Taking time to give thanks to good people

What a great year it has been so far with some very rewarding copywriting jobs and several exciting branding and naming projects. I’d like to share everything that’s been going on but that’s not possible because some of the stuff has yet to hit the market. Regardless, two sites launched recently where I provided the copy and both jobs provided me the opportunity to learn stuff of which I knew bupkis while working with some genuinely wonderful clients and design partners.



It's such a pleasure to work with good people motivated to do good work. It is especially nice when they get in touch with some positive feedback and thanks. That's why I love this business and what I get to do.

So, thanks Luc Seesing of SMD Machinery who helped me learn a whole lot about the metalforming business. Also, my thanks to my partner in design on this project, Michelle Luk, Make* Branding & Design for letting me contribute in my own small way to her vision. "I got the webpages up now for a few days and I truly like the results. www.smdmachinery.com I got a few nice compliments about your copy from some smarter folks among us!! Well done. Thanks!" Luc Seesing, President, SMD Machinery



Sometimes you meet someone in business who is just so straightforward and authentic it kind of blows your mind. Rob Jickling is the founder of Element6, a consulting engineering company with a focus on the speciality chemical business. Working with Rob and design partner Bob Boutilier, I was introduced to a world that is genuinely fascinating. What’s really cool though is that Rob is all about creating great results for his clients and that same zeal informs his ability to work with those of us in the creative community.

So, to both, my thanks and gratitude for letting me contribute to your growing enterprises.

If you don't know where you've been, can you know where you are?

Where I started to grow up - an act still in progress.

Where I started to grow up - an act still in progress.


How do you help a business successfully undertake a line extension to its brand? How do you leverage current brand equities? How do you wander back into the brand history then transition to tomorrow?

These are some of the questions I was pondering recently while working with a client. It was the last enquiry that took me down a new path to the past. While on this little trip I learned a lesson relevant to my professional life - how to ensure that the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bathwater. 

At the same time some personal learning emerged and since I am a believer in work-life integration it seems appropriate to share both on this platform - I discovered an affinity between Don Kerr Writes and Don Kerr.

Going through some files the other day I came upon a favourite book from my childhood - Glengarry School Days.  

A favourite read from my childhood.

A favourite read from my childhood.

Years ago, on the frontispiece I wrote an inscription - Donald Gordon Cameron Kerr, 144 Walker Street, Hespeler, Ontario, Canada, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way - Olive Eight 2871

It was an early attempt establish an identity. Several years later, that quest continues. 

Recently, I began to revisit some of the published works of Thomas Wolfe. I’ve started with Look Homeward, Angel and will move on to eagerly consume Of Time and the River, The Lost Boy, The Web and the Rock, finally to arrive at what I believe to be his ultimate work, You Can’t Go Home Again.

All of this got me to ruminating about my life growing up in small-town Ontario and it generated some yearning to revisit my roots. 

My first home was an orphanage in Toronto. A home for unwed mothers. I spent 14 months in the Big City until February 1954 when Henry and Eleanor Kerr adopted me and moved me down the highway to 144 Walker Street. 

No, there’s no recollection of my early days there. My first glimmering of memory occurs when I was 3 or 4. I have some hazy recollection of my father leaving on a business trip to Japan. I do remember this was a great, big house and I had my own room! The house was situated on at least 1 hectare of property fronted by rolling terraces and in the back was a huge expanse of grass that became the neighbourhood ball field. Great fun for my pals and me. A real pain in the arse to mow - when that became my job.

Not too long ago, when a fit of nostalgia possessed me, I drove down the road to Hespeler and walked Walker Street. Many of the homes from my childhood still stand and not surprisingly, as they were all solid and stolid brick homes. Seeing them charged the memory banks and soon I was wandering the street as a young lad with scuffed knees. The 64-year-old man with artificial knees had checked out!

I strolled down the hill past the Seward’s house to the duplex where my best friend Geordie Tennant lived (until he moved into the new development on Elizabeth Street.) 

Geordie's house.

Geordie's house.


In this house I would spend many hours and around this house we’d get into so much trouble. My boys’ brains would explode if they knew even half the stories of what Dad and Geordie used to get up to. ‘Exploring’ the half-built houses being erected in the neighbourhood. Thundering down a massive snow-covered hill behind the Bumgartner’s and Wood’s homes on wickedly fast sleds wearing nothing but big-assed, fur-topped galoshes and maybe a toque. Tossing rocks at each other until someone ended up with a split cranium streaming blood and causing mothers to screech.  Listening to Geordie’s Dad’s vinyl recordings of the speeches of Winston Churchill. Enjoying his very pretty Mom’s baked treats. 

Geordie and I lost touch for many years after he and his family moved to Vancouver where his parents opened a book store in the tony neighbourhood of Kerrisdale. He now lives the life of a ski enthusiast (ski bum?) in Rossland, BC but we were reunited by the wonders of social media when just about one year ago he reached out on Facebook.

The Sewards lived in the former Panabaker home.

The Sewards lived in the former Panabaker home.


Turning around I climbed the small hill (seemed huge when propelling myself down it on my Supercycle) where I wandered past the home of the Sewards. Frances Seward, one of my classmates, had to be the prettiest girl on Walker Street. Her older sister Suzanne was a beauty too but since she was of my sister Elizabeth’s vintage, way out of reach for a snot-nosed little kid such as me. The Sewards lived in the old Panabaker home. To my mind it was a mansion on a hill. Hell, Suzanne and Frances had their own playroom with an awesome,  spring-loaded rocking horse. 

Himes' house where you could score a cookie!

Himes' house where you could score a cookie!


Next door to the Sewards lived the Himes. Again, Judy Himes, another Walker Street glam girl, was a friend of my sister. I don’t think I played with anyone from that house but I do recall occasionally scoring cookies from Judy’s mother. Probably a payoff for me and my buddies to move on down the street and create a ruckus elsewhere but at that point one didn’t much care why the treats were proffered so long as they were plentiful. 


Next door to the Himes lived the Mittens. Mr. Mitten was a good pal of my Dad. He was an early adapter to the world of vinyl siding and created a company with the tagline of ‘Put your house in a mitten’.  Again, the Mitten kids were older than me so not much playtime there but one time Mr. Mitten tried to kill my father and me on a sea plane flight near Bellwood, Ontario. Seeing the power lines crossing the lake at the lastmoment and taking evasive action prevented us from doing a nasty splashdown. 

The next couple of houses struck no chords with me which probably means one of the following:

  1. no kids
  2. no cookies
  3. grumpy people who chased kids
  4. crap Hallowe’en candy
  5. early onset Alzheimers on my part
  6. people only my sister would recall


But then I came upon the Cobers’ homestead. They had a cool barn out back of the houseand what’s even more cool is that it still stands. No kids here and frankly the Cobers could be kinda scary. Probably had something to do with their house being right at the foot of one of our favourite toboggan runs or our occasional forays to raid their garden of tasty carrots.

Little Donald never got to the top.

Little Donald never got to the top.

Out front of our house stood two huge conifers. One of them was blown apart by a middle-of-the-night lightning strike, probably sometime in 1958. The same strike also took out the massive radio that was our primary source of electronic entertainment and news. All of this was pretty exciting for a six-year-old boy but when we looked in the back of the console radio the tubes were not a pretty sight and if I recall correctly some of the Bakelite had melted into little fudge-brown pools.

A giant brought down by lightning.

A giant brought down by lightning.


Anyway, the other tree survived and it still stands sentinel today. This was our climbing tree. It was also the tree of teasing. Here, my dear departed cousin Larry, would scramble to the upper heights while calling down to ‘Little Donald’ below that he was a big scaredy cat who couldn’t make it past the first couple of low-hung branches. It hurt. Why? It was true. I was a scaredy cat when it came to clambering up this tree. It was good to see this tree, still thriving. Too often these monuments to nature fall prey to developers or well-meaning town councillors who view them as a danger to children 

Martha's house - a refuge.

Martha's house - a refuge.


Immediately across the street from the big tree is the house where Martha lived. 

Martha Wildfong was our housekeeper. Actually, that title demeans her - she was in reality a surrogate mother. This was especially true after my mother, Eleanor, started her life with cancer in the early ‘60s. Martha was a woman with real roughedges and an absolute heart of gold. She and her sister Katherine lived together. They were, to use a phrase no longer in vogue, spinster ladies. Katherine worked at the local Hostess Potato Chips factory. She would bring home bags of fresh chips packed with deep-fried goodness that had just that day been hand-picked from the line. God, they were so good. My sister Elizabeth and I spent hours in this lovely cottage - often spending the night. 

The start of a serious viewing habit. 

The start of a serious viewing habit. 

Virtually every Sunday we would traipse down our stairs and cross the street to enjoy an evening of Ed Sullivan and the Wonderful World of Disney. At my house, we didn’t even have a B&W television until I was 8. It was there we watched this in total awe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It3Cctk6BRs

Amazingly, to me anyway, was realizing that most of these homes were little changed since the late ‘50s. The one that had undergone some significant renovation was the Pozzobon house where my friend Ozzy Osborne lived.

Ozzy lived here.

Ozzy lived here.


The Pozzobon/Osborne household were unique on Walker Street. First, they weren’t of traditional Upper Canadian stock. It was probably at Ozzy’s house that I got the first whiff of genuine garlic and fragrant olive oil. Quite possibly where I had my first experience of red wine of the homemade variety and where I learned that bread was something other than fluffy - it could have real bite to it! As well, they brought some grit to the street. By no means were they professional folk or independent business people. While not sure, it seems likely that they made their living working in the textile factories that once were the backbone of Hespeler’s economy. Possibly they worked some shifts assembling Simplicity washing machines or perhaps they worked at the Hespeler Hockey Stick factory. I can’t remember but they were good people and honest.

Dominion Textiles - Hespeler's main employer.

Dominion Textiles - Hespeler's main employer.

I shot some of the other homes on Walker Street but frankly can’t remember much about the families to whom they were home. 

So what exactly does all of this have to do with helping a client successfully extend their product line?

This - past is prologue.

As we’re launching into new endeavours we do well to spend a considerable time considering the road we have travelled. Too often we’re eager to shed the garments of the past and don our new duds. The danger in moving ahead with no nod to the past however is that we lose foundational inspiration and opportunities to anchor our new ventures in reality.

What’s new and shiny ain’t always best. Sometimes there’s real benefit to be had in the weather-worn elements of our past. 

“A young man is so strong, so mad, so certain, and so lost. He has everything and he is able to use nothing.” - Thomas Wolfe

This can be the case with a new brand. Keeping an eye on what got us to where we are may create greater strength that is, in fact, usable.

This can be the case with a new life circumstance. As you’ve no doubt heard before, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. 

It could equally well be said, if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you are.

Château des Charmes: Darwinian Theory and the wine grower

The second in our series of corporate profiles where we explore the leadership characteristics of Authenticity, Coaching, Insight and Innovation and their linkage to compelling brand expression.

Natural selection is Darwin’s most famous theory; it states that evolutionary change comes through the production of variation in each generation and differential survival of individuals with different combinations of these variable characters. Individuals with characteristics which increase their probability of survival will have more opportunities to reproduce and their offspring will also benefit from the heritable, advantageous character.*


The business of wine growing, seen from afar, appears romantic. Witnessing the dawn come up over fields of orderly rows. Sun-filled afternoons strolling through the vineyards. Monitoring the bud growth and watching the grapes form. Harvesting and crushing and blending and storing and aging and tasting.

Credit: Château des Charmes

Credit: Château des Charmes


Up close, wine growing is tough, full-on farming where only the fittest survive.

When you hear Paul Bosc, President of Château des Charmes excitedly declare, "I am just a glorified farm boy who loves that we make something from the earth!" you begin to understand that this is a business where passion and devotion are simple entry fees. If you've got those two qualities only then does the really hard work begin.


It is from these roots that the characteristic of authenticity grows for the Bosc family who proudly and insightfully state - "making wine is not what we do, it's who we are." 

Paul represents the sixth generation of wine growers in the Bosc family. His father Paul Sr. is recognized as a pioneer (if not a revolutionary) in the Ontario wine industry as it was he who first, to some ridicule, declared his intent to commercialize classic European vitis vinifera varieties to Niagara.

It is Paul Jr.'s wife, Michèle Bosc, Director of Marketing for the winery who introduces the notion of Darwin's Natural Selection to the conversation. 

"Whether you approach this business from a purely agricultural perspective or as a commercial enterprise competing for its life in a challenging marketplace, we are driven by survival of the most adaptable," she observed. "Once you understand that you must commit entirely to authenticity you stand a better chance of continuing your successful evolution as a wine grower and marketer and develop a sustainable enterprise." 

Authenticity in the world of Château des Charmes means ensuring that every undertaking - from ground breaking grape breeding research to yield management to crop stewardship to product development to bottling must revolve around the touchstone of genuine commitment to producing the best quality product possible with no shortcuts.

It means, some years, not bringing one of its top-rated products, Equuleus, to market simply because the grapes don't make the grade so they don't make the wine rather than risk their reputation.

Michèle continues in a similar vein by sharing that the company is driven to deliver an "authentic product whether it is a bottle of our wine or the experience we deliver all our guest who visit the winery whether they are a couple coming in for a private tasting or a family who chooses to share their celebration at the Château. There must be absolute continuity between the quality of our product and the experience we deliver."  


Paul, who also acts as the chief human resource officer for the for winery, also observes that hiring and management practices revolve around the need for honesty and transparency. "Being part of a family-run business is different. It is, I think, in some ways more intimate because we are so very careful when we bring people on board to ensure that there is a seamless cultural fit with the Bosc way. We will, on occasion bring on board someone who may be less qualified on paper simply because we believe they are a superior fit for the company," he commented.

The winery has a diverse workforce including guest farmworkers, seasonal employees, long-term colleagues (some of whom have been with the family for most of the winery's 37-year history), new Canadians, and some people just beginning their working lives. 

As Paul recalls, "We are probably particularly sensitized to new Canadians. It was, after all, not that long ago that our family left Algeria for France and eventually made our way to Canada. That's perhaps part of the reason we try so hard to accommodate language and cultural differences."

Michèle adds, "As a family business we're sensitive to treating each other with respect. We're very much a company that operates on a strong 'thank-you' principle. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to express gratitude for a job performed well, large or small, and it makes such a difference to the daily experience of life and working here."

Thank you is the best prayer that anyone can say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.
— Alice Walker


From the outset, Paul Bosc Sr., intuitively and practically understood that the estate winery model in which he had been educated, was the optimum model. At the time he undertook to establish this in Niagara, the industry was far from prepared or disposed to adopt the approach. 

With the establishment of a small, 24 hectare vineyard (Creek Road) planted exclusively with vitis vinifera, Paul Sr.  applied his scientific understanding of viticulture and his hard-earned experience. His combination of technological and general knowledge was a genuine disruption to the traditions of Niagara. First harvested in 1980, the Creek Road Vineyard remains in operation today and forms the basis of the winery's Estate Bottled series.

"My father's key insight was that the industry required dramatic reinvention," Paul remarks. "He did this quietly but with confidence fully understanding the implications of potential error. The potential for disaster was there but it was proven to be outweighed by his application of disciplined commitment and understanding of the farming of grapes. He was after all a wine grower. This may sound like a fine point but there is a considerable difference between growing wine and simply producing grapes or wine."

It becomes apparent that involvement in farming or any activity so dependent upon the vagaries of Mother Nature requires insight that centres on constant awareness. For the Boscs this means being hyper aware of weather patterns, industry trends, international trade, environmental issues, social media, tourism and travel, and technology. Events that may seem unrelated to the key aspects of wine growing can have a significant impact on the viability of the business.

For example, recent harsh winters in Ontario have proved problematic for many growers. Catastrophic crop failure is a possibility but as Paul observed, the bud counts this spring at the Château are excellent. When asked why he remarks, "It starts with my father's site selection which has us located in one of the warmest and most sheltered locations within the appellation. Combined with our judicious use of wind machines, careful yield management through the years, our refusal to use herbicides, and use of sustainable agricultural practices from the beginning, our vines are able to withstand the rigours of this climate."

All of this of course means that the winery is less exposed to the dramatic negative outcomes others less prepared might face. 

The awareness of industry trends is another huge issue and perhaps the biggest "surprise" and certainly challenge has been the proliferation of competition. According to VQA Ontario statistics, there were in 2014, 83 wineries in the Niagara region producing 1,358 appellation wines totalling 1,871,082 litres. Consider that all of this growth came after the 1988 Wine Act which banned the growth (for winemaking purposes) of native varieties such as Labrusca and Concord. The banning in turn saw the number of grape growers in the region decline from 1,000 to 700 almost immediately to the point where there are now approximately 450 registered growers. 

This all poses a very real challenge to the current management team whose responsibility is to maintain the momentum built by Paul, Sr. while adapting to current conditions and anticipating future patterns. Michèle describes the challenge this way, "Paul's job is to polish the diamond that his father created. My job in marketing is to create the proper setting for the stone."   



The polishing and setting are where the Boscs' innovations especially come in to play. 

"The reality of our business is that we must innovate or die," says Michèle. "We must maintain a constant state of reinvention while holding true to the foundational vision of the business which is to create a seamless, quality experience from product to profile."

Clearly, this is where the family's embrace of Darwinian principles have a significant impact and it is one that can't always be immediately justified through simple economic analysis. "It takes solid science to be innovative and  continuously improve on quality. The process of keen observation, continuous questioning, testing of hypotheses and acting upon the results has provided us with many cutting-edge techniques and products such as our Gamay Noir 'Droit'," observes Michèle.

The following story appears on the winery's website.

In the early ‘80s I was doing routine inspections in the vineyard and noticed a single Gamay Noir vine growing straight up and taller than the others in the block. I was interested in the potential of this vine so we took cuttings and propagated the vine and eventually made wine from these specific grapes. The wine did have some of the classic Gamay characteristics, cherry flavours and a medium body style, but there was also a layer of complexity that was a pleasant surprise. Gamay ‘Droit’ also has warm spicy notes and a hint of smokiness that is quite lovely. It is also higher in alcohol making it more mid-weight in style. The wine was different enough from standard Gamay that we thought we actually had a different clone on our hands. Once the genetic testing was done we found out that Canada’s first vinifera vine was born right in our vineyard! We were granted the International Plant Breeders’ rights, a sort of patent, so no one else in the world can grow this vine or make this wine called Gamay Noir ‘Droit’. Because this wine is so interesting in the glass we decided to not oak age it. What you taste is the unique flavours of Gamay ‘Droit’.
— Paul Bosc, Sr.
Château des Charmes' world exclusive Gamay Noir 'Droit'

Château des Charmes' world exclusive Gamay Noir 'Droit'

Paul comments, "One of the challenges of winegrowing is this meticulous experimentation and innovation can take 10 or more years to reach a conclusion. That's a long time to find out your idea doesn't work! Several of our ongoing experiments were started over 15 years ago and we're just now starting to see actionable results."

So why make the investment?

The Boscs view their leadership responsibility within the context of a long-term future. "We have to look out 30 - 40 years when the map of this region may well look very different. Already, we've witnessed remarkable change since my father first arrived here and there is simply no indication that the status quo will be sustainable. Our very survival depends on our ability to adapt, to derive competitive advantage and ensure that the seventh generation of the Bosc family (represented by son Alex) will continue to deliver upon our promise of quality products and experiences."

To learn more about the compelling story of Château des Charmes, please visit their site http://www.fromtheboscfamily.com/

My thanks to Paul and Michèle for making the time to share their story with me.

*Source: http://darwin200.christs.cam.ac.uk/

Hide and seek? Or - authentic brand expression.

On second thought, I think I am more crazy than my goat.
— Remedios Varo
My friendly, not so crazy, goat from Asciano, Italy

My friendly, not so crazy, goat from Asciano, Italy

During a meeting this morning with a colleague we got to talking about how corporations spend great time, effort and money defining values and mission. We further chatted about how so very many of those same corporations figure that once the values exercise is done they can file them away and move forward. Just get the posters up, send out the notifications to staff, print off a wallet card and publish the values on the website. That's it. We're done. Let's get back to the real business of making sales.

That approach reminded me of the quote posted above. Why? Because it is genuinely lunatic!

You cannot underestimate people’s ability to spot a soulless, bureaucratic tactic a million miles away. It’s a big reason why so many companies that have dipped a toe in social media waters have failed miserably.
— Gary Vaynerchuk

Take a gander at what Gary Vaynerchuk says. Perhaps in years past you could get away with corporate and/or brand b.s. simply by repeating it over and over and over and over again until an audience began to think it MUST be true. I witnessed this phenomenon in my corporate life during the '80s when consistent repetition of the same nonsense started to gain traction. 

We're in a totally different environment today. Previously, brands told us what they were about. More often than not we now tell brands what they are by sharing through various media our experience of them. If our individual and collective experience differs from the corporation's voice - we win. We have greater influence. Now, if corporations wish to engage in authentic conversation, that's a different story because now we approach transparency and effective, emotional connection - even if it begins from a negative experience.

Simply put - corporations can't hide anymore. They're too exposed on too many platforms and efforts to engage in inauthentic communication simply won't be sustainable.

Here's Vaynerchuk again:

Social media requires that business leaders start thinking like small-town shop owners. This means taking the long view and avoiding short-term benchmarks to gauge progress. It means allowing the personality, heart and soul of the people who run all levels of the business to show.
— Gary Vaynerchuk

So how do you get to allowing the soul of the business to show?

More on that in subsequent postings but simply put - you willingly engage in corporate psychotherapy and willingly address your vulnerabilities.

Uncomfortable at first? Yes.

Ultimately rewarding and profitable? Yes.

There is no place to hide.

There is no reason to hide.

Unless there is!