Customer Blogpost! Shelley Nystrom of EcoCandle


Introducing our first customer blogger (and iPad contest winner), Shelley Nystrom of EcoCandle!
If you fancy yourself a bit of a writer, and have an interesting business story / tip to share, drop us a line at Patrick (at) CityMax (dot) com.

By Shelley Nystrom

We’ve been selling candles for seven years now. Everyone gets a kick out of our line of candles for men, The MANdle. They always ask how we came up with the idea – but it all happened by accident.

Flashback: a dinner party years ago with friends and family, drinking and being merry. We were talking about the subject of my new endeavor – the new Eco Candle Company store I had just opened in Oshkosh, WI. My main product is natural soy candles, but I also sell incense, bath & body products, and handmade soap. A total “chick store”.

I shared with them that many male customers were stopping in: shopping for their mother, wife, girlfriend or sister. Some were with girlfriends, obediently smelling scent after to scent and politely saying, “Yes, I like that one too” – just waiting to be set free from this trap. But many of them came back to buy candles for themselves. I never anticipated it, but a lot of guys really liked candles!

So the conversation moved to making candles in manly scents. WD-40, dog, meat, beer… Then my friend Isaac blurted, “Yeah, you could call them MANdles, ha!” Everyone laughed, but I was thinking: “Oh… my… God…. BRILLIANT!!!”

I started brainstorming instantly. What kinds of scents do guys really like? How “manly” do they need to look? Shortly after The MANdle was born. Our customers loved them – and still do. People laugh out loud and call their friends over to read them all. Sometimes I get the occasional customer ask, “What’s a MANdle? I don’t get it.” Oh well, we can’t “wow” everyone!

Things I have learned along the way…

• Have fun with new ideas – people are always looking for a laugh and something unique.

• Don’t expect every new idea to work! Nobody buys the “Frat Boy” candle that smells like the aftermath of a kegger party. Seemed like a great idea, but it sits on the shelf.

• Ask your customers for their opinions – they always want to share them. 1) It makes them feel appreciated and special and, 2) They can come up with some really great ideas!

• Protect your ideas – if you feel like a name you came up with for a product or your business really “sells it” then – trademark, trademark, trademark!!! It’s an investment you will never regret.

Back story: I got state trademarks for all of my product lines, but wasn’t aware that I needed to actually get federally registered trademarks to protect myself. I also took my time getting them because I was selling them already, so I should have been protected, right?! No. I wasn’t. A couple years ago, we saw more candle companies stealing our MANdle idea and tried to register it. Too late!

Another company had just trademarked a line of glowing neon candles called “Mandle Candles”. They had nothing to do with our premise of MAN + CANDLE, but the USPTO said it was too similar and confusing to consumers. To fight it would have cost thousands in lawyer fees to try and fight the registration at this point.

Eventually I realized that I had spent a lot of time whining and crying about corporate crooks. I finally decided to put my big girl panties on, stand up and move on. Sad ending to this story, but we definitely learned a valuable lesson and that’s what running your own business is all about. Live and learn!

Mompreneur Series: Meet Sarah Kaplan

sarahkaplanIntroducing the Mompreneur Series! Every month we’ll be profiling entrepreneurs that manage that perfect balance of running a small business and being a full-time mother.

Mompreneur: Sarah Kaplan –

Sarah is the owner of – “Toronto’s only Breastfeeding Boutique.” Her business specializes in fashionable maternity wear that makes new and soon-to-be moms look great. Founded in 2007, her store won an award last year for “Best Lingerie Store” in town.

I caught up with Sarah to find out her story:

“When I started nursing my daughter, it was very hard to find clothing for nursing moms. Toronto has a very high breastfeeding rate, but no one was serving mothers. Baby shops sell plenty of baby gear but nothing more than nursing bras – nothing cute at all – and nothing for the postpartum mother.

I had the idea with my first child and it took me a couple years to organize. Then I started when my second child was 5 months old. My husband and I carefully chose our neighborhood (one with the highest birth rate in the country) and bought a broken down convenience store, renovated it, and moved in upstairs.

The store has a nursing lounge in the back, and lots of women in the neighborhood will stop by to change their baby’s diaper. They relax on our back patio garden and we serve tea. Plenty of moms will come to take a break and leave with a purchase.

We usually have three people working at all times – my staff are all mothers, who will either bring their children to work in a sling, or they work short shifts to accommodate their parenting.

I was drawn to to build our website because it’s very affordable and user-friendly – the ability to add and remove products easily was crucial. Also being web-based my employees can work on the site from anywhere.

For the future, we will be opening another store in the East End (another baby boom area) this year. I’m going to keep growing the business until it won’t grow – maybe another store every 2 years?”

How I drive traffic to my website:

  • Organic Search
  • Our blog
  • Twitter/Facebook
  • Links from our suppliers
  • Trade shows


“Don’t be afraid to hire people, especially when your business is based on customer service. Being short staffed can cost you sales. Also don’t be afraid of hiring people who are smarter than you!”

Customer Service
“We pay attention to the details, like holding the door for our customers and serving tea. The store has a cooler with hot and cold drinks, and our staff really knows the product. These little things make the difference, and it’s how a boutique can beat the big box stores.

For online orders, we send our customers a few extra identical products close to their order size, to make sure they find the right size and solve fitting issues. We bill them for the extras and refund the product they return.”

Sarah has built into quite a community and her business has hit some major milestones. Congratulations on all of your success Sarah, we’re proud to call you a CityMaxer!!

If you’d like to be featured in the Mompreneur Series, send a short description of yourself and your business to Patrick (at) citymax (dot) com.

How to Get Out of a Creative Rut

rutEver feel like your brain is stuck in a rut? Looking for some business or personal inspiration?

It happens to the best of us, so chin up! Try out some of these tips to get back in the game:

James Smejlis explains a very interesting method of finding solutions that was created by mathematicians and astronomers, which should help you find your creativity in a hurry.

Mike Michalowicz (aka the Toilet Paper Entrepreneur) recently asked 91 entrepreneurs for their top tips on thinking out-of-the-box and finding inspiration.

Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media gets specific and explores what happens when your blog/web content gets stale and how you can revitalize your audience.

What’s your best way of digging your way out of a personal / business rut?

How to Fit Tough Keywords into Your Small Business Website

puzzleWhen you’re trying to optimize your small business website for keywords, you sometimes end up with phrases that just don’t fit in to the flow of the page.

Strange word combinations, odd plurality and missing articles can make writing for exact keyword phrases a pretty difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be impossible – you just need to start thinking of it like a puzzle.

Here are a few suggestions for fitting in those challenging keywords:

1.    Break them up
Although punctuation means a lot to me and you, search engines aren’t that fussy about it. If you’re having trouble fitting the words of a keyword phrase in one sentence, break it up into two separate sentences.

Keyword phrase: San Francisco Real Estate

Looking for a new home in San Francisco? Real Estate can be hard to come by without enlisting the help of an expert.

2.    Use bulleted lists
Not only can bulleted lists be used to simplify information for your visitor, but they can also help you use keywords less awkwardly.

Keyword Phrase: Dog Training Articles

Looking for more information? See the following:

  • “Max’s Guide to Dog TrainingArticles about teaching your dog the basics.
  • “Penelope’s Puppies: All about dog trainingArticles for owners of puppies under the age of 6 months.
  • “Jane and her Litter” Everything you need to know about dog training.

Articles can help you get a lot of the information you need as a new dog owner.

Some keywords just can’t sound natural when written from the third person perspective. In that case, try including them in a quote.

Keyword Phrase: Make my own wine

See what our customers have to say about our services!

“I wanted to make my own wine, but didn’t want to spend a fortune. Grapestompers was affordable AND my wine is fantastic!”

Fitting keywords into your small business website is often a challenge, and these are just a few ways you can do it. Try to be creative and flexible without sacrificing readability – it’s important to remember that your visitor is just as important as the search engines, so be careful not to ruin their experience for the sake of fitting in your keywords.

[image by liza31337]

Google Image Search Optimization

You know all about the importance of organic search engine optimization, or SEO. Chances are you’ve read about how the right keywords and metatags can help boost your page’s ranking in Google. But did you know that Google Image search is also an excellent way to get your business noticed?

Simon Lewis of Vancouver-based 6S Marketing goes deeper to show how you can start ranking your images in Google. Ainslie Johnson explores what types of images your website should use, and what kinds of titles to keep them search-friendly for the Google bots. Finally, SEO World provides their Top 10 tips on Google image SEO.

Good luck and Happy Image SEO-ing!

What is an Avatar and Why Does it Matter?

avatarOver the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about using social media to grow your online business. But there’s one thing we haven’t yet covered: your avatar.

If you only know the word “avatar” in relation to the movie, that’s ok. According to Wikipedia, an avatar is:

“…a computer user’s representation of himself/herself or alter ego whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) or a one-dimensional username used on Internet forums and other communities.”

So, kind of like how in the movie Jake is represented by his blue Na’vi character, you can use an image and a name to represent yourself online in social media environments like Facebook or Twitter.

How to Choose an Avatar

Your avatar is literally an online representation of you or your business, so choosing one should be done with a little thought. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun with it, but you should keep in mind how the image you choose might impact you or your business in real life.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

1.    Use a clear “headshot”.
Social media and online communication is about establishing relationships – people want to know who you are. The exception to this rule is if you are participating as a company, where multiple people will be handling the account. For example, a few of us manage the Facebook and Twitter accounts, so we use our mascot “Max” for our avatar.

2.    Consider the size.
Avatar images are generally shrunk down pretty small, so make sure that your image is clearly identifiable even when tiny. Try aiming for a very plain background for your headshot.

3.    Use the same avatar for all your online interactions.
That’s not to say you can’t change it from time to time, but consistency is good as far as branding yourself or your business.

Although you want to keep to these guidelines, don’t be afraid to show some personality in your avatar – it can help garner a bit more interest in what you have to say.

Have you seen any great avatars lately? Either personal or for business?

Thoughts on Customer Service with Shep Hyken – Part 2

shephykenIn Part 1 of customer service expert Shep Hyken‘s session summary, we explored his recommendations on dealing with unhappy customers. Today we’ll take a closer look at Shep’s top strategies on how to make Moments of Magic – those special moments that turn happy customers into evangelists of your business.

1. Manage the First Impression

The cliche is true: first impressions matter. What does your website homepage look like? Is it cluttered with flashing graphics and text or is or neat and organized? When you meet potential clients in person how do you dress? Do you project confidence?

2. Demonstrate Knowledge and Expertise (at what you do)

Show your customers and peers that you know what you’re talking about. Think about that one friend you have who knows everything about computers. You probably have one who knows a lot about money and finances.

Providing content = demonstrating value

For your website, this might take shape in the way of an articles page or a helpful blog. When people start asking you about things you might not know, this is a WIN. Knowing where to find answers and who to ask is sometimes just as good as knowing everything.

3. Build Rapport

What do people like to talk about? Themselves! In every interaction with customers, try and let them talk about what interests them – whether it’s their kids, their spouse, or their business. If you can remember these details in your next conversation, you will demonstrate that your customer isn’t just another number and they will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

4. Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is contagious. Be excited about your product in all interactions! Others will see that you take your business seriously and will be more likely to do the same.

5. Communication

Manage expectations by asking the extra questions and proactively avoiding misunderstandings. Miscommunications often tend to pop up around deadlines (shipping, deliverables) – so make sure you head them off at the pass!

6. No Mistakes / Knowing How to Handle Mistakes

The goal is obviously not to make mistakes, but they’re going to happen and when they do,  handle them well. If you restore confidence after a mistake, you create a Moment of Magic. This is accomplished in three ways: 1) fixing what needs to be fixed, 2) having the right attitude (ownership) and being accountable, and 3) fixing it with urgency/speed. Educate your customers to know you’ll make their issue your NUMBER ONE priority!

7. Underpromise & Overdeliver

Set an expectation that your customer agrees to, then exceed it. For example, if your customer places an order, promise them that it will ship within seven business days, then get it there in three.

8. Consistency

Customers should always be able to expect at least a certain level of of service from you, and hopefully it’s high. Sometimes you’ll do better and blow them away, but they should always be able to count on you to be this good.

9. Show Appreciation

Say thank you over and over and over. Not just in an email – pick up the phone. Send a postcard! Make the effort to show you care and this will differentiate you from the pack.

Thoughts on Customer Service with Shep Hyken – Part 1

miserableThis week I had the chance to see a best-selling author speak. Shep Hyken is a professional speaker and author who specializes in “helping companies build loyal relationships with their customers and employees.” In an entertaining and informative session, Shep delivered a presentation on how to create an amazing customer experience. In this first post of a two-part series, we’ll look at identifying and handling what Shep calls Moments of Misery.

When dealing with an unhappy customer, you have an opportunity to create a Moment of Magic – or turn that unpleasant experience into an amazing one. Focus on being helpful, rather than defensive (or even aggressive!) by following these three steps:

1)    Empathize – Let the customer know you understand their situation.
2)    Sympathize – Ask questions that prompt for positive responses.
3)    Educate – Let your customer know that you care.

For example, if you pick up the phone to a screaming irate customer, your initial response might be to defend your product or your service. Instead, try to segue into something like the following:

“Mr./Mrs. Jones, I understand that you are not happy about this situation and I am going to do everything I can to make this right/rectify the situation.” <= Empathy
“The reason you called today is you hope we can solve this for you right?” <= Sympathy
“I know that you are upset, so would you please explain one more time from the whole problem/situation from the top.” <= They know that you care! (You are letting them vent, and the repetition will often take the steam out of their sails.)

This should give you a solid start to turning customer issues into positive experiences – but there is more to customer service than simply fielding complaints.

Important points about unhappy customers

•    Just because a person doesn’t complain, doesn’t mean he/she is happy.
•    The typical business hears from only 4% of dissatisfied customers.
•    95% of dissatisfied customers never make a complaint – and 70-80% will never come back!

So, aside from the miserable customer finding you, how do you find them?
•    Send a satisfaction survey
•    Ask them!

According to Shep, the two most important questions is to ask your customers is this:

Ask your customers, on a scale of 1-10 how likely they would be to refer you to a friend? (If the answer is 9 or 10, you’re doing great. 7-8 is okay, anything else and you’re in trouble.

Is there one thing you can think of that would make doing business with us better?

In part two of our series, we’ll look at some of Shep’s tips on communication, and how to create Moments of Magic for your customers.