The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

Avoiding Business Erosion

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Change is all around us. It's in our society, in our technology, in our work, in our home. I think humans have a gene for change wired into their DNA. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have any genes that make dealing with change any easier.

Business Erosion

Your business is operating in an environment where new competition starts up seemingly overnight and old markets dry up and fade away. How are you adapting to this change? Are you like water, just going with the flow? Or, are you an island, trying to weather all storms with stoic resolve?

Welland native Anthony Lacavera certainly knows how to create and navigate change. He founded Wind Mobile in 2008 and took on telecom giants Rogers, Bell and Telus. His company was recently sold to Shaw Communications for $1.6 billion.

Niagara Falls business fixture Sunny Halani has shepherded his UPS Store through major changes in the printing industry. The internet has posed a double challenge to the world of print. Email and PDFs have reduced or replaced (for some) the need to print brochures. The internet has also allowed the creation and rise of low-cost, DIY services like VistaPrint whose low prices are very appealing. Sunny's built a business based on stellar customer service, exceptional product quality and of course, his Sunny personality. In a world where print material is often considered a commodity, Sunny's way of doing business is helping his business thrive.

Wind Mobile's innovations allowed it to prosper. Sunny's UPS Store's success is based on superior customer service and doing the job right. What will be the right approaches for your business to take for it to stand the test of time and stand up to the winds of change?

What Can You Do Differently?

Mark Kawabe - Monday, January 04, 2016

What can you do differently today?Whether he said it or not (and he probably didn't), Einstein is said to have defined insanity as "doing something over and over again and expecting a different result".

Every day we have choices to make. What we choose to do and how we choose to do those things largely determine the outcomes of our activities.

What are you doing today that you've done before that you want to turn out better than it did before?

Here's something I tried today: black coffee.

When I have coffee, it's usually in the form of a vanilla latte (from Starbucks) or a French Vanilla (from Timmy's). Today, in an attempt to gain the benefits of coffee (caffeine) without extra calories, I tried a dark roast, black, from Timmy's. It was more palatable than I thought it would be. More importantly, I stayed awake on my late-night drive home while feeling good about the choice made.

You have choices to make today. Here's hoping they contribute to your sanity.

Please feel free to share them with others. What works for you may work for someone else :)

Getting Back to . . . NETWORKING!!!

Mark Kawabe - Sunday, January 03, 2016

Niagara business networking eventsIt's cold outside. All the more reason to get out and get back into the swing of business.

If you're not an entrepreneur or in sales, you could be forgiven for not knowing that networking is one of the best ways to generate new business.

There are plenty of opportunities for networking in Niagara. From Fort Erie to Grimsby, there are networking events that can keep you busy for most of January.

If you haven't done so, check out our Niagara business event calendar. We're always looking for new events to post, and you'll be able to find a variety of events all in one convenient place.

There are also myriad Facebook groups that discuss Niagara events. While they may not focus specifically on business networking, they're still a valuable resource to find out what's going on in the area.

Here are a few tips for attending your next networking event.

  1. Make sure you know where the event is and at what time it starts. Getting lost will stress you out and that will show when you arrive.
  2. Ensure you have enough business cards with you. I'm always amazed at the number of people who show up at networking events without them. Even if your business is only online, a card makes it easy for people to remember your website address.
  3. Dress for the occasion. You're likely to meet at least a few people for the first time. Unless you're in the habit of making poor first impressions, pay attention to your appearance.
  4. Follow up. It doesn't matter if you spoke to two people or twenty. Following up shows people you paid attention to them, that you value their connection and that you're on the ball. Of the hundreds of people I met at networking events last year, less than ten followed up with an email or phone call. BTW, following up does not mean automatically adding people to your e-blast.

I hope you have a fantastic time networking in Niagara this year!


Similarities Among the Differences

Mark Kawabe - Saturday, January 02, 2016

I am a tea person. I've also been known to drink the occasional coffee (I'm partial to lattes). I know some tea drinkers who never touch coffee and others who wouldn't be caught dead with a tea.

Coffee and tea are different, but they're on the same continuum of hot, flavourful drinks enjoyed the world over. People are different too, but they're all on the same continuum of human.

I think that gets forgotten sometimes.

I was running around on appointments before the holidays when a fellow asked me for some change for food the other day. I checked to make sure I had time, then offered to buy him lunch instead. He accepted. During our chat I found there really wasn't much separating us. We both want better lives for ourselves. We struggle on how to get to that point. We share mutual wants and needs. At the moment, he's struggling. I've struggled too. Many of us have.

Sometimes it's harder to relate to people who hold views different to ours. Those challenges require more energy from us, but not in the way energy is usually spent. We see it on social media every day where people with different viewpoints are expending great amounts of energy to beat down, belittle and otherwise vilify "the other". Whether the issue is immigration or pollution (or anything else for that matter), it sometimes seems there are two solitudes: one side is absolutely right and the other side is unequivocally wrong.

The truth is almost always somewhere between the two viewpoints. Instead of creating conflict, it is probably better if we try to understand why "the other" feels the way they do. Starting from a place of respect is the foundation should be the goal, even when "the other" is saying things we find reprehensible. Even if we don't agree, we should understand why others believe the things they do. With that understanding, we can work on ways to live together in harmony.

Expending energy to be patient and understanding, to listen respectfully and to communicate clearly is more work than yelling back at people who you don't agree with. It's more work, but this is the growth we require within ourselves and within our communities for us to create a better life for everyone.

I don't need to ban coffee for me to be comfortable as a tea drinker. I need to understand why the coffee drinker prefers their hot water passed over roasted, ground beans over my hot water infused with the essence of steamed and dried leaves. Hopefully that understanding leads to a realization that the coffee drinker is not evil and that my morning drink is but one of many acceptable ways to start my day.

Here's hoping for a future of shared understanding and growth.

Welcome to 2016 Niagara!

Mark Kawabe - Friday, January 01, 2016

Welcome to 2016 Niagara! Happy New Year!

The new year is often said to be a time of new beginnings. As so many have said, "today is the first day of the rest of your life". The possibilities are truly endless.

Every day brings dozens of opportunities for change and improvement. It is easy to look around and find things that could use some improvements. It's harder to look within ourselves for areas we can improve.

It is my perspective that through changing and improving our selves we can create positive changes in our relationships with our families, friends, workplace, community, society, environment and world. I have experienced many changes to myself and to my life in the past few years and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to more positive changes moving into 2016.

It is my hope The Niagara Guide will continue to develop into a platform for sharing Niagara's stories and a place where we can showcase the good things happening in our region. I can't do it alone, so ask that you help me by suggesting topics and people who we can shine a spotlight on as examples of positivity, growth and leadership in our community. I look forward to the possibilities.

I wish you all a healthy, safe, happy and prosperous 2016!

Best Regards,
Mark Kawabe
Chief Guide @ The Niagara Guide

Mark Kawabe 2016

Customer Service Success Story

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

This is the face of customer service

I'm talking about the guy to the left :)

The fellow in the center of this pic is Steven Turner, the Sales Manager at Tbooth wireless in the Pen Centre.The other happy guy to the right is me (but you knew that, right?).

If you've had your fill of feel-good testimonials about awesome customer service, you can stop reading here.

I had been a Rogers wireless customer for 9 years and 11 months. It seemed like time for a change. Any parallels to any particular governing party being in power for a decade and Canadians feeling it's time for a change is a complete coincidence.

The only reason I went to Tbooth initially was because they represent Rogers, Bell, Virgin, Fido and a couple of other providers. I thought it would save time compared to going to every wireless kiosk in the Pen Centre.

There's a reason Steven's the sales manager. It's because he's awesome with people, product knowledge and has incredible patience. He also understands customer service.

He walked me through various plans from Rogers, Virgin and Fido. We switched four phones from Rogers to Fido because of Steven's comprehensive information and ability to find the best value for us among the myriad plans available.

Most impressive to me though was that I had done most of the shopping for the phone on Wednesday but didn't have time to make the switchover that night. I went back Thursday but also didn't have the time. Steven heard I was coming in on Friday and despite the fact it was his day off, he came in to make sure he could take care of our switchovers. More than that, when I mentioned my son would be in Toronto without service if we did the switchover right then, Steven said he would wait for us to text him later and he would take care of the activation once we gave him the okay to do so.

I have never experienced such good customer service in any telecom-related transaction so wanted to share what I felt was an awesome experience and give Steven some recognition for his actions. If you're in the market for a new phone plan, phone or accessory, I highly recommend visiting Steven and his team at Tbooth in the St. Catharines Pen Centre.

BTW, the photo above is the first photo ever taken on my new LG G3 smartphone. Thank you Steven!!!

I hope you have much to be grateful for

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 12, 2015

An attitude of gratitude seems to be something we have to cultivate in ourselves and our children.

As Canadians, we are fortunate to have so much. As individuals, we have opportunities and resources available to us that others can only dream of. It's important to me to recognize those things in my daily life. Even when things aren't particularly going my way, having an attitude of gratitude seems to put things into perspective.

A few reflections on this from the weekend.

We were headed to Toronto on Friday afternoon to pick up my son and his university friend before heading up to my in-laws near Lindsay. Nearing Toronto we got stuck in traffic jams. Twice. We were already running late due to some technical issues with a switchover from one cellular phone carrier to another. It would have been easy to get stressed out. But, stepping back and looking at things through a lens of gratitude, a different perspective opened up.

  • Stuck in Traffic Jam - fortunate to have a car and to live in a society with such a developed highway infrastructure
  • Had to grab a bite to eat on the run - grateful to have the resources available to do so 
  • Delayed due to technical issues - yes, but we now have new cell phones and are paying less, and hey, when I was a kid we didn't even have cell phones
  • Crappy traffic while picking up son & university friend - yes, but then again, we're fortunate to have the resources to be able to send him to university
  • Had to travel three hours+ to get to in-laws - glad to have parents and relatives who are still living

It is easy to take everything around us for granted and then complain when things "go wrong". Sometimes it seems the ability to appreciate what we have is under-utilized, as demonstrated by our individual and collective behaviours. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to focus our attention on gratitude and to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and the relative riches we have as individuals and as a society.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and carry an attitude of gratitude with you throughout the year.

Plenty of DRAMA to Share

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Seriously. Please. Save it for someone else.

This request goes out to all:

  • Politicians
  • Media outlets
  • Marketers
  • Teenagers and adults who haven't figured out how to act like an adult
  • Business naysayers and other dream killers
  • People with too much time on their hands

Life has its challenges. It's more challenging for some than for others. It's more challenging for many others who aren't fortunate enough to live in Canada.

We're lucky to live where we are and to have what we have. Regardless of the government or corporations or the Illuminati or people-who-we've-chosen-to-be-afraid of or whoever else the bogeyman is today.

We are fortunate. We have the power to help ourselves, our neighbours and our community. With power comes responsibility.

Oh yeah - go vote.

Cecil the Lion, Starfishes and Our Tunnel Vision

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Around 13,000 km from my house in Thorold, a lion was killed. The humans who knew of him called him "Cecil". It's not known what he called himself, but it's kind of moot now because he's dead, killed by an American dentist who likes to hunt large animals. The way Cecil was hunted and died has upset and outraged millions of people around the globe.

I think it is fair to say that a very large percentage of those millions of outraged and upset people had no knowledge of Cecil before news of his death hit the internet. I would further wager that a majority of those up in arms about Cecil's killing know little about the lion population in Zimbabwe or in Africa as a whole. A quick reading of articles online suggests the main factor contributing to the overall decline in African lion populations is habitat loss. Some sources also suggest that sport hunting of lions and other large animals in Africa is an important source of conservation funding. While Cecil's death will be in the headlines for another week or so, the emotional energy expended by millions of people world-wide will have little impact on the inexorable decline in the African lion population.

There are so many things in this world we can be outraged about. Social media's good for helping us focus our energies in short bursts, but it's not enough. If we want to do more, we have to develop a broader view and more importantly, develop the will to act.

Thanks to social media, many of you may be familiar with the "starfish story", originally known as "The Star Thrower". For those not familiar with the story, the gist is that the narrator was walking along a beach when he encountered a young man throwing starfish into the ocean. When asked why he was doing so, the young man replied that as the sun was coming up and the tide was going out, without his assistance the starfish would die. The narrator then said that as there were miles of beach ahead and many starfish all along the way that the young man couldn't possibly make a difference. The young man then picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, exclaiming "It made a difference for that one!".

The young man in the story made a difference to a lot of starfish that day. In the same way, our short-lived outrage may make a difference for a little while. Ultimately, the young man's starfish throwing and our outrage are similarly futile without understanding the bigger picture and taking action.

Scientists at the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, more is absorbed by the oceans, becoming carbonic acid. The decrease in ocean pH levels has profound impacts on many sea creatures, including starfish.

The young man in The Star Thrower may be making a difference in the lives of a few starfish by his actions, but if he doesn't understand the bigger picture of the destruction of his beloved starfishes' environment through climate change, his actions will be meaningless in the long run. He would be better off expending his energies on fighting climate change. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Cecil's dead. All the world's outrage won't bring him back to life. What if every single person who is mourning Cecil's passing donated $10 per month to a reputable charity that focuses on preserving natural habitat for Africa's lions and other large animals? Imagine the impact that would have. What a tribute to Cecil it would be.

Sadly, that won't happen. Emotions will fade. The outrage won't last. People's tunnel vision will focus on whatever makes the internet explode tomorrow, or the day after. The dentist who killed Cecil will eventually be back at work, saving up more money to take his next hunting trip.

Does this outrage you? If so, then I encourage you to take action that will bring about the positive changes you want to see.

Image Credits

"Lion-hwange" by Laura (cardamom) - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

By ГП (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Can't or Won't?

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, April 30, 2015

Maybe, dear reader, you read the fine print on contracts and agreements. If so, I'll wager you're in the minority of people who do. I recently read my auto insurance policy renewal offer and found I was being charged a 5% surcharge for a minor traffic violation.

Five percent's not much, but what surprised me was that the infraction was not related to unsafe driving. In 2012 I had borrowed a relative's car for a short in-city trip and was pulled over by the police. My elderly relative had mistakenly failed to renew his plates on time. The keen-eyed officer noticed this so pulled me over and asked for my license, ownership and insurance. I didn't have the last two documents, so promptly received two tickets: one for the expired plate and the other for failure to produce proof of insurance.

Since these weren't moving violations, I didn't give them any thought when my policy renewed. It was a surprise to see it on my policy renewal offer.

When I called my insurance agent to inquire about having the surcharge removed, the representative seemed to think it would be a no-brainer. She called the underwriter to make the request. To her surprise and mine, the underwriter said the surcharge couldn't be removed as the conviction was for an offense under the Highway Traffic Act.

After I got off the phone, I wondered how much I had spent with my insurance company over the years. I calculated the amount to be at least $30,000 over the past 15 years.I hadn't had any other tickets for my driving, nor had I had any at-fault collisions. From my perspective, I didn't think it reasonable to pay extra for what amounted to a paperwork violation. So, I called back and asked my insurance representative about my claim history.

That led to her making a speedy phone call back to the underwriter. After a while, my representative called me back saying the underwriter had begrudgingly agreed to waive the surcharge. She also passed along a message from the underwriter who said I should have fought the tickets at the time instead of asking for the surcharge to be removed. Someone wanted to have the last word, I guess.

What surprised me about this whole experience is how easy it would have been to approve the removal of the surcharge on the first call. Instead, it took me feeling unfairly treated and interested in shopping around for a new insurance company to convince an underwriter to eliminate the surcharge. I am also left feeling that perhaps my insurance company won't help me in future when I do need them. Not because they CAN'T, but because they just won't want to.

The underwriter HAD THE ABILITY to remove the surcharge. She didn't WANT to. When you CAN help a client, don't you think you SHOULD? After all, who are you in business to serve? When you're in business to serve yourself, you're in the wrong business. Today, everything is about the customer's experience. Doing your utmost to provide the best customer experience possible is what keeps you in business and makes your business grow.

If you won't help your clients, someone else will.


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