Welcome to SQM Picks!

We are very excited to announce the launch of SQM Picks… a feature about the businesses that SQM has grown to know and love. Our President, David Lipton, has years of experience in a variety of industries, and is very passionate about customer service. He is always coming across great businesses, and he believes that they should get the credit that they deserve. SQM Picks will be posted every Wednesday, so be sure to keep an eye out for our latest picks and some of the President’s top recommendations.

Do you know of a business that deserves a standing ovation and a mention in SQM Picks?  We’re always on the lookout for great businesses, and would love to hear about any that you feel should be featured in one of our articles. You can follow us and tweet us at @SQMInc, follow us and send us a message on Facebook at Sensors Quality Management – Mystery Shopping, or email us at sqm@sqm.ca

We hope that you enjoy what SQM Picks has to offer. What are you waiting for? Take your pick!

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Breaking Boundaries at Best Buy

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Although I wrote about Best Buy a few months ago, this is an unrelated experience, and one which I felt was worth sharing.

Let’s rewind the clock to a couple of weeks ago.  I had been shopping for a laptop and was checking out different options, going through reviews, pricing, visiting different stores, and somehow ended up at the Best Buy at Downsview.

I was very pleased with the knowledge of the sales staff, and in addition, Best Buy had the best prices of all the competitors I was looking at.  In fact, these days, they apparently even go so far as to match prices from other reputable businesses.

In addition to buying a laptop, I needed a Microsoft Windows license.  As a result, the salesperson suggested that I get a Geek Squad membership, which would save me a significant amount off of the regular cost. At first I was skeptical, but when I did the math, between the Windows license, a monthly movie pass, and the added benefit of technical support, I thought it was very much worth it to try out for six months.

In terms of technical support, I’ve brought in different items to be fixed or looked at by Geek Squad. So far, all have been fixed to my satisfaction, and in fact, they’ve consistently exceeded my expectations in terms of getting my things back to me as quickly as possible.

During my most recent Geek Squad visit, I was probably pushing it a little, and really put them to the test. I had been having problems with my phone charger, and while the Geek Squad representative was able to partially fix the issue, the end result was that I needed a new one after only having bought it a couple of months ago.

Since I didn’t have my receipt (my fault) I didn’t have much hope that they could do anything, however, without hesitation, one of the employees at Best Buy provided me with a new charger!  I was completely stunned. My jaw dropped and I walked out of the store with a huge smile on my face.

While the phone manufacturer is known for making their customers jump through hoops to address issues, Best Buy stood behind the product, and their goal of leaving their customers satisfied.

In last week’s blog, I suggested retailers were going to have to step up their game in their battle against Amazon and other online retailers.  From my recent experiences at Best Buy, they clearly understand what they need to do to be successful, and they’re doing a terrific job!

Best Buy (Downsview)
416-636-6574
www.bestbuy.ca

Geek Squad (Downsview)
416-634-2305
www.geeksquad.ca

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Fun and Friends at the Freeman Family Day Centre

http://www.baycrest.org/AnnualReport/20152016/volunteers-kindness-care/

Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted several blogs regarding my aunt, as she is recovering from a broken hip.  Around the same time my aunt broke her hip, my father enrolled in a program at Baycrest, specifically at the Freeman Family Day Centre.  The program is a day program for seniors, allowing them to keep active and engaged while socializing with other seniors.

Once accepted into the program, seniors can choose to come up to four days a week (the program runs Monday to Thursday) as well as either half days or a full day (full days run from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Typically, the day begins with coffee, pastries, and some informal socializing.  After everyone settles in, one of the group leaders discusses current events, which typically results in some entertaining conversations.  The participants then get active with low-impact seated exercises, known as Stretch and Kvetch, which is run by one of the physiotherapists on staff.  After morning exercises, several program options can be selected, ranging from art, to music, to book reviews, or even movies.

After working up an appetite, the members all head to the dining room for lunch, sitting with those with common interests.

The program then continues until 2:30 p.m. with a variety of options for activities.

When it comes to getting to the program, there are several transportation options.  Aside from driving or taking the bus, many attendees use taxis, Wheel-Trans, or iRIDE, to get them to and from the facility.

The cost of the program is approximately $40.00 a day, plus any transportation fees.

The program director and the rest of the staff are great to deal with.  Whether it is helping new members adapt to the routine, getting coffee, assisting members to the washroom, or taking people to the next event, there is always help every step of the way.  The staff are truly amazing people and are always there to help.

My dad originally attended the program and now that my aunt is on the road to recovery, she attends as well.  Whether it’s the two of them or the other attendees that I’ve met, they all seem to enjoy it.

I know when folks hit 80 they become very set in their schedules, but for anyone that has a senior in the family and wants to keep them busy and active, I personally recommend the Freeman Family Day Centre.

Baycrest, Freeman Family Day Centre
416-785-2500
www.baycrest.org

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Woes of the Retail Industry

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Typically, I use this blog to highlight outstanding businesses, however, from time to time I address particular and pressing issues that impact consumers or businesses.

The other night I was in one of the grocery stores in my area, to pick up a few items that we needed the next day.  I arrived at about 8 p.m., and the store was fairly busy with at least five customers in each checkout line, waiting to pay for their groceries. One of the five cashiers had just closed their lane, and despite the long lines, a second cashier indicated that she was closing as well, informing a customer in her line that he would be her last checkout of the evening.

In more recent times I’ve had similar experiences at other grocery stores and retailers alike.  In addition to the frequent frustration that customers are having trying to obtain assistance from a sales person (especially in big box or department stores), retailers are now making it more difficult and time-consuming to pay for purchases and get out.

As a person who works with many companies in the retail industry, I often hear from my colleagues that “the industry is changing” or that “retail is having its challenges.” While this may indeed be the case, I’m beginning to wonder if the industry is partially responsible for causing this to happen.

Let me explain…to be successful in any business, you have to provide an excellent experience for your customers. Time and time again, surveys show that customers want friendly and knowledgeable staff, products readily available, the best possible price, and in many cases, speed of service is also a factor.

Assuming that these businesses have the product in stock, their most important asset is their employees, and they are marginalizing their company’s strengths. As people’s lives become busier and more hectic, retailers are actually pushing their customers to look for better ways of getting what they need.

To add to this, there currently exists a giant online retailer, that provides outstanding service in a very efficient manner, and gets products to their customers in a short amount of time. Is it really any wonder that the retail industry is getting its ass kicked by Amazon?

Make no mistake about it, while Amazon is an amazing company, and gives customers another option for buying products and services, many people still like to see, touch, feel, or try on items (especially clothing) before making a purchase.  This results in them coming to a store and giving that retailer the first…and best…opportunity to make the sale.

Until the retail industry improves the shopping experience and reconnects with their customers, I’m afraid that their woes will continue.

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Home is Where the Health is

Receiving care from the Local Health Integration Network.

I’ll have to be honest with you…I might not do this organization justice because I’ve only used a fraction of their services, however, I’ve been quite impressed with my experience thus far. I know of the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), also known as the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), because of the services they provide to older people who are sick, can’t get out of the house, or have a serious injury.  Their staff consists of various physiotherapists, caregivers, nurses, and occupational therapists.  Workers are sent to the patient’s residence when they are older or unable to go out and perform various activities.

As my aunt is currently recovering from a broken hip, I have recently, however unfortunately, gotten to take advantage of these services.

I was warned that there were various challenges associated with this organization and with public health services in general, but I have been extremely pleased with the quality of care and level of service which has been provided.

The process works like this: you are assigned a care manager, and that care manager is your main contact, but you may also deal with different individuals and agencies depending on your needs.

So far, on behalf of working with my aunt, I’ve met pleasant, dedicated, knowledgeable, patient, and helpful healthcare professionals.  Whether it’s the nurse that comes in to change a dressing, the physiotherapist that comes to do exercises, or the personal support worker that takes care of a variety of duties…these people are an amazing group of individuals!

While the system isn’t perfect, and there’s always room for improvement, we are truly fortunate to have such a great healthcare system in place here in Ontario.

I would like to extend my appreciation and thanks to all of the people who have been, and continue to be, involved in my aunt’s care and recovery.  Keep up the great work!

Toronto Central LHIN
310-2222
www.healthcareathome.ca

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The Scary Spirit of Halloween

Two children dressed up as ghosts trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The end of October brings many things along with it – colder weather, shorter days, and of course, Halloween!  At this time of year I always prepare myself for a breakout of pumpkins, candy, and amazing Halloween decorations.

Much like my fall blog post a couple of weeks ago, I decided to find several must-dos to help everyone get into the Halloween-y mood:

1) Screemers is one of Toronto’s best haunted theme parks, featuring a wide variety of terrifying attractions and shows, including the Zombie Prizon, The Haunted House, and Skull Castle.  Join Screemers this October as they celebrate 25 years of terrorizing their guests!  For adults, kick back and hit up the Vampire Lounge and toss back some liquid courage before coming face to face with your greatest fears.

2) The infamous Halloween Haunt at Wonderland is one of the most popular Halloween attractions out there.  Feeling brave enough?  There are 700 monsters scattered around the park as well as mazes, live shows, and scare zones.

3) Every now and then, I do love a blast from the past.  If you haven’t already gone to…or even if you have….go watch the original, Rocky Horror Picture Show in theatres. There are several showings at the Ted Rogers Cinema throughout October and into November.  Don’t forget to dress up and bring your props!

4) Save some money this year and rent a costume instead of buying one!  Everyone wants a cool costume at an affordable price, and for something you only wear once a year, plenty of people are looking to save some money. Malabar, located in Toronto, does just that.

5) Choose costumes from historical figures, superheroes, animals, and more!  Be cautious of what your costume will be this Halloween, as more people are starting to make more conscious decisions on what to wear.

6) Choose something unique to give out on Halloween night!  Instead of giving out candy, give out arts and crafts supplies, fun school supplies, or toys.  There’s even one person in our neighbourhood who hands out Webkinz.  Make this Halloween a memorable one for kids.

7) Take a peek at Casa Loma’s Haunted House!  Make your way through the spookified castle and immerse yourself in a terrifying environment.  Witness iconic Halloween figures, such as Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Halloween only comes around once a year. Make the most of whatever you decide to do, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to get into the Halloween spirit!

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Falling in Love with Fall

Pumpkins at Reesor's Farm.

As I get older, I am becoming more and more fond of the fall season.  Whether it’s apple picking, going to the pumpkin patch, taking a drive up north to see the leaves change, or hitting up one of the many fall fairs, I truly find it an extremely enjoyable time of year.

While I probably should have written this blog a few weeks ago, given the great weather we’ve been experiencing, there’s still lots of time to get out and experience many fall-themed activities.  These may include:

1. Carl Laidlaw Orchards is perfect for apple picking!  Pick your fill of apples for a crispy, tasty treat, or turn your gatherings into a hot and filling apple pie. Some farms seem to be closing down as farmers sell the land to builders, so you may want to get out apple picking before you can’t anymore.

2. Take a hike or bike on the Don Valley to see the leaves change. The weather is perfect – not too hot, not too cold, and everybody could use some exercise.  Now is the best time to get outdoors before our cold, Canadian winter comes romping along.

3. If you’re looking for some more leaf-changing, and perhaps some nice pictures too, consider taking a drive to Campbellville and Kilbride – about an hour’s drive from Toronto. There are five regional parks in Campbellville and an abundance of great scenery and trees.

4. When driving around Kilbride, try and spot the iconic farmhouse driveway that was the default fall wallpaper for Microsoft several years ago.

5. Take a fall boat cruise on the RMS Segwun – North America’s oldest operating mail steamship. This year is its 130th birthday!

6. Support a local farmer and buy a pumpkin at the pumpkin patch…Downey’s Farm Market, Brooks Farms, and Reesor’s Farm Market, to name a few. Spruce your pumpkin up and decorate it in time for Halloween!

7. Attend some fun fall festivals!  Hit up Pumpkin Mania at Rounds Ranch for pumpkin-themed games, farm animals, and a pumpkin to take home for yourself, or swing by the Pumpkin Festival at the Buckhorn Berry Farm for wagon rides, corn mazes, and a spooky haunted barn.

8. Cross something off your bucket list and take a hot air balloon ride!  The changing of leaves makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience along with some beautiful scenery. Give Sunset Balloons in Scarborough a try!

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy and make the most of the fall season!

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A Slice of Happiness at Bitondo’s

Slice of pizza from Bitondo's Pizzeria.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in my old stomping grounds, down near Little Italy. Feeling a little peckish, I decided to head along College to grab a quick bite. I had been circling around, looking for a parking spot in the residential area, when I came across a small restaurant I had bypassed hundreds of times…Bitondo’s Pizzeria.

It’s a small pizzeria that looks like a restaurant still stuck in the 50’s…with signs painted on the windows and minimal decor…a place that has made a name for itself with the quality of its pizzas, panzerottis, and pastas.

When I stepped in, I was greeted pleasantly by a young lady and asked what I would like to order. Since I was in a hurry, I ordered a pizza slice, which was immediately warmed in the oven. It was about $5.00 for a slice and a drink, and the place was doing a brisk business, with some people sitting at the few chairs and tables inside the restaurant, and other opting to head outside and sit on a bench in the warm weather.

Much to my surprise, the pizza reminded me of an old-style pizzeria’s – it was not too thick, thin, or chewy.  In addition, both the cheese and pepperoni were extremely tasty, and didn’t seem industrialized – the quality was fantastic.

My only complaint is that there wasn’t much of a selection of cold drinks, despite having a large cooler.

During my time in the restaurant, I noticed employees answering phones and making pizzas for delivery.  Sadly, I live too far away to be a regular delivery customer, however, if you want to try an independent pizza place, in an old-school style, I highly recommend Bitondo’s Pizzeria!

Bitondo’s Pizzeria
416-533-4101

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