Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Expanded Multiplaza in Panama City … Just Incredible!

The Expanded Multiplaza in Panama City … Just Incredible!

Yesterday was my first opportunity to visit the new and vastly expanded Multi Plaza in Punta Pacifico near the Trump Towers in downtown Panama City.

To be honest, I was overwhelmed. The extent of the expansion and renovations was mind boggling. It felt like I was strolling along some of the ritzy side streets in Rome near the “Spanish Steps”.

No End to Exclusive Shops

Just for starters, you can “shop ‘til you drop” at more than 280 high-end, exclusive shops including Chanel, Cartier, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, Faconnable, Hermes, Tiffany, Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bellagio, Mont Blanc, Valentino, Rolex, Versace, the Gap, Forever 21, and the Banana Republic. It would not be remotely possible to check out even half of these shops in a single day. Then there is the integrated cinema complex with about 10 theaters showing the latest of Hollywood usually in English with sub-titles.

By all means bring your Platinum Card. The displays of finery in every “shop” are to die for yet so laid back and enticing.

The Architecture

The architecture is also marvelous with a kind of “see-through” theme for this three story emporium of pleasure. Everything is so light and airy; so polished and slick. The structure itself must exceed one million square feet.

When we lived in Central New Jersey, my wife and I used to visit occasionally the “Far Hills” Shopping Mall near Summit which is billed as a shopping mall for millionaires. In my opinion, the Far Hills would be like comparing a nice Lexus to a flashy Lamborghini with the Multiplaza being the latter.

Integrated High End Dining

But the most significant and exciting change was the extremely clever integration of shopping and dining and not just any dining.

Before the recent expansion, the Multiplaza featured a large “standard food court” which was extremely normal and boring. Today, however, well known, private brand restaurants, exclusive “coffee shoppes” and gelarti ice cream parlors are sprinkled everywhere throughout the complex again much like in Rome around the Spanish Steps.

Each dining facility has its own space, its own menu, its own environment, and its own waiters. This is not a “food court” strategy. Today there are many private restaurants (perhaps 40-50) and many people now visit just for the food experience plus of course some window shopping. For a Sunday mid-afternoon, there were lineups everywhere for the specialty restaurants. I had an excellent meal at “Wingz”. There was an impressively huge “Ruby Tuesday’s” about to open. There were specialty bagel shops, sushi eateries, soft pretzel outlets, Mexican fare … you name it!

And for the kids (which were swarming around in large numbers many on roller shoes) there is even a huge Chuck E Cheeze’s packed to the rafters with the latest video games and whatever other “toys & games” kids like today.

It was fun. I am not a great shopper but I love to watch other people shopping or doing whatever. This is now the place to do it. A village within a city. The only danger being all the wonderful merchandise being offered for sale. I might just break down and actually buy something one of these days.

Planning a “High End” Custom Home in Coronado

Planning a “High End” Custom Home in Coronado

Here is a “check list” approach as to what one might expect to get in terms of planning/building/contracting a “high end” custom home in Coronado as of early 2014. This information is in fact a basic summary of a marketing brochure that I personally used back in 2008 when the Coronado market was very hot and when I project managed and constructed 6 or 7 high end homes here (average size 4000 square feet). The information has been updated for 2014.

What you get for about $100 per square foot on your own lot

  1. Site preparation (clearing/filling/grading) for optimal drainage and positioning of buildings including septic system all built to municipal standards. Some  some lots may require an extra charge for leveling and fill.
  2. Standard seismic footings using 6” exterior block walls for more efficient cooling, better sound insulation, pipe and column concealment, overall structural strength, and better depth for window security bar installation.
  3. High quality cool roof constructed of extra hardened colonial clay tiles over zinc sheeting on a welded steel roof support  structure with one meter (40″ overhang) with steel eaves troughs.
  4. All interior cement walls smoothed with cement and pasta for a “drywall” finish look and feel.
  5. All ceramic floors are high quality porcelain and include a standard 3-4″ wall edging for easy maintenance.
  6. All shower enclosures include 7 foot ceramic walls.
  7. Bathrooms include vanities with doors/drawers where space permits otherwise a high quality “pedestal sink” is installed.
  8. Interior ceilings are standard drywall at a 9′ 3″ height to accommodate ceiling fans and provide extra volume for coolness.
  9. Bathroom ceilings use green drywall for moisture resistance.
  10. Cathedral ceilings typically require an extra charge but are highly recommended.
  11. Exterior terrace and roof overhang areas all use “green” moisture resistant gypsum.
  12. Heavy gauge steel eaves troughs (not plastic) are used for all roof drainage purposes with in ground runoff pipes to the street.
  13. Attic areas and soffits are vented extensively to minimize heat build-up.
  14. Windows are typically custom made with aluminum or PVC frames, plate glass and screens and window openings are protected using steel security bars.
  15. Kitchen counters with back-splash are constructed using real granite as opposed to “Granito” which is a relatively inexpensive manufactured product that absorbs moisture.
  16. Kitchen cabinets, both uppers and lowers, are constructed using “cedro margo” which is a highly resistant wood recommended for the tropics and very similar to teak.
  17. Kitchen/bathroom fixtures are all “American Standard” or equivalent quality.
  18. The hot water system can be either instant electronic or propane gas.
  19. High quality Glidden “Peerless” paint, or the equivalent, is used inside and out as the final coat over a special cement or drywall “sealer” coat.
  20. Copper electric wire inside PVC tubing is used throughout although in many instances the main line from the outside meter to the house is aluminum. This is optional.
  21. The house is pre-wired for cable, telephone, audio and internet connections as desired.

Cost Allowances Based on Overall Square Footage

  1. This price would include 5 appliances ($3000), a water pressure system with reserve tank ($1000), porcelain floor ceramics ($20/M2 allowance), real granite kitchen counters $5000 allowance), window security bars, custom built-in closets with shelving, colonial style interior doors, steel exterior doors, basic light fixtures and/or basic ceiling fans with lights as appropriate (with dollar allowances).
  2. This was the average for a 4000 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home with approximately 25% overall square footage for terrace areas.

Client Responsibilities

The client is responsible for design and financing.

Builder Responsibilities

  • Construction is typically based on a “fixed price” as outlined in a “construction agreement” but could also be based on a cost plus formula or a fixed price per week for project management services.
  • Completion time is typically 4 to 6 months for a medium to larger home (up to 400 M2 or 4000+ SF) with 20-25 workers on site until the roof is up (2-3 months) and a much smaller crew (perhaps 6-8 people) for the finishing stages.
  • The builder/contractor should have a “limited power of attorney” letter to ensure that all required permits can be obtained in a timely manner.
  • All construction is performed in a safe and workmanlike manner in accordance with local and Panamanian national building standards including payment of Social Security to all salaried workers.
  •  The builder is responsible for all on site worker supervision and the required paperwork/remissions to Social Security.
  • The builder provides a one year guarantee on all construction work.

The Internet OnLine Business Conundrum

The Internet Online Business Conundrum (a rather long posting)

I have finally got my fledgling online, internet enterprise off the ground but it was a chore. My new website, www.retirementmapping.com will focus on the creation and marketing of high quality “digital information” focused on the 5 or 6 most common problem areas or worries for people contemplating retirement or already retired. I am becoming increasingly pleased with my relatively refined business plan (essentially an “email direct marketing model”) because this business model is considerably more complicated and sophisticated than I had ever expected.

Why another posting on this subject?

The primary reason for this posting is to summarize some of my early observations for the benefit of others but also to provide a clear record of my expectations for later evaluation. One year from today I want a reliable standard against to measure success/failure.

A complex business model establishes some significant barriers to entry and success. There exist many relatively simple internet business models which require much less skill however generally “other people” will have to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of product creation and marketing and of course they will also earn most of the profits. You will have to play by their rules and work more like a commissioned salesman than as an entrepreneur. This article is for the “true entrepreneur”.

20 Important Skills and Characteristics

Here is my take on some of the most important skills and personality characteristics required for success in an email direct marketing business such as the one I have set up:

1. A high level of personal persistence, dedication and drive matched by a well thought out, strategic business plan.
2. A highly focused niche area backed by considerable personal knowledge and expertise to establish subscriber credibility, believability and trust.
3. An ability to write well and rather quickly not to mention having something interesting to say. I use Scribener, Dragon and a Sony digital recorder for my early drafting.
4. An ability to edit prudently because writing and editing are entirely different skill sets.
5. A web site based on the “blog model” (probably WordPress) to build a large dedicated subscriber list (your most important asset) with high quality postings at least 2 or 3 times a week including guest postings on related sites.
6. The primary objective should be to build a high quality subscriber “opt-in list” of perhaps 100,000 members as quickly as possible which is today considered the threshold for a “serious online business”. You build your list one subscriber at a time.
7. probably a minimum of four hours dedicated time every day to run/manage the business.
8. A relatively high level of computer skill is required to understand and integrate about 20-25 essential software programs including 10 plug-ins for WordPress.
9. WordPress is currently the web package of choice because it is free, sophisticated and incredibly flexible. It might take the average person several months to master it but you can use it to do almost anything.
10. A strong “branding strategy” is necessary for visual and message consistency for your digital information such as email newsletters, consulting services, free reports, e-books, affiliated products, webinars, and online courses.
11. A solid understanding is required of the current best internet marketing practices. You can learn most of these techniques by reviewing 5 or so of the top rated books on Amazon but then of course you have to apply the principles to your new business.
12. Good marketing depends on continuous learning and particularly “testing”. This skill set combines curiosity and imagination backed by a sophisticated “auto-responder” program.
13. Your auto-responder software will rapidly become the backbone of your business. Choose it very carefully. I finally decided to go with arpReach as opposed to aWeber, GetResponse or MailChimp even though it meant changing my hosting account to HostGator from GoDaddy.
14. Good marketing practices to attract new subscribers depend to a great extent on social networking and sharing. You will probably need to set up personal linked accounts with Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook and interact frequently with your “fans”.
15. This business model does not require a great deal of capital to get started. If you already have a good computer you might need less than $1000. You can delay some of the software purchases until later.
16. Incredible curiosity is a very useful attribute when working in the direct email marketing field. Continuous testing is absolutely essential to refine your messages to maximize opt in rates and to maximize results from your writing and related information products.
17. One requires a high level of organization to research, write and publish new posts, e-books, webinars online learning classes and the like. There is a constant need to set firm deadlines that are achievable.
18. A good sense of humor and modesty can help a lot. Self-deprecating humor is usually best. Don’t fly off the handle at some critical comment to your latest posting. Being a social networking animal can be an advantage here.
19. Set up some realistic expectations (in terms of number of email registrants needed, number of new digital products, profit targets, conversion targets) within a finite time frame. Where do you wish to be in 12 or 24 months.
20. Once these expectations are up on your cork board you will be reminded on a daily basis as to the level of effort needed to achieve these objectives.

One of the Best Medical Doctors in the Coronado Area

Dr Riega: One of the Best Doctors in the Greater Coronado Area

Dr Riega has had his medical practice in Panama for more than 30 years. His clinic in Bejuco is about 6-7 miles from “downtown Coronado. He has been my personal “general practitioner” for more than 4 years.

Dr Riega brings a wealth of experience to his practice in addition to patience and understanding. Incidentally, he was also an elected “member of parliament” (if you are Canadian) or Congress (for Americans) or “Tribunal” for Panamanians.

For new “gringos”, in particular, it is very important to remember that in Panama “tropical diseases” and related ailments are often very different than similar medical problems in Canada or the USA. At the first sign of a sore throat see a local doctor.

His Waiting Room was always Packed

To be honest, what first attracted me to Dr Riega’s Clinic was the sheer number of Panamanians packed into his relatively small waiting room and sitting on some outside benches. I figured that these people must know something that I don’t because there are quite a few competitive medical clinics around. I suppose, in similar manner, I am attracted to restaurants that are always full with long lineups outside.

Meticulous Record Keeping

Once I got to know Dr Riega better as a patient (perhaps 2-3 visits per year until recently) I noticed that he always kept meticulous records on every patient. These were hand written records on blank sheets of paper stored in a 8.5″ x 14″ brown manila folder. They were extremely detailed and often included photocopies of, for example, blood test results etc. Many other doctors that I have visited did not appear to keep detailed records on my visits at least I never saw them.

$7 Consultation Fee

Another reason I very much like the Riega Clinic is because I can visit the clinic in the morning, pay my $7 consultation fee, and then come back say 3 or 4 hours later and my name is at the top of the list with no wait. In several other medical facilities waiting around can be a time consuming process.

Oh yes, did I mention the $7 consultation fee. This amount may seem ridiculously low to the average American who probably has to pay up to $150 for a similar medical consultation at a similar “walk-in” clinic. However, there are medical clinics in the Coronado area which actually charge less.

On Site Testing Facility

Dr Riega has an excellent onsite laboratory for testing virtually everything at prices that may bring a slow smile to your face. The cost of a full blood test, after my 20% discount, is about $6.50; urinalysis $2.50; a full “abdominal ultra scan” by a specialist with a comprehensive written report ($40). Many test results are ready in one hour.

Also if you happen to have several medical problems simultaneously Dr Riega will be happy to discuss them all. Try that with your average American doctor.

And finally, and most important he is very effective in his treatments without which the above reasons are useless.

The San Fernando Clinic

I should point out that my wife and I have an excellent medical insurance policy which covers us for doctor visits at the local San Fernando Clinic only 2 miles from our house. The standard cost for a visit is about $20 however after my jubilado discount of 20% and with my insurance “co-pay” of 30% my out of pocket cost is about $5. However about a month later I have to return to the clinic for my “refund check” and wait in line until my number is called.

The San Fernando Clinic in Coronado is a first class, 5 star internationally accredited medical facility. However, it has been designed for treating “gringos” and perhaps rich Panamanians. Not many locals have $20 for a consultation which is a day’s pay for many.

It was definitely not designed to process hundreds of patients per week as does the Riega Clinic. As a result of this volume, Dr Riega quickly learns the full extent and severity of the latest viruses (which is what usually attacks me and in fact most older people) at the earliest possible stage. Incidentally there are typically 4-5 different virus strains that sweep through the country every year depending on weather and other factors. Each year they are somewhat different.

I am running out of space since I am trying to shorten my postings. Actually there is much more information for a second post about Dr Riega in the near future.