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Rebranding Fort Street Cycle

20 Jul
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Even their Google Street View was unlucky

It has been a rough first year for the new owners of Fort Street Cycle.

Bad energy left over from an unpopular ownership transition was sucking the life – and at one point, nearly every staff member – out of the shop. The new owners, from Beijing, were in crisis management from the get-go and wondering how they could survive. They decided they needed to start fresh. Well, fresher.

Brand Intervention.pngThis is where the Brand Intervention happens. (This is the icon that says that’s happening.)

I started with some online surveys to existing customers and non-customers to determine attitudes towards the store, and its perceived strengths and weaknesses. This was the key starting point for the rebrand because it told us that there was indeed some bad juju out there about the store – but no respondents had a clear sense why they felt that way.

It also told us that the brand really wasn’t on anyone’s radar and was considered past its day.

So there was no damage here.  But there was a lack of clarity about the store. The lack of clarity came from a lack of a vision, and a lack of  noise in the market. But we could fix those.


An analysis of the business, it’s core service and product offerings, and the opportunities in the market, indicated that we could chase the negative spirit away with a big, positive step forward. The store itself was in excellent shape: a good service reputation, a well-known location on Fort, and fantastic bikes: Cannondale, Cervelo and Giant, all high-end machines.

It just needed a focused brand strategy, and a look to pull it off.

The shop’s focus on placing service and proper fitting before bike sales pointed in the right direction, but we needed something bigger.

As luck would have it, the main competitive stores (Oak Bay Bicycles, Russ Hay’s, Trek and Broad Street Cycles) all referred to themselves as “bike shops” in their positioning lines. This created the opportunity.


Fort Street Cycle would no longer be just a bike shop. It would be about cycling: where the rider and the bike come together to create the magic. The store would be all about that. A place for cyclists to gather, to read cycle mags and drink coffee, to be professionally fitted, to watch live races on the TV, to post messages about stolen bikes, to find the latest gear to wear, to test ride new models, to talk cycling. Not a hardware store for machines, but  a place for people, something their “service-first” way of working already beautifully supported.

Hence the new tagline: Where Cycling Lives.

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As the brand strategy and visual look were being created, the store went on a serious hiring spree. Using both online ads and networking, there were soon ten passionate cyclists on the store’s staff roster. A mix of road and mountain cyclists, elite competitors and everyday grinders, they embraced the new brand direction and shouldered the tasks involved in bringing it to life.


Even though the store’s reputation had suffered in recent years, it was still an established brand with a history. We wanted to respect that by evolving the business, both the name and the logo. Enter long-time collaborator Michael Tension, who delivered a modern and impactful updating of the previous logo, along with an inspired palette of supporting colours to carry it. The name was shortened to Fort St Cycle, because it felt friendlier, and doing so created the space that allowed the name to be on one line in the logo, rather than stacked.

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The old….and the new. Urban Sign behind the new one.

The store had been quiet in Victoria for years and was poorly connected to both the cycling community and the businesses along Fort St.

To help improve that, we gave the staff tools to build new relationships, from branded work gear to highly personalized business cards (the photo is of the staff member, and they chose their own quote and colour) – neither of which the store had ever provided. Then we crafted marketing and social media strategies to slowly build back their audience.


Service Manager, Russ Parks in his new gear


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Michael Tension cards: folded and white on the inside for notes

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Once all the branded pieces were ready, Derek Ford did his usual exceptional job capturing the team spirit in photos. And then it was on to a welcoming Open House to let the market know Fort St Cycle was alive and kicking!

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Megan Munro poster

To promote the event and get rid of some pesky old branded water bottles, the staff rolled up invitations into the old bottles and left them in bikes with empty water bottle holders all over downtown.

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Message in a bottle campaign

The Open House saw a good crowd, and the positive buzz energized everyone and helped to exorcise the ghosts of the old brand.


Open House July 12

A new website from Leap is on the way, jerseys are being printed and a store renovation is planned for late fall. The store also has plans to lead a cycling tour to the Great Wall in China this year. More details on that coming up soon!  Until then, drop by the store and talk cycling: these guys know their stuff.

And ask for one of those cool new business cards!





Do-it-yourself sales tools in 2 easy steps!

24 Jan

Sales tools are easy to do.

Cobble together a page or so about what a great business you are, grab a handful of stock photos, and then throw it all together yourself on your Mac and save some money.

Bad idea.

Your sales tools, whether your website, signage, ads, brochures or sales sheets, are an investment in your business. They are often the first impression you’re making to a potential customer. If they look average, so will your company.

If they look like every other business in your vertical, so will your company.

Here’s where a little time, money and perspective can translate massively for you.

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

Businessman breasting the tape

Unfortunate image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


1. Avoid stock photography. Unless you make men’s suits that double as high-performance fitness gear, I’d strongly suggest you never, ever use a “conceptual” photo like this. Thousands of businesses do, with earnest intentions. “Wow, this will really show how we help our customers to succeed in the business race!”

On the contrary, this is wallpaper to your potential customer. Worse, it is bland and silly, and paints your business with that brush.

Stock photos have their place. If you need icons, or animals, or scenery. Need a cup of coffee? Go stock. Need an idea? Go the other way. Hire a creative person. A graphic designer is a good bet. They can conceptualize, design a beautiful and consistent look, and supervise your photo shoot.

2. Pay a copywriter. Everyone can write – you can write – but not everyone can sell. Would you send just anyone out on your sales force? Of course you wouldn’t. You would find a proven, dedicated and results-focused professional. Think of your sales tools as extensions of your salespeople. Go with a pro.

Business people crowded around a computer

A posse of designers and copywriters discussing that brochure of yours! Image from Bigstock.


The marketing of your company is already a line item in your budget. Don’t look to save money here.  You always get what you pay for.

Even better, you don’t have to do it yourself!


How design schools can even better prepare their students

1 Oct

Graphic Designer Danny PrewGraphic Designer Megan LouieTop Victoria design school, the Pacific Design Academy, produces some wicked smart talent. I’ve been lucky to work with a couple of them in the past year in  the form of Danny Prew and Megan Louie.

It’s been very educational to watch them each make the transition from school to the cold, hard world of advertising. To the credit of PDA, both bring a high level of fluency in the language of design and the software that supports it. Plus they are pretty unflappable.

But neither had the slightest inkling that such a thing as a Revision #10 existed.

A challenging brief; a committee of clients to get approval through; multiple feedback within the agency; job objectives that change mid-stream: new offers that come to light … and voila: you arrive at the blessed 10th revision. Not an everyday occurrence by any means, but it happens.

To acclimatize students to this reality, I would like to recommend that design schools throw some serious curve balls at their students.

  • When a project has been submitted, hand it back, alter a critical deliverable, and let them know their revised solution is due in 4 hours. When they submit the new creative solution, repeat Step 1.
  • Have up to 3 or 4 supervisors appraise the work, and ask the student to figure out how to revise based on the multiple feedback.
  • Stand over their shoulders when they are making revisions and offer further critique and suggestions. This develops their ability to function with a back-seat driver.

In many cases, the firm they work at will vet all the feedback, provide summaries to the designers and let them do their thing. But best be prepared, and trained to succeed in the worst-case scenarios.

5 inspiring local businesses

27 Sep

We have it pretty good here on Vancouver Island. Aside from the fact that we have the best weather in the country, natural wonders that defy adjectives and a capital city that draws raves from visitors and locals alike, we also have talent in abundance.

Fortunately for those of us living here, a lot of that talent is entrepreneurial and finds its expression in some inspiring businesses.

Here are a few that impress me, for their drive, their innovation, and their ability to live up to their brand promises.

Island Savings Credit Union (Duncan)

Island Savings waves of kindness

Most customer service-focused businesses talk a good game. Island Savings lives up to the talk in spades. This year I became a client of this Duncan-based credit union and discovered just how good and welcoming a financial institution can be. Since 1951 Island Savings has been a pivot in the communities it serves. This year they took it up another notch with their Waves of Kindness campaign and total rebrand.

Bottom Line: Tops in customer service.

Hoyne Brewing Co. (Victoria)

Dark Matter from Hoyne

Brewmaster Sean Hoyne spent 13 years building the brewery at Canoe Club before going it alone with Hoyne Brewing. The result is a breakthrough addition to an already star-studded local brewery scene. In his first 2 years, he’s gotten rave reviews and put instant classics into local shops and bellies, including The Big Bock, The Hoyne Pilsner and my personal favourite, The Dark Matter, which he describes as the elusive unseen fabric upon which our universe is embroidered.

Bottom line: Innovative products, creative packaging, user experience 🙂 

Contech Enterprises (Victoria)

Contech Enterprises products

Long before it was imperative to have environmentally-safe products for pets and pests alike, there was Contech. Among its many astonishing innovations is a Mountain Pine Beetle Repellant that uses Verbonone, a synthetic pheromone, to tell the destructive little pest that the tree it’s about to chow down on has no nutritional value. Twenty-five years into their business of “thrilling our customers with better products to build a better world”, Contech just keeps getting better. It was voted Technology Company of the Year at the 2012 VIATeC Technology awards.

Bottom line: Company values, market-leading innovations.

D’Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism (Victoria)

The Atrium 800 Yates St.

Photo from

With so much old architecture in Victoria, the newer buildings can tend to get over-looked. That is, until you walk into the D’Ambrosio-designed The Atrium at 800 Yates St. It’s a stunning first impression, with its elegant waves of hemlock and soaring 7,000 sq. ft. glass skylight. The Atrium is the jewel in the crown of a local architectural firm that has been creating award-winning sustainable designs for 20 years. But there’s a + to Franc D’Ambrosio’s company, which is their work in urbanism. So that intuitively-designed waterfront walkway you are on is just as likely to be from the minds of this inspiring creative collective.

Bottom line: Creative products, sustainable practices.

Wildplay Element Parks (Victoria)

Wildplay Nanaimo bungy jumper

I am not about to catapult myself over a 600-foot ravine no matter how much you try to cajole me, but for people with a less-pronounced yellow-streak, there is Wildplay Element Parks. Starting with a purchase of the Bungy Zone in Nanaimo 7 years ago, Wildplay is now exploding all across Canada, using degrees of knee-weakening thrills to introduce groups to the benefits of outdoor experiences. They’ve just opened their newest park in the Yukon, with the Wildplay staples of  aerial adventure obstacles and zip lines. Hard to imagine a more exciting business than one that makes you pee your pants and experience personal growth at the same time!

Bottom line: Brand experience, innovative products.


A perfect graphic depiction of national carbon footprints

22 Aug

Every now and then I come across a design solution that is so brilliant, so absolutely right, that my heart actually skips a beat, and I feel once again the power and privilege that comes from working within a creative problem-solving industry.

Brooklyn artist Stanford Kay’s infographic did such a number on me.

Stanford Kay infographic on carbon emissions

His design depicts global carbon emissions by country, colour-coded by continent and proportional to the amount of emissions. The arrangement of the spheres beautifully pays off the carbon footprint metaphor with a critical sense of scale. You can see an expanded version here. Click on the image when it opens.

What should get Canadians’ attention is how large proportionally our emissions are compared to countries like Brazil, Italy and Mexico, which have far greater populations.

But focusing exclusively on the design, how can you ever imagine this data being presented in a more compelling way.

Way to smack one out of the park Stanford Kay.

What does your Halloween costume tell a potential employer?

9 Aug
Bed sheet ghost costumes

What, the Elvis costumes were all sold out?

What the heck am I doing writing about Halloween costumes in August?

Blame Andrea Merson, my former colleague at Copeland. She and I got stuck into this topic today and I haven’t been able to drop it.

Andrea suggests that her approach to making a Halloween costume mirrors her approach to life. She takes on a daunting task, then finds herself alone at 3 am in the morning, still working on it but growing in confidence that she can deliver. Her ideas are very ambitious and frankly, quite whacky. But she always pulls it off.

Love it.

What does your choice of Halloween costume say about you? Do you just rush off to Walmart and buy a Superman suit off the rack? That mixes procrastination with low standards and zero imagination: you probably eat Pop-tarts for breakfast, cut and paste your work proposals and think Charlie Sheen is hilarious.

Superman costume

Well at least he isn’t wearing his WINNING T-shirt

Do you see something more ambitious and make a bee-line to Value Village to peruse the clothing racks and make-up aisles? Better. You want to make an impression. You map out goals and strategies to achieve them. You also probably grind your own espresso beans and write thank you notes longhand.

Or do you go deeper, committing yourself to a vision and sacrificing your personal time and your body to deliver? These are the people, like Andrea, who walk around with parasitic twins coming out of their heads and refrigerators on their backs. They go big. People never forget seeing a 6-foot Phillips head screwdriver arrive at their party. This is the sort of person who changes the company they work for. Or ends up in hospital!

Heidi Klum Kali costume

Heidi Klum as Kali. Wow.

I think it would be a very revealing job interview question. I know what sort of person I would hire. Wait, I did.

Not sure what it says about me that I just want to freak the shit out of people.

Cross-dressing Halloween costumer

Your blog writer dressed as a man dressed as a woman. With duct tape.

Use words to nail a perfect idea

3 Feb

In my professional bios, I always state that I am still in hot pursuit of the perfect idea. I define perfection as simplicity, beauty and absolute executional relevance to the product.

Have I ever come close? Perhaps on two occasions, both print ads. Coincidentally, they shared a theme of being type-only ads where the words tell the visual story.

I was influenced in this regard by the legendary New York graphic designer Bob Gill, who loved type-only design and applied the concept of reductum ad infinitum with relish. He removed everything from his designs except what was essential to telling the story. His United Nations lunch series invitation inspires me still.

U.N. lunch invite by Bob Gill

Bob is 80 now and his website still crackles with energy and simplicity.

I came across these word-as-image examples and recognized in them not only the excellent logo of a fellow T-CAAN agency, Vancouver’s Elevator Strategy, but a number of executions which nail my definition of the perfect idea. Most of them would make memorable animated logos.

I loved Voyeur the best. Which was your favourite?

Pushing Ahead of the Dame

David Bowie, song by song

Amy C. Amy Do.

Amy fall down.

Son of the Morning Light

Just another guy with a camera

the Blacklight Arrow

David Blacker's Blog

TV Amanda

Blogging about all things tv, advertising & marketing

Ballentine Media Inc.

Vancouver Small and New Business Branding, Design and Social Media Strategy


BriWrites: Brian Hartz's Blog

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