing you to make a more informed purchase decision.

As I previously mentioned, we plan on going to the Baby Time Show this coming weekend where we should be able to try out a lot of things (like the –three-in-one stroller/car seat combos – taking recommendations please!) because we honestly have no clue about what we want to buy. However, even though the show might help us get closer to some decisions, we now feel confident that if we’re really not sure, we can always come home and call Wee Travel and rent the items we’re thinking about.

After all, when you think that you’re going to be spending hundreds of dollars on some of this equipment, you want to make sure it’s something you’re going to like and feel right about using. Sure it may not be as expensive as a new car, but that little baby you put in the equipment is going to be worth more than anything to you, so being able to be confident that your purchase decisions will keep your bundle of joy safe make the small rental fees worth it in the long run.

Lessons Learned:

1. Try before you buy
We’ve actually gone to look at a few (more expensive) strollers that have had large sale prices – but not been happy with one thing or another about the product – just because an expensive item is on sale, doesn’t mean it’s a good one

2. Extended trials – Renting equipment
Thinking about your lifestyle or vehicle needs/habits is important so being able to bring something home and try it for a few days without worrying about return policies is worth it in the long run.

3. What was good for the goose might not be good for the gander
What might have worked for your friends may not work for you – perhaps they have a 7-seater and you only have a Civic. With the size of some of these products today you need to know whether or not you can not only fit the products in your car, but whether or not they require a 34-page instruction manual to fold up; or whether one person can handle lifting it on the TTC or up an escalator.

Photo credit: Salsoul
Courtesy of Stock.Xchng

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Premium Retail Group mega wearhouse sale - Apr. 15-19

Premium Retail Group will be conducting their Spring Fever Toronto warehouse sale featuring Guess? and Marciano - April 15-19 - International Centre, Mississauga

Don’t miss this event where you will find incredible savings on many of the world’s hottest fashion brands for men and women featuring GUESS? And Marciano as well as: Firetrap, Bench, Hooch, Fullcircle, Scotch & Soda, English Laundry, G-Star Raw, Umm, Dkny, Mexx and Liz Claiborne handbags, Peppercorn and more…

Visit the website and receive a VIP invitation to the advance pre-opening day, with additional discount coupons!

60%-90% off denim, tops, handbags, dresses, shorts, skirts, jackets, outerwear, footwear and more.

Denim jeans starting at only $ 35.00 or 2 for $ 60.00 (regularly up to $198) 

Handbags starting at $ 30.00 (regularly over $100.00) 

Tops starting at $ 15.00

Inventory will include overstock, samples and very slight irregulars. 
Great selection of sizes and colors!

Apr. 15, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. (register for VIP preview)
Apr. 16, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Apr. 17, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Apr. 18, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Apr. 19, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

International Centre, Hall 4 (see map)
6900 Airport Rd.
Mississauga, Ontario
L4V 1E8

Free parking

Note: This is a sponsored post. The links don’t work in the graphic above but the links are available in the “What?” section.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Making Easter egg treats for little ones

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny talks about Easter, her favourite holiday, and how to make Easter egg hunts both neat and nutritious at the same time.

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. Maybe it’s the cute bunnies and baby chicks, or the plethora of yummy chocolate, or the fun of hiding eggs and toys for the kids to find on Easter morning.

But the main event that I so enjoyed as a child, that is, gorging on chocolate and sweets on Easter morning, is not necessarily my favorite now that I’m a parent and I’m the one who has to deal with the sugar-crash aftermath (Tantrums! Yelling!). Happily, there are ways to incorporate moderation and healthiness into Easter while still keeping the traditional egg hunt alive.

My favorite innovation since I became a parent is the availability of plastic, refillable eggs. You can get them at any major drugstore (such as
Shoppers) or grocery store. The advantages of using these eggs for Easter egg-hunting, instead of just chocolate eggs, are many.

1. Most obviously, you control what goes in them, and can create a mix of chocolate goodies, small toys (such as from the dollar store or a party supply store), and healthy snacks like raisins or Goldfish.

2. They’re larger and therefore easier for even the youngest egg-hunters to find. Should any eggs remain undiscovered, the plastic makes for an easier cleanup. No more wiping up little pools of melted chocolate in hiding spots that proved too clever!

3. The plastic eliminates any danger of tiny unwelcome houseguests, such as mice, having a nibble on the treats before your kids get to them. Not a common danger, but definitely handy if you choose to celebrate Easter at the cottage, for example.

4. Using the plastic eggs as your packaging opens up the option of buying your goodies in bulk, and eliminating needless waste. Buying treats in bulk also saves you money, of course.

Do you have a tip to share on saving money this Easter, or a favorite holiday tradition that you’ve put a spin on now that you’re a parent?
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dear Bargainista #16 - imported beer

Tracy writes:
I recently returned from Scotland wanting to buy this amazing new beer I tried over there.......only I can't find it anywhere in Canada. Stumbled on your site....any idea if and/or when Molson will start selling Kasteel Cru?

Dear Tracy,

I sent your question to the folks at Molson. Adam Moffat, brand PR manager had this to say:
“After careful evaluation, and given our current state, we’ve decided the timing isn’t right to introduce Kasteel Cru to Canada. Instead we’re focusing our efforts on building our home grown Molson brands.”
Sorry, I don’t have better news for you. On the other hand, now you have an excuse for another visit to Scotland. ;)

Dear Bargainista would love to hear from you too! Have a question about shopping, fashion or food? E-mail us.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Babytime Show

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Rebecca Atkinson talks about tips for making the most out of baby shows.

Having been recently married, the concept of bridal shows are a great idea to me. Both my husband and I went together and ticked many things off our list. It was a great way for us to get ideas of what we wanted or didn’t want for our wedding and we even found a few deals to be had.

When someone mentioned to me there was a similar thing for babies, I was in heaven. I’d never heard of it before getting pregnant, but to me, a baby show sounds like a great place for first-timers to get hands-on information and hopefully make some decisions as to what types of things we need for Baby Atkinson.

The 11th Annual Spring Baby Time Show will take place April 3-5 at the International Centre , Mississauga, Ontario.

Just like the bridal show, the website for the show promises speakers, exhibits, merchants and more. Everything from maternity clothes, to the latest gadgets for baby, of course including everything you need from a-z to complete your nursery. And all the assorted baby accessories, such as strollers and the like will be on display.

Having the ability to try out things before we decide what to buy is really appealing to us. We’re already overwhelmed by the number of different baby monitors available, which doesn’t bode well for us considering the amount of stuff that is required for a baby. Being able to physically see and touch items will start to make some of (brand) purchase decisions a little easier (we hope).

The show’s website offers some really great tips so that you can be prepared to shop until you drop.

There are ATM’s on the street level of the facility, however, to avoid line ups at the ATM’s we would recommend coming fully prepared.
Some of the companies exhibiting will be able to take debit and credit card payment.
If you are coming by car…please look under the directions tab for parking lots closest to Hall 5.
Bring all of your nursery measurements …this helps when you are shopping for those big items and gives you a good idea what will work for your family.
Refer to your showguide handed to you as you enter the show…it has our event schedule and great information.

While we’re as excited to shop as anyone, at least this way we’ll save on gas and our sanity by having everything in one place. With time ticking away until baby arrives and a nursery still to be decorated, a registry still to be completed and, and, and,... we’re really hoping to find all the answers we’re looking for as well as a few bargains.

I’ll be following up this post after the show to tell you if it was worth it and to give you an additional tips or lessons learned from attending.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Tip of the week: using Twitter to win prizes

This week’s tip comes from Adele McAlear or @AdeleMcAlear as she’s known on Twitter.

Here’s her tweet:
I’ve saved you the work and done the search. In the time it took me to write this post, there were 160 new tweets with the word “win” with links to all kinds of contests. If you’re really savvy, you can even subscribe to the RSS feed. If you do try this out, let us know if you have any luck.

Thanks Adele!

Have a tip to share? Email or tweet me and maybe I’ll post it here.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Introducing pet bargainista

Welcome Leona Hobbs our new pet bargainista columnist. Leona will be sharing her shopping experiences as a pet owner. Isn’t Scotia adorable?

I’m no pet expert. Far from it.

My husband and I become dog people for the first time in our lives this July when we got Scotia, a female Golden Doodle (Golden Retriever - Poodle cross).

So, as a first-time dog owner, I have learned lots. Also, I have made more than a few rookie mistakes with our pup. My inaugural Pet Bargainista column, is about a lesson learned along the way - pet food (kibble) is a racket.

My breeder had a sponsorship deal with a large multinational pet food company and started Scotia on a so-called premium food after she was weened. Our vet suggested our puppy needed a mix of dry and wet and that the food they stocked (also a premium) was the best. It was made in Canada, had no foreign by-products (like that Chinese pet food additive scare last year) and was made with top-notch ingredients. Finally, our dog walkers suggested we do our research and that we take a look at Orijen. Deeply perplexed, and with a very young puppy in our inexperienced hands, we started our research. The best resource we found was Dog Food Analysis which provides reviews of kibble. According to that site, here’s how the food stacked up:

The kibble suggested by the Breeder was reviewed found to have inadequate meat content, fat of unidentifiable origin, low quality grains, and controversial filler. Rated 1 star.

Unfortunately, the kibble suggested by the vet didn’t fare much better. The main meat ingredient is byproducts, it has low quality grains, and a controversial filler. Rated 1 star.

Which brings us to Orijen. The review on Dog Food Analysis found that Orijen Puppy had high named meat product content, contained no grain (grains are not a natural part of a canine diet), and uses high quality ingredients throughout. Rated 6 stars, we decided to feed our puppy Orijen. We get our Orijen from Global Ryan’s Pet Food.

I’d love to hear from other pet people out there. What do you feed your pet and why?

photo credit: Scotia at 8 weeks by Leona Hobbs

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Loving my Golla laptop bag

Thanks to a generous friend and laptop bag expert extraordinaire, I have a couple awesome laptop bags. Although I don’t need to use them daily, I do use them regularly.

Lately, I’ve been traveling and attending conferences more than ever. I needed something with enough room for my laptop but also for my gadgets (digital camera, Flip video recorder, iPod Touch, cell phone, mic, etc.), related geek paraphernalia and room for things I usually carry in my purse.

On Boxing Day, I was at Future Shop while one of my guys was looking for a reason to part with his money. There was an entire stand dedicated to Golla laptop bags and sleeves for 50% off. I found a great laptop bag/knapsack like the one I’d been eying on a friend last summer, for less than $40.

I grabbed it and haven’t had any regrets. It has several compartments. The one for my laptop holds it perfectly secure. There are all kinds of zipped pockets and pouches for my stuff, plus I can travel in comfort and style.

What features do you look for in a laptop bag?

Check out for contests and discounts on laptop bags and sleeves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interview with Rita Tesolin

A couple weeks ago I got an email telling me about Rita Tesolin’s inventory sale. I had a look at her pieces and liked what I saw. I also like to highlight local designers and merchants, so, I asked if could interview her. Of course she obliged. You can find her designs on page 17 in throughout the April issue of Flare (she wanted me to tell you) and connect with Rita on Twitter. (It looks like she’s new so be patient.)

Who is Rita Tesolin?
An adventurer.

Why did you become a jewellery designer?
Jewellery has always been a passion of mine. It started as a hobby in my teens. In my twenties I went to law school, but after practicing for a few years I was, in a way, forced back onto the path of jewellery design when I re-evaluated my life. I looked at my goals and quality of life I wanted and realized that life is too short not to be happy and not to enjoy what you do. I’ve been back at jewellery design for almost six years now, and still happy!

Which materials are your favorite to work with and why?
Semi-precious stones, especially turquoise, are my favourite because I find them healing. I am open to the energy of the stones I work with. The stones choose me; I don’t choose them.

How do you gain inspiration for your collection?
I sometimes get my inspiration in dreams, but mostly it comes from nature and from the changes that I experience in life. For example, when I’m feeling on the weaker side I turn to the stone turquoise which symbolizes strength in the native culture. I get a deep satisfaction working with turquoise. It’s my favourite. I am also inspired by native North American art, culture and symbolism.

What type of customer do you have in mind when designing a new collection?
When I create my one-of-a-kind pieces, I think of someone who is confident and fashion conscious and who wants to purchase something that can be enjoyed forever because that's what I like in my jewellery. I want something that will last a long time. I think about how the jewellery will be enjoyed not only by the person who's wearing it, but the next generation. Often my customers are not only drawn by the beauty of the piece, but they are drawn towards the stones they require. For example, I notice that people with anxiety and sleeplessness are often drawn smoky quartz because quartz calms them down. They put it on and they feel calm right away.

Any hints as to what we can expect from your Spring/Summer 2009 collection?
It’s a fun, light collection I call “rock candy”. I thought about when I was younger, putting together sugar, water and food colouring to create candy – that’s where the name came from. You can see my work on Coco Rocha on the cover of March 2009 Elle Canada, and the March and April 2009 issues of Flare.

If a woman could only buy one accessory this spring, what should it be?
A bold necklace. A lot of people these days aren’t buying new clothing, but a rock candy necklace has a lot of versatility. It can be worn high on the neck or worn long by lengthening the ribbon. When you're wearing a big necklace you don't need to focus as much on earrings and bracelets.
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Monday, March 09, 2009

Save $10 on a SweetPea MP3 Player

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny shares a discount code for one of her favourite toys from 2008.

Back in December I wrote about one of our more successful holiday purchases – a SweetPea MP3 player for our 4-year-old. To this day we’re still very happy with the product, and the continuing customer service from the small Canadian company that sells them. For example, we continue to get email updates alerting us to free software upgrades available their website, and updates to their online troubleshooting guide happen regularly.

And, for the month of March, the good folks behind the SweetPea are offering $10 off with a special promo code! Just enter the code 23T6S on the order page of their website to reduce the price by $10.

Also, if you comment on or become a fan of their Facebook page before end of day on March 31st, you’ll be automatically entered in a draw to win a free SweetPea MP3 player.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Speaking about blogger outreach...

I participated in a panel called “Building Relationships with Word of Mouth and PR Practitioners While Maintaining Credibility with Your Audience” at PodCamp TorontoKeith McArthur moderated this lively discussion that also included Anita ClarkeDavid Jones and Matthew Stradiotto. Perhaps it will help you gain some new insights into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building relationships with bloggers.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Customer service: It's all about relationships

We haven’t shopped for a house in 9 years and we still have a real estate agent.

Like every other real estate agent in town, Michael sends us note pads and updates on the housing market and how it impacts our neighbourhood. He does most of his business in the community where he and his family live because he believes he can add more value for his clients focusing on one area and knowing it well.

Twice a year he sends us cards acknowledging the holidays and letting us know he’s made a donation in our name to the Daily Bread Food Bank and SickKids.

Once a year, on the anniversary of the closing date of our house, we get a card or a letter with a personalized note from Michael. He includes a gift, a choice from one of several cakes at Phipps Bakery CafĂ©. We always get Mom’s Chocolate Cake – yes, we love chocolate – and we picked up the one above for Mr. B’s recent birthday.

We like cake and we like Michael a lot. He’s the real deal. No schmooze. Totally transparent and a down-to-earth guy who has a small, successful real estate business dealing with clients he wants to work with. Michael likes running too. A few years ago, he started a running club for clients in the neighbourhood.

Whether or not he’s selling houses or providing any other service, Michael knows how to build relationships. That’s how he’s built a successful business one family at a time.

Do you have a Michael in your neighbourhood?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Tip of the Week - GigPark

GigPark is a social network where you can share referrals to and recommendations about local businesses and services in your area with people you know and trust.

Let’s say you lost your earring down the drain and you contacted a plumber who rescued it for you within minutes. He arrived on time, was polite, pleasant and fixed a faulty pipe in the process all for a reasonable price… and best of all, he didn’t have plumber butt. You’d refer him to your friends, right?

Well, GigPark lets you do just that online. Once you register (it’s quick and painless, I promise), you can add your recommendation to your profile and let everyone you’ve connected to, know. You can add the contact information and website address too.

So, let’s turn the tables a bit. What it you’re looking for a plumber in your area and you have no idea who to hire. You need someone in a hurry who you can trust. GigPark offers a couple options. First you can check to see if anyone in your network has recommended a plumber in your area. If so, you’ll be able see the contact information, reviews and number of reccomendations that plumber has received. If not, you can ask if someone has a recommendation and people in your network will let you know if they know of someone who can help.

Need more of an incentive?
From now through March 31, for every three new recommendations you make on GigPark, you’ll be entered in a draw to win an iPhone.

How do you find out about new businesses and services in your community?
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Monday, March 02, 2009

Baby nurseries and lifestyles

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Rebecca Atkinson shares her thoughts about the importance of your lifestyle when making purchasing decisions for the nursery.

In last week’s column, Jenny confessed she sometimes buys items for fantasy rather than pleasure. At the same time, I was having conversations with other moms about what my next purchases might be for baby Atkinson.

I know I have visions of the “perfect” nursery dancing in my head, although to be honest, I’m not really sure what “perfect” is. Now that I’m in my fifth month, I’m starting to get asked questions about whether or not we’ve registered anywhere, what items we are looking for and what do we still need to purchase?

Knowing we have some of the bigger items as hand-me-downs from my older sister, I had to admit I wasn’t really sure, so took one of my lessons learned and put it into practice: I talked to other moms.

The one big piece of advice I got was to really think about what it is that we’ll need vs. what we want – based heavily on our lifestyle. I was also told to remember that no two nurseries will likely be identical, as lifestyles, needs and wants might be different.

Sounds easy, but I didn’t get it until I talked to my cousin-in-law who’s also pregnant. We were talking about nursery furniture and I mentioned that Mark and I wanted one of those double-duty change-table dresser combos. To which my cousin-in-law told me she and her husband went against that in favour of a dresser that matched a crib (which will do double duty as a toddler bed when the time comes). While that makes a lot of economical sense, I was really surprised they didn’t want a change table. So I called her on it.

“Oh I’ve been talking to friends with children and they told me that you don’t use them as much as you think you do. Who wants to go upstairs to change the baby all the time? You just change them wherever they/you are.”

Upon hearing that, I immediately wondered if Mark and I had made a big mistake in what we wanted to purchase. But then we sat down and talked about it. Our situation is very different than that of our cousins. We have two very inquisitive dogs and a kitten, whereas they have an older cat. As we pictured changing Baby Atkinson on the living room carpet, we had nightmares dancing in our heads thinking of what could happen, not to mention that unless I vacuumed 24/7, we’d be likely to get pet hairs in places better left unsaid.

It made us realize that we didn’t just want a change-table dresser combo, we needed one for our lifestyle.

Lessons Learned:
1. Really dissect your lifestyle and determine what kinds of furniture and items fit your needs before you buy anything
2. Your perfect nursery may not look like someone else’s idea of a perfect nursery
3. Talk to other moms (I know I said this before, but I think it bears repeating)

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