Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spend Report #12: Soap, glorious soap!

Soap and other goodies from Pure and Juicy Bath
Twenty-four. That’s how many bars of soap I have squirreled away in my bathroom. That’s why my husband groans a little when I tell him I’m going to a craft fair.

Other people go to craft fairs to buy Christmas presents. That’s why I claim I go. I really go to buy soap. My habit started off with the Body Shop’s glycerine soaps, especially satsuma. I was pretty loyal to their stuff for quite some time, but then I started trying other types and now I'm a hardcore bar soap user. I dabble a bit with some French bars, but what I really love is pure B.C. gold. There are a ton of fabulous soap makers in B.C.

One of my favourites is Naked, made on Bowen Island, but I'm always on the look-out for more sources and craft fair season is when I feed my addiction. (See how close I was to making a lame joke about having "a good, clean habit," yet deftly avoided it? See how I got it in there while claiming to avoid it?)

This year I discovered Juicy Bath Soapworks at the Herbert Spencer Elementary craft fair. I got four bars, including chocolate covered strawberry, which my husband initially thought was fudge. I stopped him before he ate it.
I also bought a bar made by Pure Daily Essentials (based in Langley) at Urban Academy's craft fair, along with some of their skin care products, which are gentle and smell great too.

It was a good shopping week in New West:
From Nov. 19 to 25, I spent about $750 in New Westminster (please remember, and I'm addressing my husband here, I had a couple of really slow spending weeks!). Close to half was spent at local, independent businesses and/or on locally or Canadian-made items.

I spent $750 at/on:
  • A & W
  • Hand cream at Adriana's in Royal City Centre mall
  • Toiletries at London Drugs
  • Bloco set at Pedagogy Toys
  • Christmas ornaments at Lofty Living
  • Candles and holders at a PartyLite party
  • Lunch, an eggnog latte, and fair trade coffee beans at the Village Coffee Lounge
  • Coffee and sandwich at Starbucks
  • Snack at Tim Hortons
  • Groceries at Safeway and Donald’s Market
  • Massage
At Herbert Spencer craft fair:
  • Cutting board
  • Soap and lotion by Juicy Bath
  • Christmas ornaments
At Urban Academy craft fair:
  • Tea
  • Pure Daily Essentials soap, skin care kit, and face mist
  • Cookies

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spend Report #11: Another slow shopping week

It was another fairly slow shopping week and mostly full of chain stores. (Still no Wal-Mart though.)

I sent my husband out to do the big grocery shop since I was still sick in bed. He got to use my grocery list template, which I created in one of my rare Stepford wife moments.

I wanted to improve my efficiency at grocery shopping. My usual procedure was to make a list in any old order, then go up and down each aisle, scanning the list to see which items were in that aisle. That meant I went up and down each aisle, whether I needed anything from it or not. So I made a template organized by aisle. The template includes the most common items I buy in that aisle. When I make my list, I just need to delete the items I don't need that week and print it out. Then I know exactly which aisles I need to visit and which ones I can skip.

My husband was fairly stunned when I told him about the grocery list template. He's used to my lackadaisical (and somewhat contemptuous) attitude to housekeeping and the housewifely arts. Example: when the topic of ironing came up early in our marriage, I paraphrased the line from the English Patient: "A woman should never learn to iron and if she can she shouldn't admit to it." (In the movie, the statement was applied to sewing, which works for me too.)

From Nov. 12 to 18, I spent about $310 in New Westminster on:

Pulled pork sandwich at Graze in Sapperton
Taco Del Mar
Advent calendar at the Lindt store in Queensborough – only $6!
A baby gift at Carter's/OshKosh B'gosh in Queensborough

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Donald's Market and River Market Make Local Shopping an Adventure

I'm only in my second month of my shopping in New Westminster adventure and frankly, it was starting to feel like not such an adventure. I was starting to go stir crazy, especially as I watched the Canadian dollar climb in value and saw all the glossy, tempting Christmas flyers starting to arrive in the paper. I was getting pretty bummed about not being able to make a quick cross-border shopping trip to Bellingham or even a quick cross-border shopping trip to Burnaby.

Today all that changed. Today I got my local shopping mojo back. Today I went to the grand opening of Donald's Market at the River Market and saw all that potential New Westminster civic and business leaders have been talking since time immemorial realized.

I'm not going to lie. I had my doubts, especially given that the renovations dragged on for so long and at least one of the tenant choices seemed goofy. When I heard the Vancouver Circus School was a tenant I was skeptical.  What the heck is a circus school doing in a market? After attending the grand opening today, I found out what it's doing there: being awesome. After all, which grocery store would you rather go to: normal grocery store with just groceries or grocery store where there's a guy doing a handstand all the way down the escalator and a girl juggling all the way up? I pick the grocery store with the circus school. (In addition to classes, they are also going to offer birthday party packages.)

I actually got a little teary-eyed on the drive home, thinking to myself that this marvellous place is in New Westminster. I went to San Francisco for the first time in August and visited the Ferry Building Marketplace. The River Market reminds me of that market, but I won't have to take a plane to get to it. It's right here where I live, in my city. And I think the River Market actually has a warmer, more organic atmosphere than the Ferry Building Marketplace. Maybe that's because the River Market is not quite finished yet. I found something rather charming about the work-in-progress feeling of the place.

I was pleased to read in the Record that the Market's management is being very careful and choosy about its tenants. I used to visit the Quay fairly often and always got a, "Close, but not quite," feeling about it. There were some bright spots among the tenants, but overall, the place didn't have a bustling, happening atmosphere. I think that's why I was getting a bit bummed about my local shopping: there are bright spots, but overall, New Westminster felt, "Close, but not quite."

Seeing the River Market confirmed to me again, all New Westminster needs to do is build on what we already have, to build a critical mass of exciting shopping options. Seeing the River Market confirmed to me that it can happen here and it is happening here. Local shopping is an adventure again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spend Report #10: Finally, the secret of not spending money

Last week wasn't a good week for shopping or anything else. I had a cold, so I was stuck at home most of the week with few opportunities to blow cash. So, finally, I've learned how to hold on to my pennies: be very, very ill. No need for anything life-threatening or exotic, just a cold bad enough to keep me curled up under the covers for most of the week—that kept my wallet closed. Funny how I managed to still eat out quite a bit. That's because in the early stages of the cold I was in denial about how sick I was, so I kept going out. By Thursday though, I took to my bed and didn't get out until Monday. So it's a pretty lame spend report, not much interesting on there, save, of course, for the wonderful pulled pork sandwich from Graze.

From Nov. 5 to 11, 2010, I spent about $115 in New Westminster:

  • Starbucks – I like the new version of the Cranberry Bliss Bar and it turns out I like eggnog lattes too. I usually avoid those types of drinks because they're usually too syrupy and because I don't really need to like any more high-fat food and beverages.
  • Avalon Dairy milk and pulled pork sandwich at Graze in Sapperton. If you haven't gone yet, what are you waiting for!?!
  • Indian food at Naan Bites in Queensborough. Good concept—Indian fast food—and tastes good, they just haven't quite got the "fast" part of "fast food" down yet. Still the place smells so good, I didn't really mind the wait.
  • Bread from McGavin's Bread Basket in Sapperton
  • Glue sticks
  • Groceries at Price Smart
  • Dinner at A&W

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spend Report #8 and #9: Local stores need my dollars more than Wal-Mart

I got behind on my spend reports, so I decided to combine two into one. By the end of October, I realized I was still mostly sticking to chain stores, so I've decided for November to avoid Wal-mart.

Shopping locally seems more important than ever, given news of the Orange Room's closure and a perhaps shakier-than-hoped-for-revitalization of Sapperton. I'm sure Wal-mart will survive without my dollars for the next month; local stores need my dollars more.

I wish I had an unlimited budget, but I don't, so I'm also thinking up some ways to promote more local businesses through my blog, even if I can't buy something from each one every week.

Spend Report #8 and #9

From Oct. 22 to 28, I spent about $490 in New Westminster:
  • McDonald's
  • Toiletries at London Drugs – Including made-in-Canada shea butter hand cream for $1.99.  
  • Slider at Royal City Curling Club – not a mini-burger, some type of thing curlers wear on their feet; for my husband.
  • Gas 
  • Groceries at Safeway and IGA
  • Craft supplies at a dollar store and Wal-mart 
  • Dinner at Boston Pizza
  • Lunch at the Heritage Grill on Columbia St. – I'd never been to this New West institution before, but I'll be back. I had a yummy lamb burger and the fries are great. This Columbia St. venue hosts many events and groups including a documentary night, Philosophers' Cafe, Green Drinks, GIN (Gay In New West) Nights every Saturday and lots of live music
  • Boots at Army and Navy for my Halloween costume

From Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, I spent about $280 in New Westminster:
  •  Halloween make-up and costume items at Shoppers Drug Mart, Pharmasave on Columbia St., London Drugs and Wal-mart – I really think New West needs a Halloween superstore. An existing retailer—hello Salvation Army? Dollar store owners? Army and Navy?—could operate it as a pop-up store just for the Halloween season.
  • Lunch at Quantum Deli and Bistro on Sixth Street
  • Scones and a cappuccino bar at Bella Bakery
  • Bread and coffee at Farm Cottage Bakery in Sapperton
  • Puzzle and CD at Pedagogy Toys
  • Three pumpkins at Yin Leong Farm in Queensborough – Can't make a more local purchase than this! Bought here, grown here, about five blocks from my house.
  • Pulled pork sandwich at Graze in Sapperton – You must go here. That sandwich was so good, I'm still thinking about it a week later.
  • Coffee and a cranberry bliss bar at Starbucks
  • Sushi at Tora Sushi in Queensborough
  • Groceries at Price Smart.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Local Brands or How the Internet Gave My Husband Beer

I have all sorts of thoughts flitting through my head about local retailers, branding, and marketing in the age of social media, so bear with me if this post is a little scattered. I promise, I do have a point or five, though I may make them in a round-about, not-entirely-clear fashion.

Point one: Brands matter.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Not me, brands don't affect me." Yeah, well, you're wrong. That's what we all think and we're all wrong. I'm reading a bunch of books that explain how and why they affect us. Brands affect our brains. Or how about this story, where the mere act of carrying around a Victoria's Secret bag affected how the bag carryer felt about herself?

Point two: Local brands matter.

My husband has loved Creemore beer for a long time. It's a brand of beer not available in B.C. It used to be a small local brewery located in Creemore, Ontario. It's still located there, but it's now owned by Molson. Technically, it's not a local brand anymore, but it was when my husband started loving it. And when we visited two summers ago, we saw that it has maintained its small brewery charm. On that visit we bought Creemore glasses, a Creemore hat and, of course, Creemore beer. My husband likes to call it "The Happiest Place on Earth."

My husband started using Twitter a few months ago and took to it immediately. He rarely uses Facebook, but Twitter, he likes. He likes it even more now, because through it, the Internet gave him beer.

One of the first things he started tweeting about was Creemore. Things like how Creemore was the best beer not available in B.C. How on a trip to Ontario, the first thing he was going to do was look for Creemore. Long story short, @CreemoreKaren, who tweets for Creemore, noticed all his comments and said it sounded like he worked for them. He asked if that was a job offer, she said no, but offered to send him a coupon for an eight cans of Creemore.

He e-mailed me, "The Internet gave me beer."

My response was suspicious. "Hmmm . . .  I don't know if I like this. Some strange woman (or "woman") from the Internet wants you to send her your address so she can buy you booze . . . "

Luckily, @CreemoreKaren was legit—I believe she's Creemore's marketing director—and before long my husband got his coupon. Someone my husband knew was going to Ontario and he agreed to pick up the beer for my husband and bring it back in his luggage.

My point here is that when people like a local brand, they are loyal to it. They will go to great lengths to promote it. They will go to great lengths to seek it out, even if they live several provinces away from where it is sold.

Point three: If you own a local store, you have a brand. Build it.

Your brand is not likely to be built around a fancy logo or a multi-million dollar marketing budget—that's what big brands do. I think people stick with certain big-chain brands because they know exactly what they're going to get wherever they go. People don't eat at McDonald's because it makes the best hamburgers. They eat McDonald's food because they know it's going to taste the same wherever they go.

Local brands are different. A local brand is strongest when people know it offers something they can't get anywhere else.

Your brand could be built on a sandwich—a delicious sandwich that people can get only from you.

I had an interesting exchange on Twitter on Tuesday with a number of local New West people about what I think is a great local brand in the making. It all started with my tweet: "Can't stop thinking about the pulled pork sandwich I had at Graze in Sapperton yesterday. So good."

I added the hash tag #newwest to my tweet. Before too long, someone from New West wanted to know where Graze was. Then someone else mentioned Graze has a ribs and beans night on Friday. Someone else complained that we had made the newsroom hungry and now, how were they going to put the paper out? (Though I have to say, in my experience, it's not hard to make a newsroom hungry.) I and others who had eaten there ended up making several people who didn't know about Graze curious and, in some cases, hungry.

And here's my point about marketing in the age of social media: people will build your brand for you, with or without your participation.

If you want to shape your own brand, it's probably best to participate. Pay attention to social media. If you don't know how to use Twitter or Facebook, find out how. Google "how to use Twitter" or "how to use Facebook" and you'll get a ka-jillion results.

In doing my experiment, I've searched online for New Westminster businesses and checked for those that have Twitter and Facebook accounts. There are some exceptions, but a lot of New Westminster businesses don't have much of an online presence. I realize social media isn't the only way for businesses to market themselves, but it is a way and it is usually a very low- or no-cost way.

Point Four: This is the most important point. Go to Graze at 450 E. Columbia St. (See all this free work I'm doing for a local brand? And I've only had one sandwich there!) Have a pulled pork sandwich. It's so good. The meat drips with sauce, there's a satisfying crunch of cabbage with every bite, the bun is so soft and delicious . . . it is truly food for the soul. It will leave you with a warm glow in your stomach and your heart. Graze also has a deli and grocery items and vegetarian menu items.

Point Five: I really need to stop writing about food at night. I'm so hungry right now.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why We Buy What We Buy

"If we want independent retailers to stay in business, we have to patronize them. It's that simple."
From The Mom & Pop Store by Robert Spector

My first month of shopping only in New Westminster is over. What I've learned is that it would likely be possible for me to spend the entire year shopping only at chain stores without ever setting foot in an independent, locally owned business. Of course, that's not what I want to do, but it would be possible. I did go to some independent, locally owned businesses in October, but not nearly as many as I thought I would have by now.

I told the Record I didn't want this to turn into "My Year of Shopping at Wal-Mart." Despite my perception that I don't shop at Wal-Mart much, I went there six times in October, so at least once or twice a week. Part of what I want to do over the course of this year is to change my spending patterns and habits, to re-focus them to more local stores. So, for November, I'm going to go no Wal-Mart. Let's see if I can break my Wal-Mart habit.

I've also been reading a lot about consumer behavior and why we buy what we buy.

Here's my reading list this month, with a brief summary of what I've gleaned from each book so far:
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture – I'm not too far into this one yet, but love this quote: "I do not prize the word 'cheap.' It is not a badge of honor." – U.S. President William McKinley
  • Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are – I haven't got too far into this one yet, but the author talks how pervasive brands are, despite consumers' assertions that we are not affected by marketing. ". . . we can talk all we want about being brandproof, but our behavior tells a different story. This is why I have come around to the view that there is nothing to be gained by simply believing we are immune to brands. But there might be something gained in understanding why we aren't."
  • Spent. Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior – How evolutionary psychology explains what we buy and why we buy it. Essentially, the author's theory is that we buy what we buy to signal fitness (of various types) to others. But as the author explains, evolution has already endowed us with all the equipment we need (both physical and mental) to display fitness and form lasting, meaningful relationships with others without buying a single thing. But we're all caught up in "the fundamental consumerist delusion—that other people care more about the artificial products you display through consumerist spending than about the natural traits you display through normal conversation, cooperation, and cuddling."