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.
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.

The Latest

  • Robert Herjavec’s pandemic advice to business owners: ‘When you’re going through hell… keep going’

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — “Shark Tank” star Robert Herjavec believes the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs to fill needs and shares his advice for overcoming adversity on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    “Whatever you start doing today, your business will not be doing that in a year. Things change. The world changes. You have to adapt,” he said, adding he prefers to invest in individuals rather than single businesses on ABC’s “Shark Tank” for that reason.

    “The entrepreneur will always figure out the path and the entrepreneur will build a great team in order to figure out the path,” he said.

    Herjavec told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso he started his first business after he was fired and needed to make a mortgage payment. He started other businesses in economic recessions.

    “In this kind of a time, don’t perfect your product, don’t spend all this time on your management team or buying better software to run your business. Go sell something,” the self-made entrepreneur emphasized when asked for his advice for owners. “Sales cures all ills and the harder the economy, the harder the macro conditions, the more you need sales.”

    A record 80,820 Americans have taken the first steps into entrepreneurship this year; that’s 30.6 percent more new business applications than all of 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Herjavec represents the embodiment of the American Dream. His family escaped the former Communist country Yugoslavia in 1970 when Robert was eight years old. His father was a successful manager in Yugoslavia, but was jailed 22 times for speaking out about the dangers of communism. They immigrated to Canada where Robert’s father Vladimir swept floors in a factory.

    His upbringing shaped Robert as a kid who sought to make something out of nothing, later founding BRAK Systems, which he sold to then-AT&T Canada in 2000 for $30.2 million. He currently runs the Herjavec Group – a global cybersecurity firm with its headquarters in Toronto, Canada.

    “I’ve been through hell and I’ve been through some really hard times,” he told WCBS 880, recalling advice he lives by, “When you’re going through hell, you’ve just got to keep going.”

    Herjavec told Connolly and Carousso that business owners who are struggling right now should take an honest assessment of the company and the market and be in contact with their customers regularly.

    “The worst thing you can do in this time is nothing,” he said, continuing, “Don’t let fear overcome you to the point that you’re that deer in the headlights. You just got to keep going.”

    Herjavec says he and his fellow Sharks did not know if their businesses would survive at the outset of the pandemic. He has not seen his employees in-person since February 17.

    “I’m running a $300 million business; I haven’t seen a single employee,” he said from his Los Angeles home, noting it’s difficult to motivate his remote Herjavec Group team on video calls. So, Herjavec began expressing his appreciation through premium, savory cookies and brownies from Bake Me A Wish – a New York-based company whose mission is centered on expressing gratitude and appreciation for employees and colleagues.

    “My dad was this blue collar guy, worked really hard, swept floors in a factory, and he always said to me, ‘You should thank people for the opportunity,'” he explained, adding, “I was just looking for a way to say thank you.”

    Now, the ‘Shark Tank’ star is extending personalized gift baskets to companies who want to share their appreciation for their workers ahead of the unprecedented holidays. You can see Bake Me A Wish’s corporate catalogue, endorsed by Herjavec, here.

    “You don’t have to be a jerk, you don’t have to be mean and I think it’s the opposite,” the Shark said of succeeding in business. “You’ve got to empower people. You’ve got to lead people. You have to give people vision of where they want to go.”

    Watch Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Robert Herjavec above for more business advice and keys to pitching your idea, product or business on “Shark Tank” or any boardroom. 

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  • Stew Leonard’s builds “buffer stock” as COVID cases surge ahead of Thanksgiving

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Stew Leonard, Jr. is stocking up for a second wave of the coronavirus. He and his suppliers do not want to be blindsided like they were in March.

    “They’re all anticipating at least a 20 percent increase in buffer stock,” Leonard told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    The second generation owner of Stew Leonard’s supermarket chain headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut said he did not predict cleaning products, paper towels and toilet paper would be in short supply when the pandemic hit the United States eight months ago, but now, he is prepared as the virus surges in a majority of states with hospitalizations rising, too.

    “Our backrooms are stuffed right now with product and we’re buying as much Bounty and Charmin as we can get right now,” Leonard told WCBS 880.

    He’s been reflecting on his father’s advice from when he took over the family business in 1987 – 18 years after Stew Leonard, Sr. opened the original store.
    Leonard, Jr. told Connolly and Carousso his father advised he pay attention to his customers and “be really nice to your suppliers,” because they are providing the quality product shoppers expect.

    “I’m calling them up and I’m on my knees. I owe a lot of favors right now,” Leonard laughed. “You know ‘Game of Thrones’ where the guy said I have to bend a knee? Well, I’ve had to bend a knee a lot here.”

    He said he is informing his suppliers – local farmers and fisherman among them – that he is still in business and they are his priority.

    “Sometimes there might be a hiccup and they need something delivered and I’ll have some of our people go and deliver it to them because they’re in a jam,” he said, adding, “I would expect our suppliers to do that for us, too.”

    Leonard told WCBS 880 it is imperative business owners in the food industry listen to their customers because they have no data to indicate how to prepare for Thanksgiving this year.

    “The only way you’re going to get a little handle on it is if you really just say, ‘I’m going to talk to five customers a day,'” he advised. “They’ll give you a feeling of what it’s like, whether they want delivery, whether they want curb side, how they’re shopping, what their Thanksgiving’s going to be like.”

    Leonard surveyed thousands of his customers and found 9 out of 10 are having small Thanksgiving dinners this year with immediate family in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. That influenced his decision to reduce his typical order of large turkeys weighing 24-25 lbs. by 20 percent; he bought 20-25 percent more smaller turkeys that weigh 15-16 lbs.

    Stew Leonard’s has seen a 600 percent increase in online orders in the outset of the pandemic as the supermarket implemented “triple cleaning” procedures and got rid of in-store buffets and bagel trays to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    While families save on eating out and entertainment because of the pandemic, there is more demand for quality ground beef and wine at Stew Leonard’s.

    “They want to still make that restaurant-style meal at their house so we’re seeing our porterhouse steaks (and) our filet mignons (are) incredibly high in sales, and also, all of our prime beef that we offer at Stew Leonard’s has gone up tremendously,” Leonard said.

    He tells WCBS 880 he has not raised prices in the pandemic. In fact, he gave his employees an extra $2 an hour in the first months of the crisis. He is restoring that boost ahead of the holidays plus Leonard is giving his workers an extra week’s salary at year’s end.

    Watch Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Stew Leonard, Jr. above or listen to it on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast.

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  • Laughter and Love: Businesses Born Out of Pandemic Needs

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Some of the best businesses solve unmet needs.

    Ray Ellin, executive producer of Comedy Central’s “This Week at the Comedy Cellar,” went from performing at New York comedy clubs to entertaining sales teams on Zoom after founding Comedy Cloud in May when a customer insisted he pivot to live virtual comedy shows.

    “I had thought about it, but I was like, ‘There’s no way this is going to work,’” Ellin told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    He did not think Zoom comedy shows for businesses would be profitable, but now, he credits his Aruba Ray’s Comedy Club customer to his growing adjacent service.

    “He really had to twist my arm. It was really something,” Ellin laughed.

    Photo credit: Ray Ellin

    Businesses hire him for about $2,000 to provide hour-long comedic relief and engage their remote workers – many of whom have not been in the office for eight months – in a fast-pace virtual program featuring standup comics sidelined due to the pandemic. It has also served as a coping mechanism for Ellin whose older sister died from COVID-19 in March in Silicon Valley.

    “I really felt like this would also provide me with a good purpose,” he told WCBS 880, continuing, “If I could try to boost the morale of people that are home alone in a similar situation, well, great, let’s give it a shot. Let’s see if this will work.”

    Jenn Augustine of Floral Park has tackled adversity head on since she started her dream wedding planning business Forget Me Knots in 2018 while receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer and carrying her first child at the same time.

    “The first wedding that we ever booked, we did it in September, and a day later I had my double mastectomy,” she said, adding. “I wanted to make sure I was there and part of that wedding and loved every second of it.”

    Photo credit: Jenn Augustine

    She has been cancer-free for two years this past September and her daughter is healthy as well.

    When the pandemic hit, Augustine had been used to the mental health challenges of isolation, but her business was shut down. As Mother’s Day approached in May, she reached out to potential customers on Instagram with a new service: flowers. She wanted to support Long Island floral farmers she had been working with for wedding bouquets. She only expected a few orders, but was flooded with over 100 orders throughout the Tri-State area.

    “There’s still a need for people to send joy and love and a lot of people do that through flowers,” said Augustine. “We realized that that side of the business really has been growing because when you don’t see a family member for a certain amount of time, you really appreciate them and the time that you do spend together, and you want them to remember, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you.'”

    Now, with weddings in New York capped at 50 people, including wait staff, she told Carousso her flower delivery business is more profitable. She is planning what she calls “micro-weddings” in clients’ backyards and small venues.

    “I just recently did a wedding in Long Beach at the Allegria Hotel and they only allowed 40 people with 5-6 feet tables apart from each other, no dancing, you have to wear a mask when you get up from the table and they usually stay away from buffet-style eating. Everything is individually plated,” she said.

    Augustine discovered micro-weddings are more intimate and fun because it is with a small group of close family and friends. Beaming with a positive outlook on life full of uncertainty, she fills the void of love.

    Hear ideas for growing an adjacent service in the pandemic on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • What employers and employees can do to advance in the pandemic economy

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Now may be a good time to take steps to advance your career or grow your business.

    With millions out of work and traditional jobs disrupted by the pandemic, there are new jobs and skills in demand, which Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso explore with former U.S. Department of Labor official Jane Oates on this week’s WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    Oates served as assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration from 2009 to 2013 and was executive director for the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education and Senior Advisor to former Gov. Jon Corzine from 2006-2009.

    She is currently the president of WorkingNation – a non-profit that examines the changing workforce and offers solutions for adapting to challenges such as those brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

    “You have to know what your skills are. It’s no longer just doing job title to job title,” she explained.

    Oates told WCBS 880 those out of work and/or looking to change careers should try to use their existing skills that can apply to parallel industries that may value them more.

    “So, can I go from being, you know, a banker to a middle school math teacher? It’s not going to be a straight line. It’s going to be a rich pathway that has lots of circles,” she said, adding, “So, you have to make sure you can articulate to yourself and others what your skills are.”

    Technology and digital skills are in high demand right now and new jobs are being created in the pandemic.

    Indeed lists numerous software development and information services jobs on its site.

    There were 1.5 million new applications for Employer Tax Identification Numbers in the third quarter of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a 77.4 percent increase of new business applications from the second quarter.

    “I think what we’re seeing is a lot of innovators and that’s what we’re known for, right, that’s what the United States is: we’re a nation of innovators,” Oates said.

    As a mentor for emerging technology startups in education, she told Connolly and Carousso that she has learned of an influx of investments in the space over the summer.

    Meantime, operating businesses are preparing for their future. Oates said many companies have started using staffing agencies to train young workers – many recent college graduates – to develop their talent pools.

    One staffing agency she mentioned on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight is Houston-based Talent Path; they provide career development for recent graduates so they are “work-ready.” On its website, Talent Path writes, “colleges and universities don’t always know the pressing technology needs of employers.” The firm aims to bridge that “disconnect.”

    “We’ve seen a lot of it all over the country and New York always has been a place where staffing agencies have been a vibrant source where employers can kind of see before they buy,” Oates said.

    The former Labor Department official named Revature, Genuent and Optimum Healthcare IT as other qualified staffing agencies.

    “I also think (employers are) waiting to see what the longer term trends are going to be,” said Oates, continuing, “I mention healthcare, what’s going to happen permanently with telemedicine, and quite frankly, what’s going to happen permanently in terms of people working full-time remotely?”

    She pointed to her own experience working longer hours at home and worries about family relationships being harmed because people cannot physically get away from their jobs. She also expressed her concern about adverse unintended consequences surrounding career advancement of which, she said, employees and employers should be aware.

    “If you can’t impress somebody on the work site, if they can’t walk past you or have you come into a meeting – a meeting that you might not have been invited to originally – and have you really impress them with your knowledge and skills, I think that will be bad for the upward mobility, professionally, for so many people,” Oates said.

    Hear ideas on how to combat these challenges and the steps you can take now to advance your career or business on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or the media player above.

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  • WCBS 880 business tips: 5 ways to change your sales

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Business owners are changing the way they sell to recover and grow during the coronavirus pandemic.

    All three entrepreneurs on the WCBS BNB Bank Virtual Business Breakfast panel with Joe Connolly have adjusted their sales operations and strategies, increasing revenue as a result; they share advice to other owners on how to boost sales even in this tough economic climate.

    1. Reduce Overhead

    Satisfi Labs Co-Founder and CEO Don White says vendors are currently offering incentives for suppliers. You may be in a good position to negotiate.

    “Now is a great time to shop for a better rate or a better priced option,” White said. “We were able to reduce our health costs by 40 percent going into 2021 just because of how we worked with our partner who wanted to retain us, and even though it’s 25 employees, they were very interested in offering us the ability to do that.”

    The savvy tech entrepreneur says now is a great time to reduce your overhead going into next year.

    2. Pivot to Boost Revenue

    NTWRK president Moksha Fitzgibbons says small retailers should pivot online and attempt to move their current customer base to their e-commerce platform.

    “I would say do as much as you can to build that online revenue and try to grow that as efficiently, as effectively as you can, and then, reopen that store in a safe way to bring back your customer base, as best you can, and introduce them to your online piece,” Fitzgibbons said in response to an audience question from Anita Manfredonia who owns a boutique in Flushing, Queens named Pippy & Lily.

    NTWRK is a livestreaming e-commerce application that has helped retailers pivot from brick and mortar to grow digital sales.

    One example Fitzgibbons shares on the Virtual Business Breakfast is Chelsea-based artist Mr. Flower Fantastic who designs elaborate floral pieces for live events and showcases, including making a floral masterpiece of Serena Williams’ Nike Air Max 97 sneaker for the 2018 U.S. Open. NTWRK has a creative content deal with MFF that will rake in “seven figures plus” in revenue this year after event cancellations temporarily set the floral artist’s business back.

    3. Know Who Your Customers Are

    A key to changing your sales is understanding who your customers are by digging into your transaction data and social media analytics.

    “When we saw that it was a reorder, we put a handwritten note in there with an extra two-ounce bottle thanking them for ordering from us,” Jennifer Decker of Long Island-based 3 Moms Organics said of her personal touch.

    Her customers became the company’s most influential spokespeople during the pandemic as they made their own posts and videos explaining and showing how their DEET-free product TickWise works to repel ticks and insects.

    A combination of genuine influencer marketing and targeted Facebook advertisements accelerated 3 Moms Organics’ sales over 1,000 percent this year.

    4. Help Others Who Are Struggling

    White shared his conviction that the business community should help others who have been laid-off due to this crisis. One way to do that is through virtual networking made easier on LinkedIn.

    “Some of those relationships have really benefited our company,” White said, noting that was not his objective. “I was able to provide them some benefits of either talking through what opportunities they were looking for, ways they can potentially help us, and then they would in turn say, ‘well, how can I help you?’ There was a reciprocal opportunity.”

    His startup’s revenue doubled after shifting his sales operations from a regionally focused sales team to a vertical sales team whereby staffers focused on areas of expertise rather than geographic location since business travel was halted.

    5. Be a Business for the Future

    Fitzgibbons believes consumer behavior has changed permanently and entrepreneurs should look to fulfill needs in the marketplace.

    “I used to go to Whole Foods all the time and now I order it through Amazon Prime.
    I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a Whole Foods or certainly not with the frequency that I once did,” he shared, adding, “You need to think through that need case and make sure that you are well-positioned to be a business for the future and not one of the past.”

    Watch the WCBS BNB Bank Virtual Business Breakfast with Joe Connolly here.

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