T-Mobile is completely overhauling how its customer service works

T-Mobile announced its latest “Un-carrier” initiative today in a fresh attempt to gain new subscribers and lure customers away from rival providers. And it focuses on a crucial, but less flashy subject than the company’s past splashes: customer service. From a stage in Charleston, South Carolina — and after being escorted into the room by a marching band — CEO John Legere kicked off an event that led to the announcement of Team of Experts, a new approach to customer service that will give customers in different regions of the US their own dedicated “team” of customer care representatives who offer quick, efficient assistance. No robot voices and no confusing tree of push-button menus.

Team of Experts launches today for T-Mobile’s postpaid customers. It can be accessed by dialing 611 or by messaging directly from the T-Mobile app or iMessage using Apple Business Chat. For now, Team of Experts is English-only, but it will be available in Spanish in early 2019.

“The first thing I did when I became CEO of this company is I spent every night sitting at home listening to both sides of customer service calls,” Legere said. “I listed, we acted, and we heard. That’s the foundation for what we’re going to do today.”

Moments later, T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert took the stage to criticize the “massive digital fortress between you and the people who can help you” that is a central part of customer service from most major companies. T-Mobile recruited Rainn Wilson to film a pretty great spot (seen above) that showcases average, miserable customer service experiences. Sievert pointed to bots, call center runarounds, and obvious, unhelpful reminders about finding answers on the internet as widespread problems.

Then came Callie Field, T-Mobile’s executive VP of customer care, who said “we’ve fixed it,” and went into the details of Team of Experts.

How Team of Experts works

“You’ll never be bounced from department to department, you’ll have a team of experts that will completely own your experience end to end,” Field said. “If you call back the next day, it’s going to go right back to the same team. They’re going to make sure that it is solved and that you’re happy with the resolution.”

T-Mobile’s new customer service teams are divided by geography. Each person on a team is “highly trained to handle a wide range of topics, sometimes working with specialists including local retail and engineering to solve even the most complex issues,” according to the company. Members of each team all work in close proximity at the customer care center, according to Field. You might not talk to the same person every time, but they should be up to date on what you’ve called about previously.

Customers can reach their Team of Experts from 7AM to 9PM local time by phone or messaging. “In early 2019, postpaid customers will get Team of Experts support 24/7,” the company says. (Standard customer service is available 24/7) They also have the option to schedule calls for a convenient time. This is actually the default approach that T-Mobile seems to prefer. “If you don’t pick up the phone, that’s cool, we’ll call you 5 minutes later. And if you’re busy then too, we’ll call 5 minutes after that,” Field said.

Team of Experts doesn’t mean you’ll always call a number and start talking to a live human instantly. “Sometimes there’s some things you can’t avoid — like wait times. Because let’s face it, sometimes your team’s just busy,” Field acknowledged. “The difference is that when we’re busy, we’ll promise to you that we’ll handle you in a way that puts your time first. Our default option is that when you call, instead of waiting for us, schedule a time and we’ll call you back. So it’s your time — not our time — that matters.”

This isn’t (yet) completely phasing out T-Mobile’s current support infrastructure; the standard options — including automated menus — will remain available for those who prefer them.

Rewinding to earlier, Legere clearly relished his first live presentation in some time, berating and taking his signature hold-no-punches digs at T-Mobile’s competition. “We’re in what I’d call the post-unlimited/pre-5G era,” Legere said. “It’s been a year since the industry, I would say, shit themselves and all went to unlimited.” Legere was referencing the industry-wide return to unlimited data after T-Mobile launched its T-Mobile One plan in 2016.


5 ways Canadian retailers can thrive in a digitally transforming world


Small and medium-sized retailers need to innovate if they want to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century, according to a new report by the Canadian arm of accounting firm Binder Dijker Otte (BDO).

For those wondering how, the “Retail Trends in Canada 2018” report, released Monday, includes five trends for small and medium-sized Canadian retailers to watch:

  • Technology such as automation, artificial intelligence, data analytics, virtual and augmented reality, and mobile-based technologies such as beacon or mobile payment technologies;
  • Experiential retail – essentially brand-based community building. “Retailers need to let customers interact with a product and build communities that will engage current and potential customers,” BDO wrote in an Aug. 27 release;
  • Hybrid or omni-channel retail, which has replaced the tired battle between e-commerce and bricks and mortar. It is more important, BDO says, for retailers to reach their customers wherever they happen to be;
  • Millennial shopping habits: Not only are millennials the largest spending cohort for retailers, BDO says, they’re influencing the shopping habits of other demographics as well; and
  • Customer relationship management, and the data collection opportunities that come with it. “Retailers need to develop a customer relationship management program that captures and integrates implicit and explicit customer data,” BDO said in the release.

“Canadian retailers are lagging behind their U.S. and U.K. counterparts on both the implementation of e-commerce and the use of data analytics,” BDO Canada partner and national retail leader Eric Matusiak said in the release. “But this doesn’t have to be the case; Canada’s retailers can and should strive for more and better. Even a small retailer can enhance their customer experience and improve their business processes – without spending a lot of money.”

Following the trends identified and reacting accordingly can help retailers “future-proof” their business, BDO says.

“To succeed, small and medium-sized retailers should focus on a true customer-first retail design, develop an omnichannel strategy to reach their customers, implement or upgrade e-commerce, and rethink every step and stage of the value chain,” the company said.

“Several of these trends in the industry have had enough traction to be proven, but there’s still time for retailers to adapt to them,” Matusiak said. “A methodical approach is recommended: develop a holistic strategy rather than jumping on the bandwagon.”


Will espresso-loving Italy embrace country’s 1st Starbucks?

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan features a marble floor made by an Italian artisan and a custom-built coffee roaster.

Will the country that gave us espresso embrace the company that gave us grande Frappucinos?

Starbucks is about to find out as it opens its first store in Italy on Friday. Residents of Milan, the city whose coffee bars inspired Howard Schultz’s vision for the chain decades ago, have mostly greeted the news with a shrug.

“I’ve tasted Starbucks coffee and I’ll absolutely stick to Italian coffee,” said Milan resident Giulia Brighenti as she scraped the foamy remains of her espresso at a coffee bar not far from Starbucks’ new Reserve Roastery.

In Italy, an espresso at a coffee bar is usually a quick morning or after-lunch ritual, downed while standing up. In many neighbourhoods, cafes are on practically every corner, and Italians are on a first-name basis with their trusted barista.

That presents a challenge for Starbucks, which is hoping people will linger to drink more expensive beverages.

The company has more than 28,000 stores worldwide, but the palatial Milan location is only its third roastery. The others are in Seattle, where the company is headquartered, and Shanghai.

The cavernous former post office near the city’s Duomo, or cathedral, has a heated, marble-topped coffee bar. The centerpiece is a 6.5-meter (22-foot) high bronze cask, part of the roasting process that customers can watch. And no, there are no Frappuccinos on the menu.

The company also hopes the store’s cocktail bar will be an attraction. Many who work in Milan, Italy’s fashion and financial capital, cherish the tradition of meeting friends or colleagues for an “aperitivo,” or pre-dinner cocktail, often in cafes.

The company is “not coming to Italy to teach people about coffee. This is where coffee was born,” said Starbucks chief design officer Liz Muller. Instead, Starbucks “wanted to come and bring a premium experience that is different to what people in Italy are used to.”

That formula includes “many different brewing techniques and a space where we want you to stay longer and relax and enjoy.”

Italy is Starbucks’ 78th global market, and the Milan opening comes 20 years after Starbucks opened its first store in Europe, in London. The company has described the Milan store as “the crown jewel of Starbucks global retail footprint” and says it plans more cafes for Milan later this year.

Like Brighenti, other locals drinking more traditional espressos at the neighbourhood coffee bar were skeptical.

“I think the classic Italian coffee is best,” said Gianluigi Manusardi. “I also prefer it when I go abroad.”



‘No one available to work’: How labour woes are crimping our economy’s prospects

Business Development Canada finds that about 40 per cent of the country’s smaller companies are struggling to find workers.National Post

I hope no one thinks Canada’s only economic problems are NAFTA and pipelines. If those two issues magically disappeared, we’d be obsessing over a different crisis: an embarrassing inability to take maximum advantage of an impressive run of global economic growth.

Our notoriously weak commitment to productivity and innovation has caught up with us. The latest evidence comes in a new report from Business Development Canada (BDC), which finds that about 40 per cent of the country’s smaller companies are struggling to find workers.

As demographers predicted, Canada’s labour pool is shrinking because more men and women are retiring than are joining it. Not so long ago, the ratio of retirees to younger workers was one to two; it now is one to one, according to Pierre Cléroux, chief economist at BDC.

“What does that mean? It means it’s a limit to growth,” he said in an interview at the agency’s headquarters in Montreal last week. “They refuse contracts. They refuse orders. Exporters are not exporting as much as they could because they don’t find people to work for them.”

This phenomenon can create cognitive dissonance. The jobless rate in July was 5.8 per cent, the lowest in contemporary history, according to Statistics Canada records that date to the mid-1970s. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers like to boast about having orchestrated the lowest unemployment rate in at least 40 years.

However, it’s easier to achieve a low jobless rate when the labour force is shrinking and the number of workers is increasing. The excitement about record employment distracts from the fact that companies could be doing so much more. BDC reckons that a company that is afflicted by labour shortages faces a significant risk of getting stuck in a low-growth trap, constantly turning away orders and correcting the mistakes of ill-trained or overworked staff.


The BDC report, based on a survey of 1,208 entrepreneurs, supports other research of which government officials are well aware. Patty Hajdu, the federal labour minister, earlier this year called the shortage of skilled trades workers “deep and profound.” Within a decade, about 250,000 construction workers will retire, more than double the projected number of new entrants, said Mandy Rennehan, chief executive of Freshco, a Toronto-based contractor, citing BuildForce Canada data. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that about 400,000 jobs were unfilled at the beginning of the year.

“The thing that worries me the most right now is employment; there is no one available to work,” Élisabeth Bélanger, co-founder of Maison Orphée, a maker of organic and natural olive oil, mustard, and vinegar based in Quebec City. “This is a very, very, very important issue. We feel it everyday.”

Bélanger is feeling the pressure because a couple of years ago Maison Orphée decided to expand beyond specialty food shops and compete against established brands for shelf space at mainstream grocers. The company invested $2 million in technology and equipment to reduce the numbers of workers needed, and it recruited immigrants.

Those are among the strategies that Cléroux said smaller companies should use when their traditional pools of labour run dry. The BDC report also emphasizes the importance of “image” in the Google age, as younger workers will shun companies that don’t take work-life balance seriously.

Another key is training.

For whatever reason, Canada is poor at matching its education systems with the jobs on offer. Many American states have no qualms about letting employers write the curriculum at local community colleges and technical institutes if the return is jobs. Canadian authorities are less inviting, and employers have been reluctant to do it on their own.


This bothers Stephen Poloz, the central bank governor, who has raised the issue several times during his tenure. He has expressed admiration for Germany’s commitment to apprenticeships, and has repeatedly called on Canadian leaders to follow that country’s example.

“People are all mentioning to us now like they’ve got 12 jobs or 20 jobs and they just can’t find people,” Poloz told me in an interview in July. “So I’ve been saying: ‘You know, it’s gonna take 10 or 20 years for the education system to somehow remake itself and suddenly turn out people that are turnkey for you.’ That’s not going to work. You’ve got to go a little bit German here and say: ‘Give me some smart people and I’ll teach them what they need to do.’ … In Germany they take a much bigger share of the responsibility at the company level and we know well that it succeeds.”

Poloz, of course, is part of the problem, not that any of us should be complaining too loudly about his role.

The central bank has kept interest rates unusually low, in part because officials think executives such as Bélanger will hire and invest, boosting the economy’s ability to generate non-inflationary growth. Poloz has said rates of youth employment and the duration of joblessness suggest to him that there remain lots of candidates for the jobs that employers say can’t be filled.

Business investment has increased, and the unemployment rates of marginalized workers have been falling. But eventually companies will run up against the limits of what is possible under current circumstances. “I am lucky. I have everybody I need and people are staying,” said Bélanger. “But say next year I need five more people, I don’t know that I’m going to find them.”


Seven Pivotal Questions To Ask Yourself If You Want A Significant Salary Increase

Being driven by intrinsic motivation is a sound way to develop in your career. Extrinsic motivation, like a salary increase, is also a factor. Your salary is a notable current and future signal of how much your work is worth. According to Aon Hewitt’s annual U.S. salary findings, the average pay raise in 2017 was 3%. Changing employers or getting to the next level in your career is a common way of receiving a salary increase, but it’s possible to boost your income without changing jobs. I’ve seen individuals get more than a 20% pay raise.

Knowing how to ask for and obtain a salary increase can also be a useful step towards managing burnout. Career burnout can occur because of frustration or a loss of inefficacy which then has an impact on productivity and engagement.

Ask yourself these questions before communicating with your employer:

1. Does someone with the same experience earn a higher pay rate?

This question is especially useful to consider if you’ve been in your role for a long time. The starting salary a few years ago could have been lower at that time. A professional market value assessment would be an excellent step to employ. A thorough market value assessment uses a myriad of labor market research including online resources and primary research. It’s not just an employer’s job to make sure that you get paid fairly; it’s your responsibility too.

Tip: Once you’ve done your research, show an employer how your 30-day, 90-day, six-month and 12-month contributions have directly impacted an area of business.

2. Do you have a skill set or area of knowledge that will impact company growth or efficiency?

Think about your personal, as well as, professional achievements. For example, your company may be trying to expand market share in a demographic that you have insight on due to attending a conference, living in a country or through connections in your network.  Get feedback on implementing your knowledge or developing your skill set to ensure value.

Tip: Spending 15-20 minutes each day on actions that are directly related to your development assists in ensuring performance outputs.

3. Would it take a long time to train someone to do your role?

The time it takes to gain job competency can sometimes be longer in technically skilled roles. Regularly networking with others in your industry can give you an idea of how you uniquely perform your job duties. Perhaps, you’re responsible for using skills and knowledge that someone working in the same role at a different company wouldn’t utilize. Any additional education or courses that you’ve taken can also be considered when thinking about how long it would take to train someone in your role.

Tip:  Although you may be up to speed with your job duties, focus on creating value. Value is what leads to a significant salary increase. Measure your worth by how well you keep up with deadlines and the quality of your work.

4. Do your clients, customers or team highly value you?

Talking about the impact of your relationships is just as important as stating your achievements because it signifies emotional intelligence. Make a list of the benefits others receive and experience by working with you. Also, think about how your leadership qualities may have impacted another person’s performance.

Tip: Find out exactly why those you work closely with value your relationship. It could be because your leadership promoted work-life harmony, or perhaps, a relationship you fostered saved the company money through innovation.

5. Is your credibility and performance substantial?

You’ll want to evidence this in your performance review. Outline the impact, value and tangible results you have achieved throughout the year. You can also include supporting documentation, like feedback, from team members or executives.

Tip:  If you can respond with a resounding yes to the following statements, then your performance is probably great: The team you manage has won an award. You’ve been nominated for or won an award. You’ve been rated among a top percent within an organization, department or in your industry.

6. Are you doing a critical job function of another job role? 

If you’re being asked to take on more responsibility, it may be time to ask for more money. It may be that you got invited to be the lead for a lengthy project in a complimentary department. The strengths of your relationships may help you understand what the job entailed before you came on board.

Tip: There is much joy in hard work, and helping out doesn’t necessarily give one the license to ask for a salary increase. Plus, it may not be a unique value proposition if it’s common to be wearing multiple hats in your organization.

7. Are you seen as an informational resource – does everyone trust and turn to you for advice?

Years of experience can lead to knowledge of your company’s processes and culture. Maybe as an executive, you have built up thought-leadership by writing or speaking at industry leading events. Don’t underestimate the value of being trusted.

Tip: A great way to gauge whether you’re an ‘informational resource’ is by noticing how people feel when you return to work after time off. What emotive phrases do they use?

Besides these pivotal questions, you also want to be mindful of the decision maker’s personality, work habits and the best time of day to approach the conversation. Best wishes!


Halifax becoming a big fish in the ocean startup ecosystem, and it doesn’t stop there

Image result for downtown halifax

One of the biggest commitments on the Halifax mayor’s plate these days is ribbon cutting. In the past 12 months alone, the city has been going through a flurry of infrastructure activity, including an expanding and thriving Innovation District.

Today that District is home to seven post-secondary institutions, hospitals and research labs, and thousands of tech, financial and life sciences firms. It’s where Creative Destruction Lab launched CDL Atlantic in 2017, based in Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business. Its main focus there is on blue-green ventures combining agritech and biotech.

Another new resident is the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), a provincially and federally funded initiative that brings together ocean-economy innovators and entrepreneurs to share resources and tools to enable commercialization and growth.

It’s also the base for Volta Labs, a tech hub modelled after Ontario’s Communitech, that is said to rank as the largest innovation hub in Canada outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo-Toronto corridor. Since opening four years ago it has expanded from 10,000 square feet to a much grander 60,000 sq. ft. of prime real estate space. Plans are to take it to 150,000 sq. ft. over the next five years, according to CEO Jesse Rodgers.

In building Volta, Rodgers knew what it takes to create a strong early-stage funding community. He was a founding director of Creative Destruction Lab in Toronto and Velocity in Waterloo.

“Five years ago, we were trying to get people out to see what kind of ecosystem we had in Halifax,” he says. “Since then Volta has grown with that ecosystem. Now we are closing in on 30 companies in our space and host 200 events a year.”

In keeping with the Communitech model, Volta recently announced a Corporate Innovation Outpost for corporate and small investment partners, and has already welcomed  Atlantic Lottery Corp. as its first partner, with more in the works.

One resident of Volta Labs is Swept, developers of a software as a service app specifically designed for the cleaning and janitorial services trade. Serial entrepreneur Michael Brown, who previously owned a residential and commercial cleaning services company, founded the company with Volta in 2015.

In fact, he discovered Volta when his company was asked to provide a quote for cleaning services. “I didn’t know Volta existed. I didn’t even know what a tech incubator was,” he says.

When he mentioned he was working on a new app, the interest was enough to convince him to sell his cleaning company and focus solely on the technology. “Once we joined Volta, we really took off,” he says. The company grew from three to 25 people.

Brown now serves as a mentor to new companies joining the fold. As part of that, he has also spent time in Silicon Valley with accelerators, startups and tech industry leaders, driving the Halifax innovation ecosystem message home. “We’ve been able to build up a beautiful network for other founders. If anyone here is facing a challenge, we can tie them into different ecosystems.”

Rodgers says the real strength of the startup community in Halifax is its diversity, particularly in the B2B space, from machinery to services. “That’s a real strength that people are just starting to realize. For example, we’ve also got the Ocean Supercluster. That’s a really big deal in terms of the calibre of baseline technology and research here.”

The federal government chose Atlantic Canada as Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, a knowledge-based ocean-economy project that brings together private and public investment. It will see $250 million dollars in investment for hundreds of small and medium-size companies.

“We’ve been able to build up a beautiful network for other founders. If anyone here is facing a challenge, we can tie them into different ecosystems.”

Michael Brown, serial entrepreneur and mentor at Volta

It comes as no surprise that the ocean economy looms large on the Halifax innovation horizon. At an Economic Club of Canada presentation, Mayor Mike Savage noted that Atlantic Canada has 75 per cent of Canada’s ocean economy, providing plenty of opportunity. “Norway, for example, has a population that’s one-seventh that of Canada but boasts an ocean economy that is seven times more valuable than ours. The potential here is staggering.”

COVE, for its part, is providing an all-important foundation that will open the doors to innovators in the field, says Jennifer Angel, acting president and CEO.

A key pillar to a successful innovation district is creating the conditions needed for people to collaborate, she explains. “It’s not enough to create companies, but to create spaces to share ideas. Infrastructure is especially important to ocean-related ventures, because access to the ocean and tools can be prohibitively expensive.”

COVE is enabling some very small companies with very big ideas the access to infrastructure and the water’s edge to accelerate their ability to test ideas and help bring them to market, she adds. “It’s all about commercialization of technologies and project collaboration across ocean sectors.”

Aleksandr Stabenow, co-founder and chief technology officer of Sedna, a fisheries tech company and one of the first six startups to join COVE, says the ecosystem played an important role in bringing him back from Western Canada to his native Nova Scotia. “COVE was a big factor in our decision to start Sedna in Halifax. It’s pretty amazing that there are so many people here to help. The network here is very tight knit, and there’s a lot coming through the pipeline. One of the unique things about the startup community here is the support and resources that are available now.”

With all this activity, Halifax is also convincing larger enterprises to commit to the innovation ecosystem in a bigger way. EY Canada for example, recently announced the launch of a new Global Centre of Excellence focusing on robotic process automation technologies. The mayor also announced an IBM/Maersk join venture that will bring blockchain to digitizing Halifax’s port.

Rodgers says that while Halifax has been through boom-and-bust cycles in the past, today’s momentum is building confidence in what the city has to offer. “Investment is piling in and people are getting excited. We’re more ambitious now, because the economy is in a good place and people are feeling more positive. And we are bringing in brand new stuff. It changes people’s mindsets when they see that.”



How To Use Employer Branding To Recruit Potential Employees


Changes in the labor market, rapidly developing technology, the openness of markets — all this forces employers to not only recruit new employees but focus more on those currently employed. This state of matters, in turn, falls within the scope of the so-called “employer branding” — a company’s activities aimed at building a brand that’s perceived as an “employer of choice.” Only companies at which current and potential employees find their work environment attractive for career development deserve to be called such employers.

One of the most effective ways of promoting recruitment is to create a workplace that employees recommend to their friends. This way, the company may be additionally promoted if its satisfied employee were to advertise on social media platforms, like Facebook, by publishing a post concerning a vacancy at their company.

As job candidates, we often follow leads that are recommended to us by a friend or family member. And, according to a study conducted by, the highest quality candidates are more often from referrals than other traditional forms of recruitment.

The Steps To Leverage Your Employer Branding 

Understand your potential candidates’ needs. The effectiveness of the message lies in adapting it to the current needs of the people to whom it is addressed. Problems with the understanding of the message by potential job applicants may lead to its misinterpretation and, consequently, failure at early stages of communication.

Define the target group. The essential stage of introducing branding of your company is in defining the recipients you want to reach. Should they be young people or maybe high-class professionals? Defining this helps in determining the choice of communication channels. The next step is to draw up a strategy that takes into account, in particular, how your company would stand out from the competition.

Customize your offer. The basis for an effective employer branding strategy is to develop a transparent offer that would include everything a company can offer its potential employees in exchange for their skills, knowledge and capabilities. Clear conditions are the basis for effective communication and avoid misunderstandings, which could delay the process of brand building and recruitment.

Define objectives and KPIs. The right choice of key performance indicators (KPIs) and measures to monitor them will enable the company to formulate its objectives correctly for the whole year. Achieving these priorities will allow for calm, further planning because you will know that you are going in the right direction, in line with your needs and expectations.

Identify channels of communication. Defining the target group, the needs of the recipients and what the company can offer its potential employees in exchange for their skills will help you choose the most effective channels of communication. Not everyone will receive the message from social media or outdoor advertising; therefore, it is necessary to adequately prepare for this stage, which will allow for the potential to reach the greatest possible return on investment (ROI).

Determine how you will communicate the offer. All the steps mentioned above are the basis for the preparation of a communication plan with potential employees. But you need to do more. Brainstorm, write down all the ideas and analyze them in terms of the needs, age and interests of the people in your target group. Don’t forget to test these concepts. Remember, the better and more appealing your idea is to your target recipients, the more likely it is that you will stand out from your competitors that are also looking to recruit professionals.

Make your plans come true! Have you analyzed all the above steps? Good. It is time to put them into practice. Be consistent, monitor the results and react when problems arise. Make adjustments to your plan whenever necessary. Thanks to this practice, the objectives shall be fulfilled and the process of recruiting through building the brand a success.

Being an employer is not only about ensuring that the right people are employed. It also means building your brand in such a way that competitors feel that you are hot on their heels in pursuit of the best candidates. In this way, it will be much easier for you to build a solid, competent team and, thus, to provide the highest quality products and services. Follow these steps consistently, and you will see that implementing an effective employer branding strategy is not so difficult.



How This Coffee Startup Rocketed to National Retail Within a Few Months of Its Launch

How This Coffee Startup Rocketed to National Retail Within a Few Months of Its Launch

Alex Hanifin quit her job in January 2016 to launch her instant coffee startup, Alpine Start. She didn’t have to wait long to receive vindication of her decision.

About three months had passed since the company’s launch, and she and her co-founder Matt Segal, a professional rock climber, were still selling coffee out of Ziploc bags. Hanifin then got a call. It was from REI, the sports retailer with about 150 locations. The company was interested in Alpine Start’s product. Hanifin told the retailer they were still figuring things out, but was interested in working with REI in a test region. The retailer called back the next day and said it wanted Alpine Start in all its locations.

“I was in my car at the time, and I’m not kidding, my windshield shattered while I was on that phone call,” says Hanifin, CEO of Alpine Start. “I think there was a temperature flux — it was one of those spider web-looking things. It was just a funny moment.”

Courtesy of Alpine Start

Alpine Start hustled to find a manufacturer to create its coffee, and got its packaging together. Just seven months after Hanifin quit her job, the brand launched in REI on the Fourth of July. Soon after, other retailers, including Whole Foods, came calling.

The universe didn’t align to help Alpine Start succeed. Hanifan attributes the startup’s success to creating a good product in a category waiting to be disrupted and a strong network that includes food and beverage CEOs who served as advisors.

“We set ourselves up in a lucky way,” Hanifin says. “My biggest advice to entrepreneurs is build your network. So many entrepreneurs are so focused on hiding in a hole and just staring at their computers. You’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to meet people. That’s where our luck came from.”

She says she taps her network for a range of needs, from help with scaling to introductions to retail food buyers. Hanifin’s tendency toward networking also extends to potential customers: Alpine Start employs an ambassador program to help spread the word about the brand.

“The ambassador program is so cool because people are just so genuine and so passionate,” she says. “I love hearing about the stories of how people are using our product.”

Hanifin had worked in the food industry in Boulder, Colo., for about 10 years before striking out on her own, with stints at brands including Justin’s and Boulder Brands. She’s also the vice president of the board of directors at Naturally Boulder. When Boulder Brands was acquired by Pinnacle Foods (acquired by Conagra this year), Hanifin got the itch.

“I hit the point where I just needed to spread my wings,” she says. “I’m very much of an entrepreneurial spirit and just working in that large of a company wasn’t doing it for me.”

Courtesy of Alpine Start

She and Segal, her former roommate, focused on their own needs as outdoor enthusiasts and a lack of innovation in the instant coffee category, which reached a value of $10.4 billion in 2017, according to IMARC Group, with most of the consumption by Americans. Hanifin looked at data on the category and realized the potential was huge. But first, they had to figure out what instant coffee is, and how to make it.

“It’s not something you can just make in your kitchen,” she says. “We tasted a lot of really bad instant coffee. Every time we tried a new one it was a little bit better. I just remember the moment we both looked at each other, and we were like, ‘This is it.'”

Alpine Start uses 100 percent Arabica coffee, often single origin, Hanifin says. Its instant coffee products, which include Original Blend, Coconut Creamer Latte and Dirty Chai Latte, can be found in 1,500 stores nationwide, its website and Amazon. Its investors include Slow Ventures, who invested an undisclosed sum. Hanifin hopes to expand Alpine Start’s offerings to include more coffee blended with creamers products and possibly functional coffee (aimed at boosting performance), like Bulletproof Coffee.


Introducing Young Minds To An Ancient Industry

Student Soldering in Jewelry School

By now, the story is an old one. Industry outsources labor to foreign countries. Industry stops supporting local manufacturing training programs. Trade schools eliminate manufacturing training programs. Manufacturing trades become unpopular with young workers.

And now, we have Chapter 2: Industry niches resurrect domestic production. Industry can’t find new trained labor. Industry struggles to replace and add employees.

This story is applicable to almost every manufacturing sector, but it’s a particularly challenging one for the jewelry industry, which is often perceived (incorrectly) as being far from the leading edge of modern technology.

Historically (we’re talking the Middle Ages here), jewelry trades were handed down from master jewelers to apprentices , often – but not always – within a family. For most of history, jewelers were born into their careers. University fine arts programs around the world have long taught jewelry, but primarily as an art form, with varying degrees of practical application.

As the U.S. jewelry industry became big business in the 20th Century, jewelry training programs were introduced in junior and community colleges, trade schools, and as affiliates of large manufacturing companies. By the height of the jewelry boom of the 1980s, in Providence, Rhode Island alone, over 900 jewelry firms employed 24,400 workers. But the jewelry boom brought more than epic sales volumes: It also attracted imports, and sent manufacturers scrambling for lower priced production. In less than 20 years, most jewelry manufacturing jobs were exported, and today, total national jewelry manufacturing employment figures are only slightly higher than the Providence employment figures in the 1980s.

The U.S. jewelry industry is experiencing a resurgence of domestic production, led by jewelry designers who prefer to produce close to home and manufacturing service providers ramping up to supplement offshore production or offer one-stop-shop manufacturing services. New technologies that make domestic production more efficient and effective than ever before are being put to excellent use. Suddenly, everyone wants to know, where will the next generation of jewelers come from?These businesses need employees.

The good news is that the United States is home to many excellent jewelry training programs. From the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology at Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas to the renowned North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts, aspiring jewelers will find incredibly talented teachers and well-managed (if not well-funded) jewelry programs in every region of the U.S. The problem is that so few students are looking for them.

Three industry initiatives are working to change that.


The Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America (MJSA) has been around since 1903, when it was incorporated as the Manufacturing Jewelers and Silversmiths of America. Most of those 900 companies in Providence in the 1980s would have been members. For its first 100 years, the MJSA supported, educated, promoted, and lobbied for jewelry manufacturers. When nearly all U.S. jewelry manufacturing went offshore in the 1980s and 1990s, MJSA reinvented itself. Still a strong advocate for the remaining manufacturing sector, MJSA also began to serve what it refers to as the makers community, creating education programs and conferences, and writing extensively for them in their publication, the MJSA Journal.

Who are the makers? Studio jewelers, independent bench jewelers, jewelers running repair and contract shops, retail jewelers who offer custom jewelry and repair services, small contract manufacturing operations, jewelry designers – the jewelry-producing diaspora scattered across the country, often working in seclusion from other members of the industry. By 2015, executives at MJSA identified a steady drumbeat of concern coming from the membership: Where would the new jewelers come from? Where were the people needed to fill the jobs?

The initiative that came out of this awareness is called BEaJEWELER. The program is focused on educating the public about careers in jewelry production, and connecting them with jewelry training programs and mentors. The BEaJEWELER online database lists nearly 300 training institutions where prospective jewelers can receive professional training, and offers those educators free space to promote their programs on the BEaJEWELER website.

On the industry side, BEaJEWELER is creating a community of jewelers willing to train apprentices, and providing those jewelers with training and support materials for running apprenticeship programs. Because so much of the knowledge about how to train a jewelry apprentice has disappeared, MJSA even published a book, “A Jeweler’s Guide to Apprenticeships,” written by jewelry teacher and designer Nanz Aalund.

The Jewelry Career Initiative

Several years ago, Terry Chandler, CEO of the Diamond Council of America (DCA), realized that the jewelry industry was facing a skills-gap.  With the help of his assistant – whose husband was the principal of a nearby high school – he put together a pilot program to see if jewelry coursework in gem identification and sales could be resonant with teenagers. The program was a hit. Since then, DCA has been working with education leaders across the country to introduce students to a career path in the jewelry industry.

“It is exciting to take our nationally recognized DCA courses and work with schools to create curriculum and internship opportunities for their students.” Says JCI Director, Rebecca Shukan. “We’re fortunate to work in such a dynamic industry that values and combines business skills and creativity — let alone has limitless opportunities.”

The program offers three of DCA’s jewelry training courses to high schools, community colleges and non-profit groups.  Industry guest speakers are a big part of the program, introducing students to retail store owners, master bench jewelers, appraisers, and manufacturers. Students spend time at local jewelry companies, getting hands-on experience, which helps them imagine how a career in the jewelry industry might be.

High school programs that introduce students to trades contribute to future success.

According to nationally recognized speaker and author on the topic of career education, Mark Perna, “Students who participate in programs like this develop a strategic competitive advantage, whether it is in seeking immediate employment, further education such as college, or additional certifications to prepare them for a myriad of associated careers and occupations. In addition, they learn the critical professional skills necessary to succeed at any level.”

Jewelry Kids Camp

When the marketing team of the Atlanta Jewelry Show first brainstormed the idea of introducing the Jewelry Kids Camp, it was more of a personal touch than a strategic plan. Unlike most jewelry trade shows, which prohibit children under the age of 15 from attending, the Atlanta show promotes a family-friendly atmosphere. After all, jewelry businesses tend to be family businesses, and jewelers appreciate the opportunity to introduce their children to the industry at a young age.

Like most trade show promoters today, the Atlanta team is focused on reinventing the trade show experience. A multi-day camp during the show (the Atlanta Jewelry Show takes place two times each year, in early spring and late summer) seemed like a great idea to try. The camp, introduced in March of 2018, was an immediate success. At the camp, children learn to make jewelry, examine gemstones and diamonds, and tour the trade show, all guided by a childhood education expert and enthusiastic volunteers.

Libby Brown, Executive Director of The Atlanta Jewelry Show, has received so much interest in the Kids Camp that she is exploring ways to expand the experience. “The Jewelry Kids Camp is a wonderful way to introduce children to the idea of becoming jewelers while they are in grade school.” says Brown. “We can make a lasting impression on a lot of children, while giving them a fun experience that is educational and builds self-confidence. My team and our fantastic network of volunteers has worked so hard to put this together, and we are very excited about finding ways to expand the offering.”

From Interest to Education

One way to bolster the survival of quality trade education is to produce a steady stream of interested students. These three programs endeavor to create interest in a career path that – unless one is a member of a jewelry business family – may not otherwise come to mind for young people envisioning how they will make their living in the future.

Special thanks to Rebecca Shukan, Diamond Council of America; Amanda Gizzi, Jewelers of America; Rich Youmans, MJSA; Libby Brown, Atlanta Jewelry Show; and Ann Glynn, Southern Jewelers Guild for their contributions to this article.


Up ↑