Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bargainista interviews Marta Nowinska from SwapSity

As you may know, I've been intrigued by local swap parties. Last year when Marta Nowinska approached me about promoting her swap meet on Bargainista, I was happy to help. Last week when Marta emailed to let me know she was launching SwapSity – an online consumer barter community – I suggested we do an interview.

What inspires you?

I love bringing my ideas to life and building exciting initiatives from the ground up. The creative process, along with the challenges it brings, fuels an entrepreneurial flame within me. Dialogue and idea-sharing also bring me new insights and spark my creativity.

Where did you get the idea for SwapSity?
Often, my best ideas come in flashes of insight, which was the case with SwapSity. The thought of swapping things crossed my mind one early morning in 2005, while on the way to work. Market research revealed clear potential for consumer barter in Canada. The idea was also fresh and unique, so I set out to create SwapSity.

Are you planning on holding swap parties in other locations besides central Toronto?

We started out with swap meets for downtowners and if there is significant interest, we will definitely consider expanding our events to other locations.

What would you like people to know about your approach to swap parties? How are they different from others and how will they integrate with the SwapSity brand?

Our brand offers the option of both an online and offline swapping experience. The swap meets have a variety of themes depending on the season. To date, we’ve organized a general garage sale and a book-movie-music swap. Upcoming events may include toy swaps for parents, clothing exchanges and arts and crafts fairs. Our events are open to everyone, including those who are not SwapSity members.

You’re on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr and have a blog, how are you using social media to help build SwapSity?

Our social media presence keeps growing. We share our swap meet photos on Flickr, tweet daily swap listings on Twitter and feature interesting items on Facebook. Recently, we have also started highlighting success swap stories on our blog.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Short & Sweet Cupcakes hit the spot

Like many other parents, I was off last week for March break. For us, there was a nice balance of visiting relatives in Montreal and staycation back in Toronto. The staycation part was a great opportunity for us to experience some of the new shops in the neighbourhood – and there are many as a result of vacancies left by casualties of the recession.

Just off Avenue Road, south of the 401, Short & Sweet Cupcakes is a sweet spot hidden on Old Orchard Grove. (Check out their blog.) Like its name, there was lots of sweet goodness inside. The owners were lovely and told me how appreciative of the support they’ve been receiving from the community. In fact, they have so many special orders, they’re finding it a challenge keeping their storefront filled with a variety of tasty cupcakes with clever names like Diamonds & Pearls (that’s next on my list), Key Lime Kick, Lady in Red and Black & White Affair.

Price wise, at $3 per cupcake, $13 per ½ dozen and $26 per dozen, they’re comparable to other cupcake shops in the city. Taste wise, they were superior to several – including others with greater visual appeal – yes, looks can be deceiving. I really liked the micro-cupcake samples they have on hand. When I stopped by I tried BBM, a banana butterscotch cupcake with maple buttercream, it was terrific.

I picked up two for my kids – Coco Loco, the coconut chocolate one was delicious – I had a nibble. I didn’t taste the One Hundred & One, an Oreo-flavoured cupcake with Oreo buttercream but my son wasn’t blown away. Regardless, I’m really liked the comfy, unpretentious, warm atmosphere and I’ll be back.

What’s your favourite cupcake shop? Have you tried Short & Sweet Cupcakes? If so, what did you think? Which flavour(s) did you try?

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Buy Design Spring Social for Windfall

I learned about Windfall a few months ago and think it’s a wonderful organization. Windfall is a clothing bank – it receives donations of new clothing from retailers. Then it redistributes these clothes to people living in poverty and/or in crisis – 64,000 in the GTA to be specific – for instance, by providing children with winter outerwear and adults with new clothes for job interviews. Last year, by working with corporate sponsors and partnering with social service agencies, Windfall distributed almost 1,000,000 clothing and personal items to people in need for free.

When Meg Stoudt asked me to help spread the word about their spring fundraiser Buy Design Spring Social for Windfall, I couldn’t refuse.

Buy Design Spring Social for Windfall – A dirty thirties-themed fundraiser featuring a mess hall auction, croquet and badminton lawns and a swinging dance hall tent. Have fun sipping sidecars, sours and planters punch while parading across the big band stage in the boater pageant. Test your skills throwing darts at the Beauty Balloon Buster game and sample brown-bagged bites from the country fare stands and bake sale.

The Fermenting Cellar, The Distillery District (map)
55 Mill St.
Toronto, ON

Sat., Apr. 10, 2010
8 p.m.

$75 each or 6 for $375
Order online or call 416-703-8435
Win tickets by following @SpringSocial on Twitter

Contact Kelly Carmichael for more information

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Why retailers need to get their stories straight before calling customers

You may remember last fall when I wrote about my new winter boots. Well the good news is, they got me through most of the winter - and I wore them almost every day. The bad news is they leaked a bit, I couldn’t remove all of the salt stains and two weeks ago, the zipper on one boot broke.

The other bit of good news is La Canadienne guaranteed them for six months. So, I called Davids. The sales associate told me to bring them in and they’d fix the zippers (the other one was on the verge of breaking too) or I could contact La Canadienne directly to complain and ask them to honour the guarantee.

I thought it was a bit strange Davids wasn’t going to act as intermediary between the customer and the supplier. I wanted my boots back asap so I opted for the zipper repair.

On Monday, the sales associate called to say her supervisor said the cost of repairing the zippers was too high so they’d gladly offer me a refund or a credit note. Of course I opted for a refund. I was delighted and assumed I could show up at any time and get my refund.

This morning I went back to Davids with my receipt and repair tag. The sales associate who had been helping me was there. When I asked for my refund, she promptly said “Oh, you mean your store credit.” I don’t think so. I’m not a regular Davids’ customer but I’ve learned their Yorkdale location has some stuff in my price range. (You may remember I bought the boots their because of the inferior service at their sister store.)

She went on to say she may have made a mistake. She’d to check with her manager first and would I come back when the manager’s here in a half an hour.

Me: "Sorry, no. I’m here now. I have to pick up my son in a half-hour and you need to honour your word. If you made a mistake, you'll need to take responsibility.”

We had a brief discussion ending with me saying, “I don’t want to escalate this but I will if I’m left with no choice.”

She was a bit dumbfounded, picked up the phone and unsuccessfully tried reaching her manager. I told her I’d be back in five minutes for my refund.

When I came back, I got my refund. She and the other sales associate were a bit patronizing but said they wanted to make me happy.

What am I missing here?
I bought a pair of boots with a six-month guarantee.
The boots didn’t live up to that guarantee.
I took them back to the store.
The store offered to repair the zippers or gave me the option to contact the manufacturer directly.
A day later, the store called to say the repair would be too expensive and they’d be happy to give me a full refund or an exchange for something else (they didn’t have any more of the boots in stock.)
I opted for the refund – they’d be getting a refund from La Canadienne wouldn’t they – so what’s the big fuss?

Why did they give me a hassle?
I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable. I went to the store this morning expecting them to deliver on their promise. All this would have been prevented had the sales associate confirmed all the details with her supervisor before calling me. Even better if she would have sent me an email confirming the details.

At the end of the day, Davids’ reputation for stellar service is a bit tarnished and I’m SOL for winter boots. We’re probably still in for more snow before the season is over so, I’m expecting a couple days with cold wet feet.

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