Neil A. Carousso produces WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight with Bloomberg Business reporter Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments with Tri-State Area entrepreneurs for tips on how you can grow sales and expand your business.
  
See Neil A. Carousso’s original reporting on American heroes and veterans-related issues on Entercom’s ConnectingVets.com platform.
  
Neil A. Carousso is the Segment Producer and Features Editor of The 880 Weekly Rewind with Lynda Lopez, airing Friday nights at 7 PM on WCBS Newsradio 880. Each week Lynda talks with newsmakers for a deep dive into the top stories of the week and the impact it has on people.

The Latest

  • WCBS BNB Bank Virtual Business Breakfast: How sales has changed in the COVID-19 era

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    Thursday, October 15, 2020 – 9 AM
    Call-in your question for Joe Connolly and the panel and we may use it on the program!
    (877) 987-WCBS

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – The resilient business owners who are recovering from the coronavirus pandemic have pivoted and changed the way they sell. We will introduce you to three entrepreneurs who will share ways to get sales going again and grow even in this tough economic climate with low consumer confidence.

    Business reporter Joe Connolly will host the WCBS BNB Bank Virtual Business Breakfast, which will stream on WCBS880.com on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 9 AM.

    Each panelist was forced to adjust when businesses were shut down in March and even completely changed their operations to stay afloat. Not only did they survive, but they are now succeeding amid the unprecedented health crisis and recession. Our guests include Moksha Fitzgibbons of NTWRK, Don White of Satisfi Labs and Jennifer Decker of 3 Moms Organics.

    Livestream shopping is the hot trend in e-commerce that is accelerating recovery and growth for companies. NTWRK is a video application that provides a platform for retailers to become a virtual events space while collaborating with brands and influencers to reach eager and willing buyers. Fitzgibbons will share how anyone – millennial or Baby Boomer – can earn a substantial return on investment through easy-to-make creative content done from your home or store.

    Satisfi Labs is an Artificial Intelligence firm in Manhattan that partners with high-end clients such as Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Universal Orlando Resort, Macy’s and others in retail and hospitality. When all of his clients were forced to close at the outset of the pandemic, White’s sales plummeted. He and his wife also suffered a bout of COVID-19 and fully recovered. That was precursor to Satisfi Labs’ recovery, which started with a key change to its sales operations.

    By directing his sales staff to focus on areas of expertise rather than location, since business travel was halted, the A.I. company saw promising results that slashed travel expenses and increased productivity. As his revenue doubled, White told WCBS 880 it would be a long-term shift. They also developed and launched a “COVID Assistance” product and offered it to leads for free to forge relationships that may last well beyond the public health emergency. He also tapped into a widened talent pool by adjusting to remote work.

    3 Moms Organics is truly an organic success story. The small business was started by two Long Island mothers who developed a DEET-free product to tackle tick borne illnesses in their families. Jennifer Decker and Lisa-Jae Eggert had been going store-to-store to demonstrate how their product TickWise repels ticks, mosquitos and other insects. They are in about 80 stores – many seasonal on the East End – all of which closed in March.

    The moms cracked the code on how to convert sales from low-priced Facebook advertisements – accelerating digital sales 6,000 percent. Selling direct-to-consumer on their website is now their focus as opposed to traditional retail. Decker and Eggert began making content that translated to sales and leaned on their customers to be their most influential marketers. They will share how you can make the pivot to digital and find the right target audience online.

    We’d love to hear from you. Share your most pressing business operations and sales questions with Joe and our panel by calling our listener line and we may include your question on the program. The number is (877) 987-WCBS (9227); Follow the prompts to leave your message.

    MORE ABOUT OUR PANELISTS:

    Moksha Fitzgibbons
    Moksha Fitzgibbons, President of NTWRK
    Moksha Fitzgibbons has more than 15 years of experience in management, sales, marketing, retail, music and entertainment.

    He joined NTWRK in October 2019 after a couple of stints at Complex Networks where he served as chief revenue officer before moving to Valence Media as CRO where he played an integral role in the merger of Media Rights Capital, Dick Clark Productions, The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

    Fitzgibbons led content teams throughout his career, which he takes to NTWRK to match business owners and entrepreneurs with influential entertainers to creatively market and grow brands.

    He has worked with celebrities and brands, including Jimmy Iovine, Drake, Live Nation, Warner Brothers Entertainment and Footlocker.

     

    Don White
    Don White, Co-Founder and CEO of Satisfi Labs, Inc.
    Don White is a charismatic and enthusiastic entrepreneur and a salesman at heart.

    He spent more than a decade at Bloomberg where he was global head of sales for Bloomberg Tradebook, leading a corporate strategy project to restructure global sales operations that yielded $3 million in 2012 and $7 million in 2013 before he co-founded Satisfi Labs.

    His firm is an interactive search company that utilizes proprietary Artificial Intelligence software to enhance the customer experience at retail stores, museums, aquariums and premiere events, including Major League Baseball and National Football League games.

     

     

    Jennifer Decker,
    Jennifer Decker, Co-Owner of 3 Moms Organics, LLC
    Jennifer Decker and her partner Lisa-Jae Eggert created their DEET-free product TickWise when their families were hit hard with tick borne illnesses and rising populations of ticks and mosquitos on Long Island where they raised their children.

    Their story starts with a discussion over cup of tea about their problems finding a chemical free product that worked. They decided to create their own product, relying on their backgrounds in science.

    Decker has many years of knowledge in the benefits of blending essential oils and using them for health-related issues to create a better, more natural lifestyle. She and her husband have three young and active children. Through her network of fellow mothers, she has learned the power of word-of-mouth and influencer marketing first-hand.

    Eggert studied entomology, earth science and horticulture in college. For five years, she did field work for the Bronx Zoo studying turtles on the East End. This work exposed her to an abundance of ticks and their bites.

    They personally manufacture TickWise, which is effective, has a pleasant smell, provides skin nourishment, and is vegan for those who suffer from Alpha-Gal or meat allergies. 3 Moms Organics ships TickWise across 48 states and Washington D.C., now that they are registered through the Environmental Protection Agency in all states except Maine and South Dakota. They just earned a certification to operate in the highly regulated state of California in September.

    3 Moms Organics also used their time wisely in the first three months of the pandemic to apply and receive the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise Certification (MWBE), which has opened new doors for additional revenue streams.

    – Written by Neil A. Carousso

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  • Business Leaders Urge Officials To Clean Up NYC For Economic Recovery

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Business leaders say they need New York City’s quality of life to be improved and rent relief in order to recover and create new jobs.

    “We have to have people on one page, feeling that the city is coming back (and) we’re not going back to the bad old ’70s,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City.

    She spoke with Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank, after the nonprofit organization wrote a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, copying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City Comptroller Scott Stringer, calling on them to improve “quality of life” in the Big Apple. More than 160 business leaders signed the letter, including the heads of the local Chambers of Commerce and executives from Citigroup, MasterCard, Nasdaq, Goldman Sachs and Macy’s.

    “There is widespread anxiety over public safety, cleanliness and other quality of life issues that are contributing to deteriorating conditions in commercial districts and neighborhoods across the five boroughs,” the letter dated September 10, 2020 reads.

    They say rising crime and anxiety over public health are fueling low consumer confidence and uncertainty. The business leaders say they need the government’s assistance to fix the issues that will encourage their workers that they can return safely.

    “From a business community standpoint, we believe that’s the first step to economic recovery, because that’s the feedback we’re getting,” Wylde told WCBS 880.

    The lifeblood of the city is mass transit, she said, emphasizing that workers will not return to the office until the MTA’s problems are solved. It is currently in a budget crisis, accelerated by record low ridership. MTA Chairman Pat Foye claims the agency needs $12 billion to fill the hole.

    “The city will not come back to life, and this is all five boroughs, until trust in mass transit is restored and that’s going to take continued funding,” she said.

    Among the Partnership for New York City’s priorities are improving mass transit and infrastructure. She has heard from commuters who are not confident in its cleanliness and reliability.

    Only 26 percent of employees are believe they will return to the office by the end of the year, as of mid-August; that’s down from an expectation of 33 percent in May, according to the Partnership for New York City, which surveys workers.

    But, some businesses will not return either. Commercial rent has consistently risen over the past decade of economic prosperity, but now, there are no businesses willing to take over a high rent lease.

    “This was the crisis that we were facing for the last couple of years before the COVID, because of the inflated values and because of the very high real estate taxes in New York, which get passed along to tenants,” Wylde told Connolly and Carousso, noting, “A third of your rent is just to pay real estate taxes.”

    She said costs must come down to spur growth and attract new businesses to the city as the jobs for the future are being developed now.

    Hear about new job creation, resilient industries and New York City’s recovery plan from business leaders on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • Downtown Brooklyn Looks to Attract Top Talent in a Post-Pandemic World

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — In an eerily quiet dark age of New York City, which was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April, economic development groups see the light at the end of the tunnel as they reimagine and prepare for the post-pandemic workplace.

    Regina Myer is the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which sees an opportunity to become an innovation hub by attracting talented young professionals who live in walking distance to the growing number of technology, manufacturing and media companies.

    “We’re studying specific streets among Fulton Street, Livingston and Willoughby to see how we can really make those environments more pedestrian friendly,” she said.

    She told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank, about her experience leading the Brooklyn Bridge Park for a decade in which she spearheaded the joint initiative with the City to develop Willoughby Square Park that is set to open in 2022. A portion of the 1.15-acre green space opened last year in Downtown Brooklyn; some workplaces there feature individual air conditioning units, which are essential in the COVID-19 era.

    “I want to do the same thing here in Downtown,” she said.

    Myer told WCBS 880 “shared streets” create space for workers, cyclists and pedestrians and improve the quality of life. She believes that sparks better business practices. The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership developed their blueprint from the model of major cities, including Pittsburgh, Seattle and Barcelona.

    “We want amenities that enhance our businesses like outdoor seating, we want it to be very clean, and people feel comfortable,” she said.

    Myer was the senior vice president for planning and design at the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, which counts HBO, SAP, BlackRock, Wells Fargo, and Neiman Marcus among its tenants.

    But the difference between Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, she said, is that the outer borough relies on foot traffic from locals. Employers find their workers live nearby rather than commuting from the suburbs.

    “When companies decide to locate in Downtown Brooklyn, they know they are accessing a tremendous amount of talent from throughout the borough,” said Myer.

    Foot traffic is key for Downtown Brooklyn businesses to thrive, and right now, survive. Myer told Connolly and Carousso foot traffic is down 50 percent on weekdays, and is 20 percent higher on weekends due to tourist activity that ticked up this summer since the transmission rate of COVID-19 reached pandemic lows in New York City.

    She believes a coronavirus vaccine and therapeutics are the answer for consumer confidence.

    “I want to open, too,” Myer responded to the fact that most business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, are demanding a full reopening as businesses close with tens of millions of Americans unemployed.

    “I just know that people have to feel comfortable doing so,” she added.

    Citing efficiency in remote work, Myer sees companies will usher in a new age of economic growth, and is encouraging businesses to consider locating in Downtown Brooklyn.

    Hear about the opportunity Regina Myer sees for Downtown Brooklyn to lead in the local economic recovery and attract growing new businesses, plus new ways to sell your product or service on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • Pandemic Gap Year: Firms Providing Job Training, Career Development For Students Taking Semester Off

    Posted by:

    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Since the so-called “college experience” will be non-existent for the 2020-21 school year, some students are taking a gap year to find themselves in a job that provides career training and development.

    Mohammed Alshatti, an entrepreneurship major at Hofstra University, told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank, he is taking six months off to learn on-the-job training from his mother and sister who own food businesses in Kuwait.

    “I feel like taking a gap year will allow me to focus more on the long-term goals,” the 21 year old explained.

    His mother owns a bakery with eight employees in Kuwait while his sister operates a vegan restaurant.

    “I gained a lot,” said Alshatti who is matching his studies from classes at Hofstra with practical experience in marketing and management.

    “In a way, corona(virus) was very unfortunate, but I like to look at the positive aspect of it,” he said.

    Alshatti told Connolly and Carousso he is “not too big of a fan” of online classes, which factored into his decision to get a jump-start in his career.

    “Gaining connections is a huge part of, in my opinion, going to college,” he said, noting that those studying the same major as him will become his peers in the workforce.

    Alshatti is not alone in taking a hiatus from expensive higher education to pursue career opportunities.

    Dan Guido, co-founder and chief executive officer of Trail of Bits, told WCBS 880 that 1,000 college students applied for paid remote internships this summer to fill 10 openings at his cyber security firm in Manhattan.

    “Whether you’re going to school in the fall or not, you should find something that you’re interested in and take every opportunity to master it,” he offered, adding, “Mastery ends up being a really easy way of finding someone that’s worth hiring.”

    Trail of Bits’ internships are for skilled students interested in software engineering and cloud security, which are tenants of the firm’s portfolio. Guido assigns interns a project exclusive to them that the company publishes.

    “They help the company build our brand and contribute something back while also giving a résumé builder to the students,” he said.

    Trail of Bits worked with Zoom Video Communications to secure its infrastructure after breaches in March and April.

    While in-person training is hard to replicate with its 70 employees working from home, Guido focuses on communication among his workers via Slack and virtual meetings. He even encourages his workers to talk about their projects with each other and socialize on video calls since that aspect of interpersonal collaboration is lost amid the pandemic.

    “When we actually do have these video conferences, we make sure that there’s a norm that all the cameras are turned on since the mere exposure effect of seeing someone’s face ends up helping you relate to them,” he said.

    Hear about the career training opportunities for students entering the labor force on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • Planet Fitness Improves Air Filtration, PPE For NY Reopening

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Planet Fitness says it is ready to safely re-open on Monday in New York State.

    “We’re ready to go,” proclaimed James Innocenti, chief operating officer of Planet Fitness Supreme, which owns and operates 70 of the health club chain’s locations in New York, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

    Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that gyms can reopen at 33 percent of its capacity, starting Monday. Local governments are tasked with conducting health inspections before Sept. 2. Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City may not be able to complete inspections until after Labor Day because reopening schools are the Big Apple’s “priority” right now.

    “We really look forward to working with Mayor de Blasio,” said Innocenti who owns all 47 of Planet Fitness’ locations in New York City with his brother, adding he will adhere to State and City guidance to “get open as soon as possible.”

    Innocenti told WCBS 880’s Neil A. Carousso that members will be required to wear masks at all times, per Governor Cuomo’s order. He is also arming all of his employees with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and PF Supreme will close for deep cleaning overnights.

    “We’ll be able to sanitize every single piece of equipment, bathrooms, etc. every single night,” he said.

    Planet Fitness is also focused on air filtration. Filters are rated by their efficiency in blocking large particles. Minimum efficiency reporting value or MERV filters are rated on a scale of one to 20. Health experts recommend indoor facilities have a MERV-13 filter or higher to block viral particles that can spread through aerosols. Cuomo announced a mandate last month that shopping malls, which have reopened in phase 4 of New York’s reopening, install MERV-11 filters or higher.

    “We listened loud and clear to the Governor,” Innocenti said. “We got those MERV-13’s in all our stores right now.”

    Planet Fitness does not offer individual training or fitness classes, which are up to localities to allow upon inspection.

    “Our gyms are really set up for physical distancing,” the franchisee said.

    Its health clubs are about 20,000 square feet on average. Innocenti hopes members will return while it operates at a third of its capacity, but he understands people’s trepidations over COVID-19 transmission.

    “We encourage people to come in and see what we’re doing and see how safe that we really are,” he said, continuing, “I understand the fear out there for sure, but I think with the protocols that we all put in place and the focus on taking care of our members, and that is our top priority, I think they’re going to see that.”

    Planet Fitness waived membership fees since health clubs were shut down in March. Innocenti says people can pause their memberships until they feel safe returning to the gym.

    “At 33 percent capacity, although that’s challenging for the business, I think it gives the consumer a bit of ease, understanding that there’s not going to be as many people working out at the same time as there typically would be at 100 percent capacity,” he told WCBS 880.

    Planet Fitness launched “Crowd Meter” – a new feature in its app that enables members to check capacities at gyms before visiting.

    “If you log on to the app and you see that the capacity is really high at that given moment, you may not feel comfortable coming in,” Innocenti explained.

    He is optimistic about the future of Planet Fitness – one of the largest health club chains in the U.S. James and his brother Jeff Innocenti, PF Supreme’s chief executive officer, have been in the fitness industry for 25 years. They bought stake of Planet Fitness in 2004.

    “We know how to navigate through difficult times,” James said, citing the 2008 recession. “I think this is just another challenge for us to come out on the other end very strong.”

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