Coming up I hope :)

I have requested two interviews.

1. Eviction Lab, want to know what is happening with evictions in the USA. Check this site out it's not pretty but it's important to talk about. So i have emailed and asked them for some insights.

2. I also contacted a site that does specialty tea sets. I hope to have someone from the site based in the UK contact me soon for an inerview.

3. I have also sent a request to two more people one expert on heat waves and a company that provides expert witnesses for trials.

C. T.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sal Dickinson Explains How You Can Get A Real Deal On Vacations In Florida

I have had the pleasure of visiting Florida, I went to Miami for a week and it was toasty warm and cool at night. The hotel I stayed at was nice and my room had a great view of the Atlantic. I went as part of a team to do a trade show so I in effect got a free vacation, with a little work tossed in for good measure

I'd go back in a minute but, trips like that one don't come about to often and vacations can be expensive. One company offers a unique opportunity for travel minded individuals who want to visit Florida without having to smash a lot of piggy banks to do it.

Who and are they and how do they do it? Ah, glad you asked. The company is Vacations Auctions Inc. and the how is via I am happy to say I reached the founder and CEO Sal Dickinson. I am sure a lot of vacationers are looking forward to finding out more about how they can visit Florida for fraction of the cost. Welcome to Candid Conversations.

Sal Dickinson: Thank you Cliff. It’s a pleasure to be part of Candid Conversations. Thanks for having me.

Cliff T.: Off the bat I have to say this is one of the more unique ideas I have come across online. An auction for trips to a particular place in this case Florida. How did you come up with this concept?

Sal Dickinson: Back in the mid 1990s I was the marketing and sales executive of a large, resort company and we were one of the early adopters of the internet. Given it was new to business back then, I was reading as much as I could on internet marketing and learned of an auction held by Cathay Pacific, an Asian airline. It intrigued me and I thought there was application for like auctions domestically, particularly in the leisure market. I started collecting domains and 15-plus years later I left the corporate world to start my own business and launched 

Cliff T.: What kinds of vacations can a person bid on?   

Sal Dickinson: Our site offers a wide variety of accommodations and attractions or experiences from the panhandle of Florida all the way down to the Keys. You can bid on 3-nights at a luxurious 4 Diamond, beachfront resort like the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, including a $100 resort credit, or on 2-nights on a number of quiet romantic Bed & Breakfast Inns we have throughout Florida. Attractions and experiences range from a number of dolphin experiences such as the Dolphin Harbor at Miami Seaquarium to Indoor Skydiving at iFly Orlando to admission for four to the Tallahassee Automobile Museum. There’s something for everyone.

Cliff T.: To bid on an auction does one have to sign up and is there a fee to be a member of the site and if there is a fee how much is it?

Sal Dickinson: There is no fee to be a member of our site but you do need to sign up in order to place a bid. You can still shop all of the offers and take advantage of the buy direct option from any of our hotels or attractions without ever having to sign up. Folks can also sign up for our newsletter without signing up to bid. And once a person wins an auction, their winning bid is all they will be charged – bids are tax inclusive and we have zero add-on fees or service charges. 

Cliff T.: Sal how long does the auction last for and is there a starting bid? 

Sal Dickinson: Auctions last for one week, starting and concluding at 10 pm EST on Sundays. Starting bids begin at 20% of retail value, so as an example, 2-nights at Hawks Cay in the Florida Keys opens with a beginning bid of only $150. Bids follow in increments of $5.

Cliff T.: One of things one must probably note is that the auction is for the vacation or vacation spot, not things like flight and car rentals. Besides that is there any other ting or things that are not included?

Sal Dicinson: Each of our auctions are essentially advertisements that also promote buy direct specials, most at savings of 20-30%. Some offers and auctions have incremental fees such as a resort fee or cleaning fee at our vacation homes, and auction redemption can be blacked-out or exclude holidays but, each of those exclusions are clearly identified in each offer.

Cliff T.: Are there any spots in Florida that are big draws for people or do you find that the various parts of Florida fair equally in an auction?

Sal Dickinson: The Orlando/Central Florida market is always popular, as are the Florida Keys. We also see a lot of interest in all of our beach destinations, from Sanibel Island to St. Pete to Palm Beach and north to St. Augustine. And surprisingly our inland cities offers such as Gainesville and Tallahassee also move well each auction cycle. People like to have different leisure experiences, especially at great savings and that is something folks can regularly find on our site.

Cliff T.: I am assuming that the goal for is to increase the profile of Florida, that said Sal are you finding that there has been an increase in interest with regard to vacationing in Florida?

Sal Dickinson: Absolutely. We are the official auction partner of VISIT FLORIDA, the State’s official tourism organization and visitation to Florida has materially grown. Our own site has experienced consistent growth year over year since our inception, with users from 140 countries, but I want to note Floridians are one of our largest markets as they know Florida and understand the value they can get on hotels and attractions on our site. 

Cliff T.: On the other side of this of course are those looking to get people to visit their vacation spot. Sal, I bet this must be somewhat of a challenging sell, given that you asking a client to let people bid on a vacation package or location at below what they normally charge I am assuming you put the concept of an auction as a way to promote the business would that be an accurate way of looking at it?

Sal Dickinson: Spot on Cliff! As I mentioned before, our auction site is an advertising promotional site where hotels and attractions promote their business and their buy direct offers. Each auction, which repeats every 4 weeks, is only for one voucher, not dozens, so the consumer exposure is high for the business with minimal downside.

Cliff T.: Besides repeat bidders are you also getting repeat clients offering spots and vacation packages?

Sal Dickinson: We have a lot of repeat or long term businesses promoting their offers on our site. The Miami Sequarium for example, has been with us for more than five years and has three different offers/auctions with us. On the bidders side, we have more than 200 repeat bidders that have won 20 or more auctions. Our intent was to create the proverbial win-win and given the level of engagement of repeats both from consumers and tourism businesses, I’d say we’ve achieved that.

Cliff T.: This is a very unique way to offer vacationers a way to find a great vacation spot or package. Are you planning or currently setting up site for other states or even other countries?

Sale Dickinson: Expansion into other markets, domestically and eventually internationally, has always been part of our plan. We’re currently in final stages of dialogue with two other states, one in the South and the other in the Northeast, that will hopefully go live before the end of this year.

Cliff T.: Before I forget, how do you ensure that people pay for the package or the location they are going to? 

Sal Dickinson: If you are the winning bidder on an auction, your credit card is charged that winning bid and you receive a confirming email with a link to your voucher within 5 hours of that auction’s conclusion. You can also sign into your account to access that voucher as well. 

Cliff T.: There are some things I have not covered here, if people want more info is there a way they can get in touch with someone, or is there an FAQ section on the site where questions can be answered and do you also offer a forum for people to communicate with you and or each other?

Sal Dickinson: Instead of a FAQ we have a How It Works page in the main navigation of our site, as well as a live chat function that if not staffed, users can leave a message, as well as a Contact Us form that will promptly be responded to. They can also email

Cliff T.: Nobody wants to or expects to have a bad time on a vacation, that said it does happen. After the bidding and vacationing is done if a client is not completely satisfied do they deal with you or the operator who offered the package or vacation spot? 

Sal Dickinson: The answer is both. Hopefully the hotel or attraction would immediately remedy any negative issue a consumer may have. If not, we have had winners contact us and we’ve either refunded their monies or provided them with a credit on their account to be applied to future auctions, depending on circumstances and their preferences. We maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and through our customer service plan to keep it! 

Cliff T.: It's a novel concept, as I mentioned before. I really appreciate your taking time out to explain Florida Vacation Auction to the Candid Conversations readership. Best to you and the crew at Florida Vacation Auction.

Sal Dickinson Thank you Cliff. I appreciate the opportunity for our site to be shared with your readers.

CEO Sal Dickinson leads the team at To find out more, bid on a package or just to see what the site is about click on over to the link above. As mentioned the site offers packages and stays at locations in Florida. Sal Dickinson wrote to us from his office in, where else, Florida.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Candid Conversation About Self Defense With Chris Roberts CEO, SAFE International

When I was younger I was interested in studying a martial art. I decided to try Tai-Chi.  Unfortunately the lessons were cut short when the instructor injured himself, taking himself out of the game so to speak for an extended period of time.

I have to admit I am still interested in taking a martial art partly for exercise and partly for self defense.  SAFE International is an organization dedicated to helping people who want to take a self defense course. The organization works with men, women, youth and in the workplace and also offers personal instruction. Recently SAFE announced that it would be providing services for people wanting private instruction in the Montreal area.

That got my attention so I contacted the CEO of SAFE Christopher Roberts to find out more about the home and other instruction they provide.  Christopher, thanks for being a part of Candid Conversations.

Cliff T.: Chris, can you define what self protection means, is it different from Karate or other martial arts?

Christopher Roberts: I define self protection/self defense as being able to handle violence from not only a physical standpoint, but also from an awareness and avoidance position, as well as from a verbal diffusion position.  Most self defense companies focus on the physical skills, but if we are truly interested in avoiding violence, one must cover all segments of violence prevention and handle them in a realistic, practical, and effective manner.

Cliff T.: I see from your website that you have been doing this for quite some time, since 1994.  What prompted you to start SAFE?

Christopher Roberts: My reason to start is not like most in the self defense industry who grew up with a close tie to the martial arts. My reason was basically to have my own business and to have a business that could make a difference in people's lives.  I had worked in the fast food industry for many years before this, and I could not see myself spending the next 40 years of my life feeding tasty, but unhealthy food to the public. With what I do now, I hear weekly how SAFE International is helping others.

Cliff T.: Besides teaching self defense are there any other things you teach?

Christopher Roberts: No, this is all I know how to do.  Lol! Now, within the topic of self defense I teach different things as I mentioned previously.

Cliff T.: Also on your site you mention teaching for persons 12 to 82. Is teaching self defense different for a young person vs an older person?  Do you also train women differently from men?  And, what if a person has a disability, how do you handle training for them? 

Christopher Roberts: Yes, while the top priority for all groups is the awareness/avoidance phase, it is particularly important for seniors since they have some limitations physically.  That being said, if one is a life or death scenario, there are still some basic concepts a senior can use with success such as eye strikes which don't require a great deal of strength.  While women and men have some very similar self defense concepts to cover, the methodology I use is quite different due to ego, comfort level, physicality level, etc.  I have also taught those with disabilities and to be quite honest I have probably had my most fun teaching them due to how honest they are with their thoughts and with the lack of ego which is so commonly seen when teaching most self defense. 

Cliff T.: What is the goal of the training, what exactly do you want your clients to get from the course? 

Christopher Roberts: If I was to put it quite simply, I want my clients to leave feeling safer than when they began training and to have a level of Peace of Mind and confidence that they can handle confrontation from all angles such as awareness/avoidance, verbally, and physically. 

Cliff T.: Is there a process that you go through before you begin to train someone and if so what would that process be? 

Christopher Roberts: The only process is to ask what they hope to gain.  If they want to learn how to fight, rather than how to get out of or avoid a fight, then my material is not for them.  This is something I recall Richard Dimitri once telling me about someone who left one of his seminars.

Cliff T.: Chris I understand that you are going to offer training courses to people in Montreal and that the training will be in a private setting.  Is there a particular reason that you are offering personal training vs public training?  And does SAFE currently do public training sessions in Montreal? 

Christopher Roberts: Since SAFE is a mobile company, we are always available in Montreal as we are throughout North America.  I find that people are much more comfortable training with a group of friends, co-workers, family, or privately, than they are with a public group of people with whom they have no familiarity.  Self defense is very personal for most people, so having the right environment is very important in order to make them feel comfortable to train, ask questions, and share their fears, concerns, and stories. 

Cliff T.: I bet that you come across some real interesting myths about self defense training. What are the most common and what can happen if these myths are held on to? 

Christopher Roberts: One of the biggest myths is that you need to train for years to be able to defend yourself. In fact, with a few hours of quality instruction you can learn the basics which are enough for most people. Now, the more you can train the better obviously, but this is a myth the martial arts community puts out there in order to increase their profits.  Another myth is that martial arts/karate is practical in real life self defense scenarios.  While I love the marital arts since I trained it for years, it is important to remember it is very different than reality based training which brings in the real emotion, psychology, and physical concepts which just aren't present in the martial arts.  One more myth is that you have to be big and strong to be effective in defending yourself.  I will take an inexperienced person with a never say die mentality over a 10th degree black belt who doesn't have the right mindset to protect oneself or one's family. 

Cliff T.: There are lots of people and companies offering self defense courses, Chris what sets your company and course apart from the others out there? 

Christopher Roberts: The biggest single thing I think that sets us apart is our teaching method which involves the use of humour.  So many have told me there is no room for humour with such a serious topic.  I say Bullshi....!  When people are comfortable with the instructor and trust them, they open themselves to an optimal training experience.  Think of seminars you have done over the years and I will bet the ones you remembered most and got the most value from involved humour. 

Cliff T.: Do you still do any teaching? 

Christopher Roberts: Yes, while administratively things are crazy with scheduling, training, etc, my real passion is teaching and I will always have time to do that.  Our Women's Self Defense Parties have become very popular and I love teaching them.  Also, our corporate courses, and courses for seniors are growing as well, so I have been doing much of that teaching. I will always do some teaching, but my goal is to keep surrounding myself with those who can teach better than myself.

Cliff T.: Have you heard back from clients, and if so what is the general feedback you are getting? 

Christopher Roberts: The feedback we get is very humbling and inspiring.  We have had people share with us how information we shared prevented them from being attacked.  We always hear how much fun our courses are and how that was an unexpected benefit of our program.  We consistently hear that the info we teach has been the easiest to remember due to us teaching concepts rather than techniques like most teach. 

Cliff T.: Is there any story you have heard that makes you go yeah now I know what we are doing is working, making a difference to people? 

Christopher Roberts: Yes, two young women we had taught 4 years previous were at a mall in Ottawa when they were approached by a man who held a knife to the throat of the one woman while the other woman was on the other side of the van.  She began yelling which caused the attacker to run away.  About an hour later he tried to abduct a woman and her child, but he was caught.  People got involved and caught the man. After he was arrested and attacker went back to jail.  Long story short, the young women had indicated they remembered what to do due to the humour they experienced with our course 4 year before. 

Cliff T.: Well as much as it would be nice to not have to deal with the question of self defense, it's good to know that there are people like yourself out there making a difference and helping people stay safe.  Thank you for taking time out to explain what you do. All the best in your endeavors. 

Christopher Roberts is the CEO of SAFE International, a company based in the Ottawa area that helps Canadians and Americans by providing self defense courses. To find out more about what Christopher and his team do you can contact SAFE by phone at 1-800-465-5972 or via the web at the there site Christopher Roberts emailed us from his office in Ottawa.