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  • Brooklyn Daycare Struggles To Survive While Adjusting To COVID Era

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Education is the life’s work of a mother and daughter who provide learning resources for young children in their Brooklyn community, but the coronavirus pandemic is threatening their daycare.

    Mildred Lovell immigrated to East Flatbush from Haiti as a baby where she was raised, stared her journey as a special education teacher for more than 20 years, and opened Garden of Knowledge Day Care Center at 1657 Nostrand Avenue in February 2007 with her daughter Dheydra.

    “It brings tears to my eyes that I may not be able to reopen in September,” Mildred Lovell told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    Schools and daycares are in the forefront as local governments prepare to announce reopening plans for the fall while parents and teachers express trepidation about returning to the classroom as COVID-19 threatens the most vulnerable. Mildred and Dheydra have spent the last four months listening to parents’ health and safety concerns while introducing a distance learning program.

    “During the summer time we work on sports with the children, so we continued our curriculum and we sent out equipment for sports, so they can work with their children,” Dheydra Lovell said. “It’s been successful for the most part.”

    But, that success is relative to the pandemic. Online learning is not scalable for the Garden of Knowledge Day Care Center at this point unless they start seeing new enrollment if schools do not reopen this fall or enough parents hold out.

    “I’m just keeping my faith and continue to pray so that doors can be open and children can be served in a safe manner,” said Mildred.

    They do Zoom video calls on Fridays to check in on students’ progress and work with parents to ensure children are receiving a stimulating learning experience – all things considered.

    In the meantime, Dheydra, who also provides one-on-one tutoring for autistic children, spends her days reimagining the daycare from a new socially distanced layout to stocking up on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

    “Planning out our budget, planning out what we will need to do to see if we can reopen in September and still accommodate the CDC guidelines and requirements as well as provide a very safe and productive environment for our children along with our staff,” Dheydra said of their challenges ahead.

    The Garden of Knowledge Day Care Center is bleeding cash and facing an uphill financial battle as safety expenses increase and others remain constant.

    “We haven’t recovered from the loss,” Dheydra told Joe and Neil about the financial impact of its forced shutdown in March, continuing, “It’s a question of recovering, sustaining, currently, and also, preparing for the next few months because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

    The East Flatbush daycare’s owners told WCBS 880 parents are expressing safety is priority, but as they look to return to the workplace, they will need child care services. It is a complex predicament for many families, underscoring the vitality of education for the economy.

    “These are all things that we think about to really determine us opening up in September, said Dheydra Lovell.

    Hear more about the uncertain future of education on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or the media player above.

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  • NYC Tech Startup Credits Fast Recovery, Growth To Sales Ops Change

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Don White, co-founder and chief executive officer, of Satisfi Labs, Inc. was not sure his Artificial Intelligence company would survive the coronavirus pandemic, but since March he made several quick pivots that has led to his sales doubling year-over-year.

    “We’ve transitioned from a regional sales team to a vertical sales team,” White told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    His sales team had previously focused on national clients by location, which allowed account executives to schedule a number of in-person meetings with clients and leads to maximize business trips. When the pandemic halted non-essential travel, White, along with many other business owners and individuals, saw the value and efficiency in video conferencing platforms.

    “We give your customers expertise, someone that knows ski resorts in-and-out, someone that knows the museum industry in-and-out, baseball in-and-out,” he explained. “That’s a pretty big shift for us.”

    White believes it is a viable, long-term shift with promising early results.

    Satisfi Labs’ clients are in sports, entertainment, hospitality and retail – all of which had been shut down and severely impacted financially by the coronavirus pandemic. His most notable clients include Major League Baseball teams such as the New York Mets, the National Football League, Hilton hotels, Universal Orlando Resort, Macy’s and more. The startup provides automated customer services through its proprietary A.I. platform that allows its clients to swiftly and accurately communicate with customers while enhancing customers’ tangible experience with the brand.

    When gatherings were banned due to the pandemic, Satisfi Labs’ monthly revenue plummeted 85 percent.

    “Now, someone who covers the Georgia Aquarium can now cover an aquarium in California and have the same relationship,” White said, continuing, “We originally felt that at least one or two face-to-face meetings a year were required for relationships, but I think now the world has adopted that digital relationships are just fine and video calls have replaced the fly in.”

    In addition to making a key structural change, Satsifi Labs launched “COVID Assistance” in the early weeks of the pandemic as a way to help other businesses communicate with their customers about their pandemic responses and business changes. White said they are offering the product for free as a way to attract new leads.

    “That’s a way that I think we twisted it to say, ‘Look, let’s help you first, let’s not come at you with a pitch right away, but let’s do something to help you get out of this. And when you come out of this, hopefully, you’ll remember us,'” White said.

    He told Connolly and Carousso launching an adjacent service at the outset is a proactive approach other businesses can learn from in responding to a crisis.

    “It’s just a unique way to build relationships that we hadn’t done in the past,” he said.

    He is hopeful those leads will convert to clients who may want to streamline their customer experiences post-pandemic when it’s clear what market changes and consumer demands have taken shape.

    “Our talent pool has so much increased by having remote has a non-issue,” he said, telling WCBS 880 he is starting to restore salaries before rehiring employees this fall.

    “The workplace of the future, you’re going to see more diversity, which I think is a big focus of a lot of companies,” said White, adding, “And now, you’re going to see all these talent pools that are not typically in your recruiters’ network just open up. I think it’s going to be better for business overall.”

    He noted that mothers who want to return to the workforce, but are raising children, now have an opportunity to work from home and be a productive employee, as it has proven to be efficient for many companies and industries over the past four months.

    “You’re going to see people come back, have families and be able to work more easily,” White said.

    The savvy tech founder and new-age employer evolved in his belief about how A.I. will disrupt the workforce. He told Connolly on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight in December 2018 that Artificial Intelligence would not destroy jobs, rather, it would add an efficiency to compliment skilled laborers. As a result of the pandemic with more than 30 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits, White now tells WCBS 880 it will “replace some roles,” meaning A.I. will replace menial tasks like emails while creating new, advanced jobs.

    Listen to the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above for creative sales methods that could be viable for your company and to hear about Don White’s personal battle with COVID-19 and how he and his family have recovered since they fell ill in March.

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  • Businesses Near Mets, Yankee Stadiums Take A Hit As Baseball Returns Without Fans

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The boys of summer are back in town, but establishments near Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are fighting an uphill battle in a comeback dampened by a baseball season without fans in attendance.

    “So far, since the pandemic, my sales are down $300,000,” said Joe Bastone whose family has owned Yankee Tavern for 93 years.

    On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank, Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso examine how the local economy is impacted by empty stadiums as Major League Baseball begins its 2020 season Thursday night with the Yankees in Washington, D.C. The Mets host the Atlanta Braves on Friday in their season opener that can be heard on WCBS 880 at 4:10 PM.

    Bastone says 50 percent of his revenue is earned during Yankees home games. Patronizing his bar and restaurant is a game day routine for fans who travel from the region and throughout the country. Yanks legend Babe Ruth was known for buying a round of beer there for fans to celebrate a Bombers victory.

    “It’s really devastating,” he lamented.

    Yankee Tavern is only making 10 percent of what it typically earns on 161st Street. Bastone added televisions to an extended outdoor dining space with indoor dinning prohibited under state law indefinitely. He hopes people will enjoy a ballgame from his establishment beyond the right field gate.

    “I just got a rent bill, which included $85,000 in real estate taxes,” he said, continuing, “I just don’t understand why we’re paying real estate taxes when the municipalities, the State and the City tell us we’re not allowed to operate.”

    Bastone told Connolly and Carousso that “half” of businesses in the 161 Street Business Improvement District, which represents many of the merchandise shops and sports bars outside The Stadium, will not survive the pandemic-related shutdowns and the 2020 MLB season absent fans.

    Irene DeBenedittis, third generation owner of Leo’s Latticini in Corona, Queens, is looking at the glass half full despite a grim outlook for what is typically their busy season with both the Mets in town and the U.S. Open Tennis Championships that draws millions of people from around the world every summer.

    “I had the plexiglass set up for outside and we’re just doing takeout and home orders,” she said. “For now, I think it’s going well like that.”

    Her grandparents started the family deli in the 1930s. Irene grew up making fresh mozzarella with her two sisters Carmela and Marie. Their mother Nancy took over the business and was beloved by her customers. But, the millions of Mets fans who came for lunch before an afternoon game at Shea Stadium and the City workers who stopped in on their lunch hour for a homemade hero did not know her as Nancy; they knew her as “Mama” – the endearing nickname that lives on since she passed away in 2009, as the deli is colloquially referred to the name of their Citi Field concession designation “Mama’s of Corona.”

    “I’m proud of what we were taught – our ethics, the background,” DiBenedittis said.

    It’s that positive outlook on life that is getting her through this crisis.

    “You have to appreciate what you have and work for it,” she said.

    Irene told Joe and Neil that she is operating her Queens deli out of love – the same unconditional love her grandparents instilled in Mama who raised three daughters in a community that saw them as family.

    She said in these unprecedented circumstances, she encourages her workers to treat their customers “like yourself or your family.”

    DiBenedittis says Leo’s Latticini is earning a much smaller profit amid the coronavirus pandemic between the deli and the bakery next door. The concession at Citi Field, where they sell their specialty sandwiches and Italian desserts, will remain closed this season.

    “We’re doing the best we can,” she said.

    Hear what a baseball season without fans means for the local economy plus stories about legendary players going out to eat on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • Long Island Moms Accelerate Digital Sales When Retailers Shutdown

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — Two Long Island mothers have increased the sales of their DEET-free insect repellent 6,000 percent over the last year despite the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns with a keen focus on influencer marketing.

    3 Moms Organics, LLC co-founders Lisa-Jae Eggert and Jennifer Decker told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank, that a meaningful, personal message on Facebook from customers has brought in more sales than buying online advertisements.

    “We’ve realized that spending less money is actually working,” Eggert said.

    They spent more on customer acquisition costs in the first weeks after the business shutdowns in March, but they have drastically reduced those expenditures when they saw revenues accelerate due to modern word-of-mouth marketing from satisfied customers, mostly parents, with substantial social media followings within their communities.

    “They love our product and there’s nothing that sells a product better than someone loving the product,” said Eggert.

    The synergy is seamless with “endorsements” from customers to which they give discount codes to share with their social media followers. Lisa-Jae and Jennifer chose the company name 3 Moms Organics because they’re the two moms and the customer is the third. By shifting growth strategies, the name holds more true than ever.

    They both had been going store-to-store to demonstrate how TickWise, made from natural essential oils, repels ticks that are prevalent on the East End and other wooded and grassy areas where deer and other animals they feed on roam. It is on the shelves of about 80 stores with the goal of expanding to another 100 retailers in the next year. When that opportunity sailed because of the coronavirus, they improved their website and reached a national direct-to-consumer audience they hadn’t yet tapped into.

    “In this day and age, this takes the place of touching and feeling,” Eggert said, adding that everyone’s public feedback matters, “good and bad.”

    Of their 6,000 percent increase in revenue, 5,000 percent of that 3 Moms Organics attributes to Facebook content from local influencers and their own pictures and videos. Eggert told Connolly and Carousso that education is important for 3 Moms’ success. One video they posted of ticks on a pink sheet avoiding the border where they sprayed TickWise is proof of concept.

    They have also taken the last three months to improve the quality of their website.

    “On our website, when you click on it, it immediately goes to our shop page, now,” Eggert said.

    They continue to personally manufacture and ship TickWise across 47 states and Washington D.C., now that they are registered through the Environmental Protection Agency in all states except California, Maine and South Dakota. 3 Moms Organics also used the past three months to apply and receive the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise Certification (MWBE), which has opened new doors for potential revenue streams.

    “Places like PSEG, they use that as a kind of vetting for us,” Eggert said. “They’re piloting our product on twelve of their trucks, and so far, the response has been fabulous.”

    They developed TickWise in their homes to keep their children safe from further tick borne illnesses of which both families have histories. Decker had been experimenting with essential oils for at-home remedies for years and would spray early renditions of their product on her kids and dog before they went outside in Montauk. Eggert studied entomology and Earth sciences in college. They combined their expertise to produce a product that is effective, has a pleasant smell, provides skin nourishment, and is vegan for those who suffer from Alpha-Gal or meat allergies.

    Hear ideas on how to recover and grow your business even in this tough economic climate on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • NYC Businesses Seek Ways To Boost Consumer Confidence

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Personal care services such as nail salons, massage parlors, tattoo shops and tanning salons turned on their lights in Phase 3 of New York City’s reopening this week, but indoor dining was halted because the airborne coronavirus spreads in closed environments with poor ventilation. The City is encouraging business owners to adapt and listen to health experts to dictate their economic future.

    “As people begin to feel safe, they’re going to come out,” said New York City Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast with Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    Doris was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead the city agency through the pivotal survival and recovery period. He previously served as senior advisor and director of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises. He also worked as chief diversity officer in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Storm Recovery.

    “There’s going to be some change in customer behavior,” Doris pointed out. “Make sure that you are as safe as possible. Do face coverings, make sure it’s on, make sure that you use social distancing; that’s going to bring the confidence level back, and then, we’re going to be able to see, really, the customer foot traffic pick up.”

    He told Connolly and Carousso the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) has sent 5 million Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items to City companies in the first three phases. He expects they’ll be able to distribute another 2.5 million masks, face shields, gloves and goggles.

    “We’ve got a lot of resources for businesses that are ready to go particularly our restaurants who have really been hit hard during this time,” said Doris.

    Restaurateurs had been preparing to welcome patrons inside by hiring and rehiring wait staff and ordering food from their suppliers, but now, many are turning to SBS for financial resources, including fundraising.

    “Customers are eating out differently, they’re coming out different times, their likens have changed, they’ve been locked up for three months,” the City’s business leader said. “As they see and they hear from their customers, they are making changes and they’re pivoting.”

    Doris said about 7,000 restaurateurs are engaged in the agency’s reopening program in which they provide tools and ideas for recovery.

    “Financial resources and/or education really is key for the success of these businesses and that’s what we are able to provide,” he said.

    Yudelka Carrera received operations training from SBS before she launched her catering and events-planning business Events By Yudy in 2015.

    “During COVID-19, Yudy had to really transform her business from a catering company to preparing, now, and delivering lunches for people at home, healthcare workers, first responders and more,” Doris said.

    President Donald J. Trump on Saturday signed an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) low-interest loan that is forgivable if business owners use it to pay their employees. The original deadline for small businesses to apply for the program was last Tuesday, but $130 billion remained in the fund. Congress unanimously approved the extension for assistance until August 8.

    Many prominent companies received millions of dollars in loans, including P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Chop’t. The unintended assistance to large corporations has raised concerns that the government program funded owners with political connections. Doris is encouraging small businesses in need of capital to apply.

    He points to three core principles for business owners in adapting to the so-called new normal: innovation, creativity and collaboration.

    “We can’t do business like we’ve always done it before,” Doris said, continuing, “Industries got to work together, government and business needs to work better together, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

    Hear examples of how business owners pivoted to survive and the financial and educational resources available to New York City companies on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or the media player above.

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