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Restyling a Victoria hair salon

7 Nov

Buying a business is daunting enough. Doing it in a new country where you don’t yet speak the language is a Netflix series.

You have to take a lot of people you don’t know – and can’t really understand – at their word.

Fortunately Liu Ping, the new owner of Royal Oak’s Salon Amici, got lucky. Helping her navigate the ownership transition – plus a significant rebrand and renovation – were the two former owners, now the Salon’s senior stylists.

The chemistry and camaraderie between these 3 ladies lies at the heart of this rebrand.


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Maggie Mackay and Praveena Charan opened the Salon’s doors in 1998. They named it Amici (friend in Italian) as a tribute to their own friendship. But twenty years owning a business can be a grind and they were only too happy when Liu Ping bought their company. In the spirit of friendship, they have been with Ping every step of the way as the Salon has undergone a comprehensive refresh.

Brand Intervention was engaged to provide a clear strategic direction and a fresh face (the Salon’s face, not mine!), and line up the team that would transform the interior.

A Brand Workshop with the Salon staff kicked off the process and pointed us in the right direction: We needed to more fully embrace Amici, and warm up the environment.

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Doing online surveys gave us a clear sense of visitor expectations, and told us how far people would travel to see their stylist, which helped us nail down our marketing territory as well.


Graphic designer Megan Munro provided a stellar refreshing of the logo and brought a signature colour palette into play.

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NEW LOOKScreen Shot 2017-11-07 at 6.08.57 AM.pngWe soon had our physical brand ready to roll with a new website, business cards, brochures and social media pages.


Enter interior designer Marika Beise of Rock Paper Square. She took in the brand essence and responded with a design upgrade that brought a visually warm welcome to complement the human one. Strong Construction provided the building savvy.

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Urban Sign transformed the exterior of the Salon with overhead signage and sandwich boards.

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The final touch was bringing in Derek Ford to capture the newly branded salon – and it’s re-emphasized spirit – in photos, many of which you see in this post.


I’ve worked on a lot of rebrands, but never before one where the spirit of the team was ultimately the brand strategy. Talk about living your brand. Thank you ladies of Salon Amici!

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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!




Branding a Victoria mortgage brokerage

11 Jun

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A well-regarded young mortgage broker wants to launch his own brokerage in a crowded Victoria market. How do we make his business stand out?


Build the business around an important and under-serviced sub-audience the brokerage can legitimately specialize in:

Victoria’s mortgage specialist for First Time Home Buyers.


Research showed us that First Time Buyers, generally 20 – 29, are the fastest growing segment in the real estate market and the most likely to concede they could have gotten a better mortgage. They are on the go, rate shop on their mobile phones, and often take mortgages based on the lowest rate, which rarely serves their long-term interests.

This convinced us of some major business directions:

> The brokerage should be mobile like its audience, and do without a fixed office, meeting wherever is convenient.

> It should be about more than mortgages, but should also support and educate buyers about all aspects of the first time home purchase process.

The name flowed from there, as did the logo and responsive website (both designed by Victoria graphic designer Megan Munro.)

blog-post-mobile2.jpgScreen Shot 2016-06-11 at 10.32.11 AM.png The website offers resources and information about the first home purchase process. MobileFirst will continue to pile on the content as the business matures.


The owner realized that most first time buyers are entering a foreign world of notaries, accountants, contractors, insurance agents, lawyers and so on. So he decided to create a network of respected and like-minded professionals in these fields so his clients wouldn’t have to venture into unknown territory to find trustworthy people.

Victoria photographer Derek Ford did some ace photography of the MobileFirst team.

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To help the business get some traction among rate shoppers and site visitors, a 15 page guide for First Time Buyers was created and offered by email to site visitors.

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The branding work wrapped up with business cards designed to mimic the smartphone format.

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“I chose to work with Doug as he came highly recommended from colleagues, and he did not disappoint,” commented Jake after the brand launch. “I’m truly grateful for his expertise.”

Buying your first home in Victoria? You now know who to ping!

It’s a dead heat

30 Oct

We have a 3-way tie for first place in the Rename the Shreddies contest, which is rather inconvenient.  Shreddies are the UK underwear that absorb noxious wind.

Here are your 3 favourites. Each garnered exactly 20% of the vote.

  • Sneakers
  • Unawear
  • Toot Sweets

But there can only be one winner.  So I must call upon your help once more.

Red and gold crown

Which name will be crowned??

Vote for the best name for flatulence sucking underpants

28 Oct

Couple holding hands

Thanks for the inspired entries to find another name for Shreddies, the underpants that suck up the smell of your farts though a carbon panel in the bum area.

Shreddies belong in your breakfast bowl, not in your underpants.  Hence the contest.

Please vote for your favourite name. The writer of the winning entry will receive a free pair of the newly-named briefs.

I can tell you from experience, they’re terrific for airplane trips, elevators and long walks on the beach.

Are you mortally addicted to bad habits?

12 Nov

cats playing poker

I was standing at a bus shelter last week watching with concern as a woman, pairing a fur coat with pyjama bottoms and black rubber boots, was coughing portions of her lungs onto the sidewalk.

After a final and prolonged hack, she settled back against the glass of the shelter, her eyes stained with her exertions, pulled out a cigarette, lit it up and took a deep drag on it.

She then looked at me with a feeble smile and coughed.

This got me stuck in thoughts about people and the addictions that eventually do them in. Smokes, booze, sex, food, drugs, gambling, danger, speed.

In each case, they know the risks, but trade off that knowledge for the temporary ability to function within their disfunction.

Isn’t this just how it is with many businesses too, or more specifically the people who direct them: they know that what they’re doing is going to hurt them in the long run, but they’re chasing the short-term high, the immediate sales bump that will get them to the next quarter.

Is your business mortally addicted to bad habits?

Here are ten nasty ones, any combination of which can damage a business, sometimes fatally. Do you:

  • Routinely discount your prices rather than provide value-addons?
  • Fail to track where in-bound traffic is coming from?
  • Ignore customer feedback?
  • Fail to implement Search Engine Optimization?
  • Treat your website like a museum, rather than a dynamic, optimized indicator of your SEO success?
  • Try to reach as wide an audience as possible, rather than focus on those your brand was made for?
  • Ignore your existing customers in favour of chasing down new ones?
  • Fear the complaint of any one customer so much that you disregard the 99 who love what you do?
  • Believe that advertising which makes you feel comfortable is going to have any impact whatsoever outside of your boardroom?
  • Fail to hire smarter people than yourself?

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

If these sorts of habits are entrenched in your business, you’re not only missing opportunities – you’re also gambling with the future of your brand. It may be time for a brand intervention.

And guess what: I know someone who does them!

If you think a Brand Intervention could help your business, drop me a line at

(Cat Poker Game by Anonymous)

Are you killing your customers with Christmas?

3 Nov

Jim Carrey as Scrooge

Successful brands focus on customer experience.

Anyone who has ever shopped the day after Halloween (and sometimes before, egads) knows that this cool logic goes out the window for two months every year.

In the pre-Christmas panic to make the numbers, many retailers foist Christmas on their customers in a very undignified, and un-seasonal, manner several months before the holiday.

Which brings us to Shoppers Drug Mart.

As a customer, I can tell you that hearing Christmas carols piping through store speakers on November 1st is a profoundly grating experience that turns me into the ultimate Scrooge. I have ranted about this in the past (albeit it in rhyming couplets!).

Lo and behold, other Shoppers customers agree. Thousands of them, according to their Facebook page.

Which is why Shoppers has bowed to public pressure and killed Jingle Bells and Good King Wenceslas until later in the year. Bravo.

Even though I enjoy, in a sporting way, shouting “Merry Christmas!” to the cashiers as I enter and leave in early November, my sense of the season is always somewhat diminished.

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

Listening to your customers when they speak to you. This exercise alone should be screaming ROI OF SOCIAL MEDIA to Shoppers – and any other retail business that is paying attention.

Be proactive in asking for your customers’ opinions. Don’t sit back and wait to hear they hate something you’re doing. Use your social channels to seek regular feedback. Thar’s gold in them thar comments! (According to Shoppers, they had “no idea” Christmas music was an issue for their customers two months in advance of the holiday. You are right to ask how the effin hell that’s possible.)

To find out the appropriate time to baste their customers with Christmas, retail stores should put a up poll like this one on their Facebook pages. They get great intel, which they can use to improve customer experience, and they show they care about that. Boom.


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