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BCE! On my watch closely list, but don’t own shares (yet)!

Originally posted on Financial Post | Business:

Dividends have accounted for more than 40% of total stock market returns since 1930, according to Morgan Stanley’s Adam Parker.

In a report published recently, Parker’s team screened the stock market for the best high yield dividend plays.

All stocks have market values above $15 billion and dividend yields above 4%.  They were also selected for their sustainability.

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The screen yielded 17 stocks mostly in the Telecom, Tobacco, and Utilities.  Parker’s team ranked them.

If you’re an investor looking for income, these might be some of your best options.


17. Dominion Resources

17. Dominion Resources




Price Target:

A power and energy company that supplies both electricity and natural gas, Dominion trades at a P/E in-line with the higher multiples afforded to fully regulated utilities. It also has an above-average, low-risk EPS profile.

Source: Morgan Stanley

16. Oneok

16. Oneok



Price Target:

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Customer-Staff-Management Alignment

Inspect what you expect. Set objectives and expectations. Write job descriptions. Hold coaching sessions. All are good methods for helping staff/store meet goals and objectives.

However, I have seen more and more that the alignment between Customer expectations, Staff expectations, and Management expectations is out of whack.

Are these aligned?

Management expects sales numbers. Meet target. Beat last year!

Customers expect great value and a great deal.

Staff are caught in the middle. Sandwiched between the two groups they are trying to please.

Here are some real life examples I have personally observed:

Automotive service centres want increasing labour per repair order as that’s their profit centre. Customers want decreasing labour per repair order because the cost of servicing is rising rapidly. Service Advisors are caught in the middle. They need to keep their customer happy, but get the most $$ out of them. They’re measured by customer satisfaction scores and $$ (hours) per repair order.

Technical support or call centre staff need to help their customers, which means they need to listen, ask questions and make sure the customer is fully satisfied with the answer. They are measured, however, by the number of calls they take per hour or day, meaning they are pressured to churn through lots of calls.

No wonder it’s “hard to find good customer service people”. They are being asked to do the impossible!


Reconciling this requires a leap of faith. It means rethinking your philosophy, goals and measures.

Do we want to keep customers happy or do we want to make the most profit? Both of course, but it’s darn near impossible to do both at once. Taking care of customers first will usually lead to profit. But taking care of profit first will not lead to customer satisfaction.

Rather than focussing on the bottom line today, we need to look at the bottom line tomorrow. Rather than “How much did we make today?”/”Did you make target?” we need to focus on, “Were your customers happy/excited about their experience? “Will your customers come back soon?” “Did your customers get value for their time and money?”

We also need to check our performance measures. Is our performance reward system rewarding the right performance? Do our rewards promote “dollars” today or “happy” today?

It is also imperative to have the right measurement. How do we measure customer satisfaction and loyalty? It may be hard. Measuring the $$ at the end of the day is easy. But it may be going against what you really want. Finding a few key questions to ask customers about their experience and then asking them is the way to move forward.

Finally, I believe it is vital to “map out” the desired alignment. Make it visual for everyone to see; customers, staff and management. This could be a mission statement, or a written philosophy.

A New Philosophy

As an example of a retail store’s possible philosophy:

(1) We love working with customers to help them enjoy a pressure free, fun and relaxing shopping experience.

(2) We measure customer satisfaction and repeat sales. The happier our customers are and the more they return, the happier we are.

(3) We measure repeat sales through our rewards program. Our associates are rewarded as a team based on these repeat sales over a 12 month period.

Can you see how everyone is aligned? The focus is on making customers happy and keeping them coming back, not on getting top dollar today.

Can you see staff members being excited about making sure their customers are happy? Can you see management working with staff towards a common goal? Can you see happier customers in this store?

So take a look at your alignment. Draw it on paper. Discuss it. See if there is a misalignment. Then review your own operations, your philosophy, goals and rewards. Also look at what staff and customers say. Dig around to see if there’s a connection (or dis-connection) between your results, measures and processes.

The better way forward may not be the easiest way forward! But it will be worth it.

If the CIA does it, so should you!

I’m talking about spying on your competitors. No, nothing illegal!! No wiretaps or surreptitious pictures of secret documents. However, if you are competing in the retail world, you better know how your competitors are handling their/your customers so that you can improve your own operations.

The best time to learn what a competitor is doing to attract and retain customers, is BEFORE your customer finds out!

A good “Competitor Shop” visit involves 3 elements: preparation, the visit, and taking action.


It’s important to know what you want to achieve, or learn, from a competitive shop. Just visiting may lead you to some insights, but going with an objective will help focus your attention. I perform Mystery Shops regularly and trying to see “everything” is very hard. Focussing on a couple of elements makes a vast difference in how much detail you recall after the visit. You can plan a number of visits over a 6 month period so if you focus on 2 elements each visit, you will learn many things over that period of time.

What should you focus on? Start with your own standards. Does your store have standards for how staff interacts with customers? Use that to compare against the competition. Is there a specific area of your store you wish to improve? Is their sales process of interest? What about displays and merchandising? What do your customer satisfaction surveys say? Those give great hints about what to observe!

Once you have your “shopping list” of observations, you should create a survey. The survey would be all the questions you would ask a customer about their experience at the competitor, keeping in mind your focus on two elements at a time. Once you’ve completed your survey, visit your own store and answer the questions. This will help you better understand how and what to observe (i.e. practice), and will help make sure the visit will give you the results you are looking for. Don’t be afraid of changing the shop parameters or survey based on this internal test. It’s better to change before the shop than after! Now you are ready for the visit.

The visit

If your competitor knows who you are personally, don’t visit! You won’t get an honest customer experience. Ask staff members, family members, or hire a mystery shop company. It is important to stay unknown. The competitor store must think the shopper is a normal customer. That means the shopper should not know too much, or ask many direct questions.

Another tip is to NEVER bring your survey or a checklist with you. That’s a dead giveaway that you have an agenda or are mystery shopping the store. You can put a few notes on a smart phone and pretend to receive or send texts, but you should be careful. It is critical that the shopper be treated like any other customer.

Once you have finished your shop, you should complete the survey as soon as possible when your memory recall is the strongest. You can do this in your car, or at a shopping mall food court, but not too close to the competitor store.

Take action

Once you’ve collected the results of all the shops, review the data and start considering what the competitor does well and what your store does well. Share the results with your staff because keeping them informed is critical. They should be involved in the development of an action plan and will be implementing any changes, so their buy in is the key success factor.

It’s very important to think through the results of your shops. Change for change’s sake won’t work. Just because your competitor does something differently, doesn’t mean you should do the same thing. You need to consider your own corporate culture, standards and processes before making any changes.

When you do find opportunities, don’t try to make big changes immediately. If there are a number of potential changes to make at your store, group them by ease of implementation and importance. Work with your staff to make one or two changes at a time.

Once changes are made, they must be measured. The idea behind KAIZEN is that small changes are made in frequently order to achieve a benefit. Measuring results is the only way to know if your KAIZEN attempt has worked. If you try too much at once, you’ll never know what worked or didn’t.

Competitor shopping is a great way to find opportunities to improve your own operations, or be reassured that you’re doing things right. In the retail world, ignorance is not bliss.


All investors should be reading and considering this!

Originally posted on Financial Post | Business:

The mutual fund business is a great industry — for the people that sell them. For investors, it’s not so good.

Sure, mutual funds offer some advantages, such as “professional” management and diversification. However, there are plenty of bad things about the industry as well, things that potentially work to severely hurt investors.

No one, of course, ever talks about the bad side, as it is just too profitable for those employed by the investment industry money machine. Since I spent 20 years as a mutual fund portfolio manager but no longer work in the industry, here are five things investors should know before they buy another mutual fund.

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1. Fees
How best to put this? Here’s a simple analogy: Suppose you had a teenage son, who was a slightly above average hockey player. Would you encourage him to drop out of school, buy an Audi R8 Spyder…

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No day is the same; variety with Mystery Shops

Looking back at my first month and a half of part time work as a Mystery Shopper, I can see a wide variety of jobs. There’s no pattern or theme to these shops; it’s location of the shop, convenience for me and pay level. I’ll take a $35 shop over a $13 shop any day!

My job as a shopper is to report on the state of the facility and how the sales/customer service agent handled me as a customer.

Here are the different types of locations I have shopped over the past 6 weeks as a Mystery Shopper.

  • Banks
  • Mobile phone sellers
  • Automobile service providers
  • Gas stations
  • Big box hardware stores
  • Pizza stores
  • Toy stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Electronics stores
  • Department stores
  • Music stores
  • Appliance stores
  • Optometrists
  • Home builders

That’s quite a variety! It’s been fun and I’ve learned a LOT about different products and retail outlets.

Are you interested in this kind of part time work? Leave me a note and let me know.

Bait and switch doesn’t work – especially in grocery stores

My wife and I went out last night after dinner as we had to buy some Orange Juice and bread or the kids would be eating bread crumbs and melted snow for breakfast the next day.

We first went to the bank top make a deposit (thank you part time Mystery Shopping job!). Then bought bread at a small specialty store. We then went to Safeway to buy some OJ. Strolling through the aisles we saw a great deal: 2 x 2L boxes of OJ for $7. That’s a done deal!

We grab the boxes and head to the self check out. As we are putting them through I notice that the prices are $4.95. Not $3.50 as per the promotion.

No worries. I call over the employee and point this out. She asks, “Do you have a safeway card?” “No.” I reply. “You need a Safeway card.” she tells me. “Would you like one?” I reply, “No. I just want the 2 for $7 deal.” You need a Safeway card for that. Would you like a Safeway card?” Breathing slowly to keep my temper under control, I reply. “No, I do not.”

My wife cancels one box and we only buy one because I’m not paying the extra $$. I then walk back to the display to see what the promotion says. Sure enough it says:

Club special: 2 for $7

Non club members 1 for $4.95 in REALLY small print.

Indignant, I walk away muttering that I’ll not come back. I hate this kind of promotion. It’s way too close to “bait and switch” for me. It’s trickery.

The display is purposely not clear; it’s designed to cause confusion. The end goal is obvious: because people want the great deal, they’ll sign up for the card.

Do you think I signed up? Hell no. Not only that, if I had a quick option, I would have left not buying anything. Will I come back? You can guess that answer.

So Safeway’s approach was all wrong in my mind. And here is the lesson for retailers.

If they want people to sign up for their card, they need to promote their card, not promote OJ. How about offering an incentive to sign up; $1.50 rebate on the OJ or a free OJ if I sign up? Instead, they took the approach of; “Get a card or you don’t get the deal you’re excited about.” This approach is used on two year old children. Not adults. It doesn’t work.

They should not be resorting to this kind of trickery. It simply causes great customer dissatisfaction. I wonder how many customers won’t come back because of this. I can think of two.

This MER doesn’t make sense!!


Some interesting stocks on the list in this article. But what blew my mind was the MER.

2.42% for holding long term dividend paying stocks!

Holy Cow!

If I were the manager, I’d be embarrassed. After parking my Lexus LS460 at my 8,000 sq foot beach front house I’d hang my head in shame.

Over half your dividend yield would be eaten up by the MER. Unbelievable.

So if anyone out there wants me to manage your money, I’ll only charge you 2% to buy a few banks and other high dividend paying stocks. Any takers?

Originally posted on Financial Post | Business:

Manager: Ryan Bushell, Leon Frazer & Associates Investment Counsel
Fund: IA Clarington Canadian Conservative Equity Fund
Description: Long-term, dividend-focused core Canadian equity fund
AUM: $870-million
Performance: 1-year: 5.8%; 3-year: 7.2%; 5-year: 4.0%; 10-year: 7.7% (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
MER: 2.42%

For a portfolio manager focused on long-term investing and dividends, Canadian pipelines, utilities, banks and telecommunication companies are a logical place to be.

As a result, these sectors account for the bulk of the IA Clarington Canadian Conservative Equity Fund, which dates back to 1950 when it was known as the Children’s Fund.

“Even those interest-rate sensitive stocks will perform better than other asset classes when rates rise because they are equities,” said Ryan Bushell of Leon Frazer & Associates Investment Counsel, which serves as the fund’s sub-advisor. “We also feel dividend-paying stocks are the most logical destination for money being repatriated out of the bond market.”

The fund’s…

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