Small Business Today: If employees see the whole picture, windows of …

In keeping with my theme of spring cleaning from the last time we were together, the weather a couple of weekends ago sparked another round of spring cleaning activities in my brain.

That and the fact that you could barely see through a couple of the windows in our house because they were so dirty.

So I gathered the Windex, a small bucket of soapy water and a handful of rags and started to work. There are 19 windows in our house, all of the double-hung variety, nine upstairs and 10 on the first floor. The upstairs is the most difficult because I don’t own a long enough ladder and didn’t want to bother any of my neighbors by borrowing one.

I decided that because the windows were double hung, I could remove the screens then maneuver the top and bottom portions so that all corners of the glass could be reached. I started in the master bedroom, mainly because I could turn on the TV while I worked. The window screen came out very easily and I was careful not to drop it because the two-story fall would likely break it beyond repair. Soap and water worked pretty well and got most of the hard core “gunk” off. Then it was time to make it sparkle with the Windex.

In keeping with my theme of getting the hardest part done first, I started with the top window, which is also the closest to the outside. I reached up from the opening on the bottom, aimed the Windex right at the window and squeezed the trigger.

Unfortunately my aim was a little off and while some of the spray did hit the window, the rest of it hit me right in the eye. Much to my own surprise, I didn’t panic. I quickly wiped off the excess from my face and got a clean wet rag to put on my eye.

It is amazing the thoughts that cross your mind when something like this happens. The only thing I could think of was the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” In that movie, the father of the bride believes that Windex is a remedy for just about everything. He sprays it on burns, scrapes and claims it can cure the common cold.

My thought was if it could cure a cold, it certainly couldn’t hurt my eye. Plus, I now probably have the cleanest contacts around. The Windex event was not enough to keep me from my appointed task, but I was much more careful as I worked on the remaining windows.

When I first thought about cleaning the outside of the upstairs windows without a ladder, I imagined myself sitting on the sill with my upper body outside and my legs inside for balance.

At 52 years old, I am not as skinny, nimble or courageous as I used to be. So I ended up finding out that my arm is almost the perfect length for reaching the corners of our windows. More on that later.

With the beautiful day, I was determined to get all the windows in the house clean. After seeing the difference between the cleaned windows and the ones that were yet to be done, I knew I had no choice but to keep going. I was able to literally visualize the end result of my work.

As owners and managers of small businesses, we often enlist the help of our employees to utilize their expertise in getting a certain job accomplished. Too often they see only a piece of the puzzle.

Today I offer to you that employees will perform better, be happier and contribute ideas for improvement if they are able to see how what they do contributes to the end product.

I finally finished the 19th window around nightfall. The next day in the shower I noticed a huge bruise on my right bicep, just another reminder of the job well done. And a reminder that the next time the weather is perfect, I should go golfing.

Class acts

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The 2012 China Fashion Week includes a project titled College Students’ Fashion Day on April 1, showing the graduates’ works from School of Fashion in Dalian Polytechnic University, Academy of Arts and Design in Tsinghua University, College of Garments in Wuhan Textile University and Art School of China Academy of Art (clockwise from top). Photos by Zhu Xingxin / China Daily

Chinese design students are eager to find their way to the world’s runways, report Tiffany Tan and Gan Tian.

Lan Yu had no idea a school fashion show would jump-start her design career. In her senior year of college, she created a ballgown-inspired wedding dress for the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology’s runway show at the 2009 China Fashion Week.

The piece, which featured hand-beaded detail on the bodice, won her that year’s Young Designer Award, as well as recognition from fashion critics and local media.

Lan has since established her own wedding dress label. Her clients include mainland celebrities, such as TV host and actress Xie Na, who donned a one-shoulder, A-line gown when she tied the knot with singer Zhang Jie last fall.

Some fans call Lan “China’s Vera Wang”.

Nowadays, clothing companies head to school runway shows to scout for promising designers.

“I noticed there are many young talents showcasing their works at the fashion week,” Ning Yunming, HR manager at Shanghai Donglong Feather Manufacturing Company, which makes down coats, said at the recently concluded China Fashion Week.

“I’m here to see if we can find someone interested in working for us.”

After decades of being branded the “world’s factory” – not to mention “copycat” – China is now cultivating original designs. Its eye is set on creating products and brands that will win the world, much like Apple, Louis Vuitton and Nike have.

For this vision to materialize, Chinese design schools need to step up, says Jane Rapley, the head of London’s Central Saint Martins School of Arts and Design, one of the world’s top design schools.

“Something about your identity, your values and your lifestyle needs to appeal to the aspirations and dreams of the rest of the world, and that’s what you need to market. And you need to educate your designers to find what it is,” Rapley told an audience of some 200 during her keynote speech at last week’s China Fashion Forum in Beijing.

“If you want to stand on the world stage, you need a pinnacle of creators who will be educated with more depth and more breadth.”

What does that mean?

“Understanding that relationship between politics, economics, culture and product, and why at certain periods of time, certain ways of living were established,” Rapley says on the sidelines of the forum, “and understanding that underlines the way you cut a collar. It’s actually quite a big leap.”

To achieve this, the professor says design schools need to encourage students to look beyond their fields and into the wider world – where consumers of all ages, colors, backgrounds, personalities and interests live.

“If they read newspapers, if they listen to contemporary music, whether that be pop music or contemporary classic, if they go to films, if they read books, if they listen to social debates, ‘What is the population concerned about, interested in’, that’s the way they build up a tacit knowledge about what’s happening around them.

“It will help them to design things – clothes, accessories, furniture, cars – that their target community wants to buy,” says Rapley, who has been coming to China annually the past four years on business, including collaborating with Chinese design schools and judging fashion competitions.

But Chinese fashion design education, according to Rapley, has clearly improved since her first trip here in the late ’90s. She attributes this to the greater flow of information between China and the world, through traditional and new media, as well as the growing number of foreign brands in the country.

“It’s opened up that perspective, and where your local designers fit in the world. They’ve become much, much less parochial, inevitably, and I think excited by what they see, and responded accordingly,” Rapley says.

Meanwhile, Chinese student designers are already winning over local fashion buyers because of their clothes’ unbeatable value for money.

Last week’s autumn/winter China Fashion Week included a College Students’ Fashion Day, which presented collections from five of the country’s top fashion design schools. Through these shows, audiences can tell each institution’s preferences on fashion.

BIFT graduates, for example, use silk, embodiment, wash-and-ink elements, and colorful ethnic patterns, to present the modern Chinese dress. Tsinghua graduates focus on showing different modern high-tech materials used in garments. China Academy of Art graduates use more simple colors but more curves.

After the curtain fell, the pieces presented by Tsinghua University’s academy of arts and design – garments made of high-tech materials – received a pledge from the Gucci Arts Education Fund. Kopenhagen Fur, one of the world’s biggest auction houses for fur garments, also came knocking.

“Students’ creations are often produced in a limited number, and their costs are lower than those from established designers and fashion labels,” says Zheng Qiujing, who owns a fashion shop in Beijing and regularly attends local fashion weeks to check out student designs. “Some of them sell really well.”

Contact the writers at and

(China Daily 04/08/2012 page14)

O’Dowd: Wedding planning is fun

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Chris O'Dowd is enjoying planning his wedding

Chris O’Dowd is enjoying planning his wedding

Chris O’Dowd has revealed he is enjoying planning his wedding to fiancee Dawn Porter.

The Bridesmaids star, who announced his engagement on Twitter last December, insisted he was not finding planning special day at all stressful – yet.

Chris said: “It’s been going really well. Do you know what, we’re at the really fun bit where we get to pick the music and the food and there’s not actually that much stress yet.”

But the 32-year-old Irish actor and comedian admitted starring in wedding comedy Bridesmaids had made him aware of how wedding planning can go wrong.

He joked: “I’ve always been scared of women because they’re such bizarre creatures, so yeah I’m terrified of it all.

“But it’s good. I’m going to enjoy getting married all of the times I do it.”

5 Ways Pinterest Can Help Your Business

There is a lot of chatter going on these days around the social platform Pinterest. The virtual pinboard allows users to organize and share things of interest to them. In addition, people can browse boards created by others to uncover new ideas and get inspiration.

Account holders may use the site to plan a wedding, uncover new recipes, discover fun DIY projects made from pallets and much more. One thing is for sure, Pinterest is filled with endless possibilities! According to comScore, the site is predominately used by woman, and users spend more time each day on the site compared to Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, it has the highest referral traffic compared to LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.

Does this mean you should create a business account? Before jumping on the bandwagon, determine if Pinterest is a good fit for your company. Are your customers on the site? What is your strategy? Do you own a boutique and want to share photos of your latest fashion styles? If you offer products and services that fit into categories users typically search, it could be a great marketing tool to increase brand awareness and grow website traffic.

If Pinterest appears to be a good fit for your organization, here’s how to get started:

1) Request an invitation. To open an account, you must first be invited.

2) Get acclimated. Before devising any boards and pinning, play around with the site and get familiarized. Learn what the difference is between a “pin,” “re-pinning” and “like.” 

3) Create boards. Produce boards that represent your products and services. Target has boards that feature things for kids, food, clothing and baby items. In addition, don’t hold back from creating other boards that reveal more about your brand. For example, Whole Foods Market features a board dedicated to its foundation.

4) Download the “pin it” button. Once downloaded and installed in your browser, users will be able to grab, or “pin,” any image from a web site and add it to one of their boards. Make sure you label the pin so users know what the image is and categorize it under the appropriate board. 

5) Engage. Like any other site, it’s important to connect with people. Follow your fans and learn more about their likes. This is a great opportunity to gather information on user preferences.

So how does this lead to increased web site traffic? Simple. If you click on a pin the first time, you’ll be taken to the photo of the item. However, if you click on the pin again, users will be taken to the original source: your website, where they can learn about the product and hopefully make a purchase.

Hana Abaza, the co-founder and CEO of Wedding Republic, was interviewed by Inc. Magazine and shared that she recently saw a 75 percent increase in web site traffic, with Pinterest accounting for the majority of that.

If Pinterest is the right fit for you, there’s definitely the opportunity to attract more eyeballs to your web site and increase brand awareness.

What do you use Pinterest for? Tell us in comments.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plymouth plans annual celebration

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plymouth has announced its annual celebration is scheduled for Friday, May 11 at the Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth. The event begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are $50 per person. All are welcome to attend.

The sponsor for the evening is NorthEast Community Bank, and theme of this year’s event is art, wine and jazz, featuring an art auction, wine tasting and live music. As with last year’s event, all of the artwork was created by local artists with items found in Habitat’s ReStore in Carver. The ReStore sells merchandise at 50-90 percent off retail value. The wine tasting is courtesy of Long Ridge Wine Spirits.

Four Guys in Tuxes: The Quintet is the musical entertainment for the evening. They have also donated their talent as an auction item, auctioning off their services for a wedding or other function to the highest bidder.

The evening also includes fine food from area restaurants and caterers, plus raffles and silent and live auctions with Plymouth County Treasurer Tom O’Brien as the auctioneer.

Tickets are available at the following places: Habitat office, 72 N. Main St., Carver, 508-866-4188; Engel Volkers Real Estate, 29 Main St., Plymouth, 508-747-7755,; Long Ridge Wine Spirits, 8 Purchase St., Pinehills, Plymouth, 508-209-9463; Alden Park Restaurant, Colony Place, Plymouth, 508-830-6777,; and on Habitat’s website, 

For more information, visit Habitat’s website or or call the office.

Make your wedding vow to love, honor and plan a great ceremony

They jokingly refer to their wedding as “The Fall Classic,” because like the World Series, their ceremony will take place in October.

To set the tone, Andy Helmer, 34, and Alane Summers, 28, will fly to New York later this month, where they will pose for engagement portraits in Yankee Stadium — including in the dugout and at home plate.

They’ll use the portraits for “Save- the-Date” mailings to their guests. The cards will resemble baseball tickets, with the row, seat and section corresponding to their wedding date.

Related: Capture the special moments in photos

Related: Create an elegant cake

Photos: Wedding planner from cake to gown to the venue

Helmer is a former professional baseball player, and Summers has a background in event planning.

They’ve already enlisted a local grower to harvest pumpkins for the autumn nuptials, secured a venue and shopped for attire.

While not every couple will be planning an elaborate ceremony, certain trends can be seen: Vintage lace gowns, elaborate portrait settings and bold-colored cakes are among the big hits for 2012.

The dress

“I was in a sorority at IU. After you’ve attended several galas and been a bridesmaid . . . you know what dress type works best for your body,” said Summers, who chose a one-shoulder dress from Nancy’s Bridal Boutique, 3961 E. 82nd St. “And if you don’t, your mom will remind you.”

Comfort, cost and color are key for this season’s bride.

“For a summer wedding, light fabric is best — organza, taffeta, chiffon and lace,” said Tish Coffey, bridal manager of Bridal Superstore, 5447 E. 82nd St.

Fabric and design go hand-in-hand when choosing colors, too. Purple, a popular choice, comes in varying hues, so if a bride has several attendants wearing different styles in the same color, she should stick to one designer.

Accents of pewter and shades of blush are showing up on bridal gowns where cascading ruffles are in the spotlight.

Designers like Sophia Tolli, Kathy Ireland, James Clifford, Maggie Sottero and Justin Alexander are introducing summer collections that combine Hollywood nostalgia with modern elegance.

The flowing skirts are matched with a variety of necklines, ranging from traditional sweetheart to over the shoulder.

At Bridal Superstore, where gowns start at about $800, classic form-fitting lace is an equally popular choice, accented with heavily beaded illusion panels and three-dimensional texturing.

“They are going for a Pippa look or a Belle look,” said Coffey.

Pippa Middleton captured the world’s attention a year ago when her sister Katherine Middleton became the Duchess of Cambridge in a royal wedding. And Belle won the hearts of many in the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast.”

“They want soft and romantic,” said Coffey. “They are showing less skin but more of their figure.”

The bridal party is dressing in similar fashion.

“We’ve seen two new trends — mixing and matching; and softer more romantic palettes,” said Allison Lechleiter, owner of Bella Bridesmaid, 916 E. Westfield Blvd. The brides typically choose a color and a designer, and their attendants choose a look that best suits them.

Long dresses are popular, and mothers are going for a “Mad Men” retro look, said Lechleiter.

“A lot of moms are getting creative,” said Valerie Densmore, owner of Blue House Bridal, 31 S. Range Line Road, Carmel. “Some are buying bridesmaids’ dresses and tweaking them to fit their style.”

Others are comfortable with designers such as Dessy and After Six.

“Some moms want a jacket, and others are comfortable with bare arms,” said Densmore.

And the colors are vibrant. “Charcoal gray, aubergine and espresso top the list of favorites.”