Norm Kreuz. A Full and Loving Life.

We lost a dear friend in Norm Kreuz the other day after a great life and a long illness [with Ellie by his side through every lasting moment].  

I use to love to get Norm talking.  Whether it was about old haunts on Niagara Falls Blvd, his childhood before life on the farm, fixing the disposal, falling in love with Ellie, moving the family from Ohio to Buffalo [with the oft-told road-kill story], or just the vast repertoire of remembrances from raising 6 kids – Norm always shared his zest for life with whoever would listen.

Norm was the consummate salesman.  He was old-school, and he was the best of a dying breed.  I haven’t met a ‘Norm’ in years.  Today’s salespeople are all about metrics and Tony Robbins’ hype.  Norm had the charm to go along with the facts.  He knew his customers, and they knew him.  But it wasn’t the way we know customers today.  Norm’s customers were never data, they were his customers and his friends – and he would see them year after year.  It’s a lesson Joe learned well.  Even today, Joe’s guideline for his business is still about building relationships that last a lifetime.

I remember one night back in 1983, when Norm passed by the original Stereo Advantage at around one in the morning [after a little too much gin rummy at the Red Carpet].  Norm walked into our warehouse [which was an apartment living room behind the shop] and he saw Butch doing the work of five guys.  Butch was just a 19-year-old kid back then, and he was deciding between the Stereo Advantage and Buff State – and Norm just looked at him like he was crazy – but the pride was undeniable.  Norm always knew the difference between shit and Shinola, and he always knew his kids would be successful.  But success to Norm [for himself and his family] was never measured by how big your farm was – it was always measured how big the love in your family was.

I’ll leave you with two great moments I had with Norm.  The first one came a dozen years ago from a simple phone call from Joe asking me if I had seen JoJo.  No one knew where he was, and they were trying to get ahold of him.  Turns out that he just dropped by Norm’s to catch a football game with grandpa.  That’s all you need to know as a grandparent.  That’s love – and that’s the kind of love Norm gave and received in abundance.

And my last endearing moment with Norm came at a Christmas party at Frank’s several years ago.  Norm sat me down and told me he just didn’t understand why people were killing each other.  He wanted to know why there was so much bloodshed.  After 80 years of living, he just didn’t understand all the dying.  He truly wanted to know if I could explain it.  For a man who loved life so much, he just couldn’t understand how it could be wasted so mercilessly.  

For Norm Kreuz, it was a full life – and he never wasted a drop of it.  He is an inspiration to all that knew and loved him.  We would all do well to share his zest and appreciation for the gift of life.

Intellectual Property

Increasingly, the inherent value in our various businesses is our intellectual property.  While we do not necessarily pursue patents or trademarks, we do work tirelessly to protect our confidential information.  In particular, our Trade Secrets and Software Development represent the essential value of TW&Co and Capax Discovery respectively.

This morning I was also reviewing the proper use of a comma.  I was reading over some weekly reports, and it is unfortunate how little understood [and applied] the rules of grammar have become. Here is what Grammarly has to say about commas.  And, by the way, everyone should download and use Grammarly.  It’s a great resource.

When Do You Need a Comma Before But?

[The comma rules for but apply to all conjunctions, including and, or, and so.]

You should put a comma before but only when but is connecting two independent clauses.

Correct  I would go for a walk, but it’s raining outside.

How do you know you have two independent clauses?  First, look at the words before but: I would go for a walk.  Then look at the words after: it’s raining outside.  Both of those phrases could stand alone as complete sentences.  That means they’re independent clauses, so you need to use a comma before but.  

When you don’t have two independent clauses, leave the comma out.

Incorrect  I would go for a walk, but for the rain.

This time, but is connecting an independent clause to a dependent clause.  How do you know?  Look at the words after but: for the rain.  That phrase can’t stand by itself as a complete sentence, which means it’s a dependent clause.  Therefore, you shouldn’t use a comma before but.

Correct  I would go for a walk but for the rain.

Here are a few more examples of when you should and shouldn’t use a comma before but in a sentence:

Incorrect  The dog is young, but well trained.
Correct  The dog is young but well trained.

Incorrect  Grammar is boring, but necessary.
Correct  Grammar is boring but necessary.

Incorrect  The dog is young but he’s well trained
Correct  The dog is young, but he’s well trained.

Incorrect  Grammar is boring but it’s necessary
Correct  Grammar is boring, but it’s necessary.

If you’re wondering whether you need a comma after but, the answer is that you probably don’t.

The only time you need a comma after but is when it is immediately followed by an interrupter.  An interrupter is a little word or phrase that interrupts a sentence to show emotion, tone, or emphasis.  You should always use a comma before and after an interrupter.

Correct  But, of course, it’s not safe for Spot to go outside on his own.

In the sentence above, of course is an interrupter.  You could take it out of the sentence without losing any meaning.  The only reason it’s there is to emphasize the obviousness of the statement.  If your sentence happens to place an interrupter directly after but, then go ahead and use a comma.  Otherwise, you don’t need a comma after but. 

Another Summer Slips Away

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The summer of 2017 came to a close with Hurricane Irma ripping through Naples, and along with the catastrophic damage it left in its wake, it also took its toll on our house.  Fortunately, we had our generator keeping the power on.  The house became a safe haven for several friends, and they were a big help in piecing it back together.  We’ll be heading down south next week, and we’ll see how far along the remediation has progressed.  Amanda has done a remarkable job having everyone engaged, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll be all set.

Other than that, it was a great summer with the highlight being Gabriela and Brendan’s wedding.  Giancarlo’s did an incredible job transforming the house and tennis court into a magical wedding venue, and it was a perfect summer night to spend with friends and family.

Over at the Walker Center, we have had quite a bit going on since Memorial Day.  We started things off with the opening of our new Grivani Cafe’ & Bakery [a solid contributor to the pounds I put on].  And we hit our high note with Bogavia and Pure+Fresh being featured at the grand opening of the newest Whole Foods Market.

The Walker Center also become the international headquarters for Capax Discovery.  Peter Mellett [and his whole family] moved from South Africa to take over Capax Discovery Development & Support, JJ Contessa moved from Connecticut to take over Capax International Marketing & Sales, and Mike McGrath moved emotionally from being the Advantage Co CFO to taking over Capax Resources HQ as our Chief Performance Officer.  Capax Discovery has become our main business, and it is certainly what I spend the majority of my time on.

This summer we also launched Inspired Global Resources with Jason Bird and Jeff Wynn.

All in all, it was another great summer in Williamsville.  It went fast, and as much as I am going to miss Monday night dinners with the kids and earning a few bucks every Thursday at Brookfield, I can’t wait to get back to Naples.  I hope you get a chance to come and visit us this winter.  We’ll be looking forward to it.


The Man Who Built Twin Fair

Originally posted July 4, 2013

I never got around to thanking Elaine for teaching me to drive.  At 16, getting my license was my passport to freedom [and the end of hitch-hiking].  I took my permit test on my 16th birthday and immediately scheduled my road test for a few weeks later.  Unfortunately, I almost clipped a woman at a cross-walk and earned an immediate failure.  I think it was the last time I ever drove a car without power steering.  So, it was back to the drawing board – and another three weeks or so of waiting for my second shot.  That’s where Elaine comes in.

Elaine started working for my dad when she was just a kid.  My first recollection of her is at the ticket gate at the Twin Drive-In Theater.  It was in the late 50’s, and my father had opened up a new drive-in with two screens.

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My Uncle Lou and my dad had a thing for drive-in theaters.  In 1952, they built the Transit Drive-In themselves out in the middle of nowhere.  How the screen they cobbled together stayed up, no one will ever know, but it did, and it was the start of a fascinating run of new businesses that started with the Twin Drive-In to Twin Fair to Value Home Improvement Centers.  From 1950 to 1970, they created some of the most memorable businesses in WNY.  They were a hell of a team.  My Uncle Lou took the edge off my dad, and they flourished together for 30 years until my Uncle Lou’s untimely death in the early 70’s.  My father was never the same.

I started out writing this post about Elaine, my father’s Girl Friday, but it really got me thinking about my father as a merchant.

My father was caught up in the discount-store-mania that was starting to sweep the country in the early 50’s [along with drive-ins, miniature golf, and rock’n’roll].  I remember Two Guys out of New Jersey was the first big competitor [along with IDS and eventually Big N].  WalMart, at the time, was a little late to the game [they didn’t get started until 1962], and no one gave them much attention.


My Uncle Lou and my father started Twin Fair by piecing together a series of relationships starting with John Nasca and John Bona.  My father leased out several of the departments, and that allowed him to get the requisite financing from M&T Bank.  Jim Otti [sp?] was a Commercial Loan Officer at M&T back in the day, and he was the only one who would even talk to my father about his novel idea.  Marine Midland wanted nothing to do with Italians, and if it wasn’t for Jim, there would have been no Twin Fair or Valu Home Improvement Centers.  I still bank with M&T for that very reason.

My father was an extraordinary merchant.  Although he never put his name on his businesses, and never accepted any accolades or attention – he was the man that built both Twin Fair and Valu Home Improvement Centers.  Tony Ragusa is not a name that is remembered by many in WNY, but his businesses are – and that’s all he ever wanted to build.

Along for nearly all of this was Elaine.  As I said, she became my father’s Girl Friday.  In the days of secretaries, Elaine transcended the role to become an essential element in the controlled chaos that is a merchant’s life.  My father was a widower for nearly 9 years before he eventually married his right arm, Elaine; and they spent the next 30+ years together through thick and thin.

And, yes, I finally got my license, and it was Elaine who patiently taught me to parallel park.

photo (3)This a picture that I carry in my journal [and will forever].  It’s Theresa Manzella [who was like a second mother to me and my favorite woman of all time], Doc Manzella, Elaine, and my father.

Grivani Corporate Gift Giving [Draft 2]

Mission Statement.  Grivani Corporate Gift Giving provides our corporate clients with a full array of premium gifts as well as white glove gift giving facilitation [including the sourcing, shipping, and return processing of all gifts].  At Grivani, we also offer our corporate clients a gift-giving concierge service that provides notification of gift giving events, gift suggestions, and gift sourcing.  Additionally, Grivani provides our corporate clients with corporate branded specialty product.

Everyone appreciates being remembered and recognized, which is why smart companies choose to recognize faithful customers during the holidays with a special gift that says “Thanks for your business.” – Timothy M. Andrews, ASI CEO

Companies that provide gifts to their best customers are in a $1.8 billion a year business in the United States alone.  And it’s growing every year.  But, more importantly, the total corporate spend is over $75 billion annually on awards points, merchandise, and gift cards in programs targeting four groups: sales staff, channel partners, all-employee programs, and customers.  

“Giving good business gifts is paramount,” said Ray Kish, president of Candlewood Marketing. “It’s the epoxy that holds profitable relationships together.  It’s right at the top rung of the marketing ladder, in terms of importance, because you show your creativity.”

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Grivani Corporate Gift Giving Suite of Services

Grivani is different from the traditional corporate gift giving companies and other ASI businesses.  We offer a suite of services unlike any other.  Here is a profile of all that we have to offer.

Choosing the Appropriate Gift
Corporate gifts are widely regarded as an effective means of strengthening corporate relationships and creating goodwill.  Marketing managers are the principal decision makers in deciding whether there is a need to use corporate gifts and incentives.  The main recipients of those gifts and incentives are existing and potential customers.  The majority of companies prefer to use customized gifts that feature the company logo, but a corporate gift can be anything from stationery to an all-inclusive Caribbean holiday for two.  The type of gifts used is limited only by the imagination.  

The most important time to use gifts is at the launch of a new service and over the Christmas and New Year period.  Most companies purchase a mixture of gifts of different value to suit different needs.

There are three main issues in the use of corporate gifts.  The first is marketing related: the role and purpose, the budget and the recipient; the second involves practical considerations: the choice of right gifts and the timing etc. The third relates to cross-cultural and ethical concerns: how to give gifts overseas and how to distinguish gifts from bribery.

In many cultures, the ceremony of gift giving is laden with meaning and more important than the gift itself.  While corporate gifts are usually given on special occasions in Europe, in Asia it is often necessary to bring a gift for the first business meeting.  Each nation has a distinctive culture and value system that dictate the business gift-giving behavior.  What is totally acceptable and legal in one culture would be either unacceptable or illegal in another. International companies must understand the culture of the recipient in order to avoid making costly blunders.

Corporate Concierge Service
Our new Grivani Corporate Gift Concierge service provides for limitless options when it comes to our client’s personal or corporate gifting needs.  Our clients simply tell us what gifts or products they desire, and we set out to fulfill their requests with the highest attention to detail, taste, timeliness, logistics, and quality.  Always being mindful of our client’s needs, we also provide plenty of appropriate gifting options for clients who are unsure of what to gift for various occasions.  Whether it is for the client personally, their employees, customers, business associates, or loved ones, we are uniquely prepared to take care of any and all of their gifting needs.

Our Corporate Gift Concierge service is utilized for both personal and business gifting needs.  The Grivani Corporate Gift Concierge service is available to all of our Capax clients, and there is no charge to use our Corporate Gift Concierge services.  Our Grivani clients can simply call us and tell us what they’re looking for, and we’ll source and deliver it with the appropriate attention to detail.  Our service takes the guesswork out of gift-giving by providing our clients and consumers the benefit of a personal shopper.  

Not only do we provide outstanding service, we also provide Free Shipping, complimentary gift wrapping [in our signature houndstooth gift wrap], and wholesale pricing for our customers.  And even if we do not stock the gifts our clients are looking for, we will still gladly source it for them with our White Glove Gift Sourcing.

White Glove Gift Sourcing
Grivani offers premium white glove gift sourcing services.  Our team of talented gift selectors find the perfect gift for your client, spouse, or friend.  Our service expertise ranges from high-end fashion and luxury automobiles to the most sought-after scented candle.  We strive to locate hard to acquire items for our clients in areas of the world untouched by the human footprint.  Travel services are inclusive of the price of the gift.

Account Fulfillment Partnerships  
Grivani is the leader in account fulfillment partnerships.  We partner with large-scale accounts to offer our premium line-up of products to their customers and clients for gift purchases as well as gift redemption.  Not only do we provide our product to clients at wholesale pricing, but we ensure total fulfillment and the option to drop ship at no additional cost.  As an added benefit, Grivani provides a team of skilled operational experts who will guarantee the gift wrap, presentation, shipping, and delivery of product purchased through one of our sales agents.

Brand Development Partnerships
Grivani features a resourceful partnership with Advantage Global Resources [see below] for select brand development.  Our team of talented in-house designers are able to customize any of our product offerings with customized tags, labels, and design elements for your business, taking your customer’s satisfaction to the next level [i.e.: Pure+Fresh for J Brand, Grivani Home for Douglas Elliman].  We also leverage our mass merchandise brand partner, Modern Luxuri, to develop custom gift sets of fashion jewelry for any client need.

Corporate Branded ASI Products
Grivani’s newest sector, Corporate Branded Products [commonly referred to as CBP], is responsible for creating promotional ASI items, such as custom drinkware, bridal gifts, pen sets, and apparel.

Corporate Regulated Sector [CSR]
It is important to note that many companies forbid gift giving at high price points, so that is why Grivani has a category specifically for this client preference, the Corporate Regulated Sector.

Gift Giving Registry
Our gift giving registry will allow participants to identify all gift giving events and plan accordingly – and it will all be handled online.The Gift Giving Registry concierge will alert the registered gift giver to an upcoming event and provide gift suggestions based on that particular event’s registered criteria for gifting.  The concierge will then source, gift wrap, and ship the chosen gift.  And this concierge gift-giving service is free.  I think that along with our jumpsite strategy there is no greater opportunity for generating sales internationally.
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Grivani Wine Cellar
Our Grivani wine collection from Tuscany, Italy, is the main focus of our new premium wine shop located in the Walker Center nestled between TW&Co and Giancarlo’s Sicilian Steakhouse.  The Grivani Wine Cellar provides cross-marketing and selling opportunities with Giancarlo’s Corporate Catering and Grivani Corporate Gift Giving.  Our Grivani wines, made in Tuscany, can be sold internationally.

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It’s been a long time coming, but we are finally launching  Jamie and Shauna are continuing to build our website, and we anticipate a January 1st launch.  Right now we are active with our beta provides a revolutionary Zero Fee online venue to raise money for organizations, individuals, causes, and events. is a Zero Fee web-enabled program designed to help facilitate and create awareness for fundraising of all sorts, all without the limitations of traditional fundraising services and their excessive fees.  Unlike fundraising services such as GoFundMe [who charge an 8% service fee], charges no fees and takes no commission or profit of any kind on any transaction.  All of the functionality and support is donated entirely by the Advantage Co of Williamsville, NY.  The only possible charge would be a third party fee that AmEx, Visa, Master Card, Venmo, PayPal, or BitCoin might impose for their role in processing the transaction.

In addition to providing a Zero Fee venue for direct online contributions, also provides participants access to our iWorldFundraising Online Marketplace – where the entire profit from donor purchases goes directly to their fundraising effort.  Manufacturers and retailers are encouraged to provide their goods and services through the iWorldFundraising Online Marketplace at their wholesale cost and to provide the handling and delivery of the donor purchases, while the entire retail profit goes directly to the designated recipient. does not, under any circumstances, retain any of the profit or any of the revenue collected.  It is a Zero Fee facilitation by

The marketplace is live at

Supporting worthwhile causes is the Advantage Co’s top priority with their Zero Fee fundraising concept.  The inspiration for their concept which includes the iWorld Marketplace was from the proverb: Teach a man to fish and he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he can eat for a lifetime.  By creating and supporting a venue such as, the Advantage Co enables organizations and individuals with a remarkable and sustainable cost-free resource to raise funds forever – which is well beyond the impact of a mere donation. is the complete ecommerce solution for an event, organization, or individual’s fundraising efforts.  The days of dangerously selling products like Girl Scout Cookies door to door are over.  There is no longer be a need to for anyone to handle cash contributions, especially children.  All transactions are online and fully accounted for with full transparency. provides fundraisers with full access to all of our resources.  This is truly a unique fundraising opportunity.  All that’s necessary from the organization or individual is to promote direct access to for their fundraising activities.  There is no cost to join, and there is never any fee.