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.

    Technology

  • Small Business Spotlight: Entrepreneur Magazine’s Editor-In-Chief Shares What Owners Can Do Now to Survive

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a seismic shift in consumer behavior that has induced stress on business owners.

    Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso that business owners must incorporate technology infrastructure for long-term sustainability and listen to their customers to try to anticipate future needs.

    “You need to be in touch with them regularly – surveying them – so that you can start getting data back on what it is that they’re looking for, what’s resonating with them and what’s holding them back on being your best advocate,” he said.

    Feifer advises business owners to create an email newsletter to communicate with their customers rather than relying on social media.

    “If you think that being in touch with your customer by Facebook is good, it’s not,” he said, explaining, “You’re losing people to the Facebook algorithm and you don’t own that audience.”

    The Entrepreneur Magazine chief said customers will point owners in the right direction, and oftentimes, it can be a little change that can make all the difference in surviving the pandemic.

    Feifer told Connolly and Carousso it is important that business owners look within themselves.

    “Ask the simple question of ‘Is this company doing what it needs to do to survive for the next five years?’ Ask yourself that every single quarter and at some point you’re going to start to say, ‘Oh you know what, actually, I’ve noticed that our consumer is wanting this and this and I don’t know if the thing that we’re doing right now is going to last five years,'” he said, noting that type of honest assessment help owners make the appropriate adjustments.

    Feifer is an impassioned entrepreneur, himself, running a production company in which he also hosts three podcasts, serves as a keynote speaker, and has co-authored a novel.

    “I stopped watching basketball,” he quipped about how he finds the time for his professional endeavors.

    But, it’s that entrepreneurial spirit that has been reignited as millions of Americans work remotely and others are starting businesses as a way to reenter a battered labor market.

    Feifer told WCBS 880 many Entrepreneur Magazine subscribers are starting a “side hustle.” Starting any business, especially now, he said, requires a keen focus on one’s business plan and market.

    “The number one way that people get stuck is that they have 10 ideas and they can’t decide which one and they start to kind of noodle on them all and they get nowhere,” Feifer said. “You got to just start somewhere.”

    Creating a valuable service or product right now can be a win-win for the entrepreneur and their current employer.

    See examples, actionable advice and new business ideas on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Business Opportunities Up for Grabs

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Many businesses are facing the grim reality of closing operations this winter as COVID-19 and its new variants surge, but there may be opportunities to pursue before termination.

    The new round of small business loans cannot be obtained by large companies unlike in the spring when some corporations were able to take advantage of loopholes in the first coronavirus relief package.

    There is an additional five months of support for restaurants and businesses in industries hit hard in the pandemic, namely, tourism, transpiration, retail and performance arts. And, 40 percent of those loans can be used for new services as well as rent and utilities; that’s contrary to the first installment of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan which was instituted to make sure employees are paid as part of the loan agreement.

    Ian M. Weinberg is a Certified Financial Planner in Woodbury, Long Island. At his firm Family Wealth & Pension Management, LLC, he is advising business owners to manage risk by pivoting into similar services. An example he points to on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight is a clothing company that starts making uniforms for essential workers.

    “I know the shipping business is getting huge. How can I take my business that’s in the clothing business and help that evolve and get integrated into this new economy?” Weinberg hypothesizes. “If you’re surviving in what you’re doing but you see that there’s an opportunity to launch elsewhere, you can use these PPP funds to do some of that.”

    Sixty percent of each PPP loan must be spent on payroll or the loan would no longer qualify for forgiveness.

    He acknowledged many business owners will not survive, but he told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso many of his clients that are in trouble did not adjust their operations.

    “A restaurant that didn’t have curbside takeout, didn’t have a digital ordering system, you couldn’t order online and pickup, they don’t take credit cards,” Weinberg said of businesses that closed in the pandemic.

    He asserted business owners cannot fall behind the times, but they must keep costs down.

    “You can commit technology, you can leverage technology, you can outsource technology, you could outsource your staffing,” Weinberg explained. “We could be running a business that’s an investment banking firm right now, handling billions of dollars just like this: sitting in three Zoom calls. We don’t need any more overhead.”

    He told WCBS 880 that he has seen non-profit organizations have much success with virtual fundraisers.

    “They were still able to raise a million dollars and their overhead for the event was less than $200,000 because they didn’t have to do the banquet hall, the catering, the staff on site, the liabilities and they’re finding that going digital really helped them leverage their resources and the charity made $800,000 instead of half a million on the same event that people would have showed up to in black tie and tux,” said Weinberg of one charity that he advises.

    The financial advisor emphasized there are opportunities right now, but owners have to be flexible and consider options outside the box.

    Weinberg told Connolly and Carousso about a large catering business that made one of the most successful pivots he has seen: They applied for a New York City government contract to feed the homeless. That has kept his client’s business afloat.

    “They focused their efforts from catering to for-profit organizations and parties and events to identifying a need where the city had to feed people, the city had to pay for that food and the vendor service to do it and they were fortunate enough to find out about it and they went after it,” he said.

    See more local examples of successful business pivots and how to use your skills to fill pandemic needs on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Online Sales Keep Small Businesses Afloat but Pandemic Losses Are Insurmountable

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Increases in online sales are not covering losses suffered in the coronavirus pandemic for many small retailers, but it is allowing them to stay afloat during the unprecedented holidays as hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus surge.

    “I’m happy to report we’re surviving,” Jennifer Bergman of West Side Kids said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    Bergman’s Upper West Side toy store is in the midst of their annual busy season, but overall sales are down about 50 percent. Her busiest day of 2020 was December 9 – the day before Hanukkah.

    “Our online sales have never generated enough business for me to invest in expanding that so it’s always been a real catch-22,” she explained.

    Bergman is not alone. Many small businesses are struggling to develop a profitable e-commerce strategy. Those who had one in place before March were best positioned to pivot amid shutdowns, but still, it is difficult to compete with online retail giants, namely Amazon and Wal-Mart.

    “It costs us a lot more to process online orders and we’re going in early and we’re staying late to get them all done,” she said.

    Tom Geniesse owns Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in the Flatiron District. He had more than a head start on his e-commerce; he owns several patents on the display of his website, which shows different pairings of wines that go well with various meals.

    “The customer-centric focus is on giving people choices that map to their needs,” he told WCBS 880. “By doing that, we give people an opportunity to make better decisions when they’re making a bottle of wine.”

    Geniesse is educating his customers virtually. Before opening the doors to his wine shop in 2003 with the goal of making wine more accessible to the average consumer, he owned an e-learning business company named Quisic from 1996-2001. That experience is paying dividends 19 years later.

    He told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso he has put Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit on numerous e-commerce platforms, including Instacart, Grubhub and other niche websites. That exposure and marketing has given him a 25 percent bump in online sales, but it does not make up for Geniesse’s overall sales losses in the pandemic. His challenge now is finding new customers who have fled Manhattan.

    “People that can work remotely have continued to work remotely and residential folks in Flatiron tend to be affluent, tend to have second homes outside of the city and many of those people have moved out in March and have remained away,” said Geniesse, continuing, “We’ve really had to be entrepreneurial in finding customers that are new customers, reach to a broader audience in the city and find the people that are here and working here and living here.”

    He told WCBS 880 he believes the pandemic is an inflection point on the viability of local businesses’ e-commerce sales operations.

    “I do think that e-commerce has been on a 20-year trend, increasing online sales for businesses everywhere and this pandemic has hurdled us forward about 10 years in that trajectory,” said Geniesse. “We’ve always been online, we’ve always had an e-commerce platform, but I think what this has shown us is that this is critically important for us to keep our efforts focused on e-commerce and continue to grow in that way.”

    Hear ideas on how to find new customers online and learn about the changing landscape of e-commerce on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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  • Bronx Native Develops Highly Effective Mask to Slow Community Spread of COVID-19

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Not all masks provide equal protection.

    Serial entrepreneur Jonathan Malveaux developed the Nano Air Mask at the outset of the pandemic as a way to bring a quality mask that blocks most viral particles to the general public. It is made using nanofiber technology.

    “Whether you’re using a gaiter or some other cloth material, these very microscopic-size particles will get through it,” he explained.

    Malveaux, whose mother and step-mother are nurses, realized the importance of masks in protecting oneself and others early in the pandemic even before public officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection advised Americans to wear masks to slow transmission.

    “We just sprung into action. It was like survival mode,” he told WCBS 880’s Neil A. Carousso, recalling walking around the South Bronx neighborhood where he was raised wearing a mask before it became required by state law on public transportation and in establishments.

    Florida Atlantic University researchers compared the Nano Air Mask with a cloth mask and summer face mask on mannequins in a visual cough simulation of how respiratory droplets would seep through a mask, potentially infecting those nearby with COVID-19. They found the Nano Air Mask best reduced how far droplets travel. Utah-based Nelson Labs performed an independent study and found it to be roughly 98 percent effective in filtering particles.

    “The sort of issue that we all have to be focused on as well is leakage,” said Malveaux of how viral particles could penetrate the sides of the mask.

    He leads a small team that manufactures the Nano Air Mask in Long Beach, CA; they are ramping up production as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths soar nationwide. They are also working on a “pro version” for healthcare professionals similar to an N95 respirator, which is FDA-approved, featuring two straps that go around one’s head to reduce “leakage.”

    “We’re really constantly innovating to make sure that we are offering exactly what (our customers) want,” Malveaux said. “The one thing that we won’t compromise on is the quality.”

    He is perfecting the Nano Air Mask and will come out with a black colored version soon after numerous inquiries from his customers. Currently, the masks are only available in white. It costs $2.75 down from the original price of $4.50.

    Malveaux looks forward to the day when we do not have to wear masks, but right now, his goal is universal mask compliance, which epidemiologists say is the key to reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection. He could envision people going out in public and attending events next year while wearing a high quality mask that will maintain a low transmission rate.

    “We supply to lots of professional sports teams, athletes and owners across most major sports, which is fantastic; they have the resources to do the diligence quite quickly,” he said, adding, “Given how we grew up and what we were seeing – I grew up in the South Bronx – we wanted to not only do what would work for them, but also was affordable and would actually try to help make a difference.”

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  • Flatiron District Businesses Brace for Second Wave of COVID-19

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The Flatiron District – world-famous for being a vibrant technology hub, higher education center and home to restaurants, retail and tourism – is now bracing for a surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations that could lead to industry shutdowns as a measure to help quell the spread.

    James Mettham, executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank, that a second shutdown without “true relief” in the form of forgivable federal government loans or grants, which would need to passed by Congress, would stifle business recovery.

    The Business Improvement District says 75 percent of ground-floor food, retail and services businesses have reopened or never shutdown, deemed essential, in the spring. They had to pivot in March to survive.

    Small businesses that already had an e-commerce platform are best positioned to stay afloat; others are catching up and struggling to compete with Amazon, Wal-Mart and other large companies that have seen sales accelerate in the pandemic. Amazon’s sales are up 53 percent while Wal-Mart, with a growing e-commerce site, has seen sales rise 45 percent.

    Mettham told WCBS 880 some food businesses in the Flatiron District have had success through so-called “re-targeting.”

    “It’s been really trying to push their goods towards local residents – folks that they can rely on being in the neighborhood and familiar with their business,” he explained.

    Loyalty initiatives have also helped stores attract customers who want to support their local businesses.

    Many, though, say commercial rent prices must come down for businesses to survive and new businesses to thrive.

    “Landlords and tenants both understand that a vibrant neighborhood that’s occupied with a mix of uses ranging with office workers, hospitality, visitors (and) students is all in the best interest of everyone,” Mettham said.

    He told Connolly and Carousso several new restaurants have taken advantage of reduced entry costs and opened their doors in the Flatiron District. The BID veteran believes the two sides will negotiate and come to an agreement because the local economy depends on it; the pandemic has underscored how one industry impacts the other in a connected economy like New York.

    Before joining the Flatiron District/23rd Street Partnership, Mettham served as managing director of finance and operations at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. He was also assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Neighborhood Development Division and executive director of SBS’ Business Improvement District Program.

    On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, Mettham talks about the Flatiron District with reverence of its history and promise for a post-pandemic city. He sees new technology companies entering the previously bustling neighborhood, which he believes is reminiscent of the tech boom in the 1990s in Manhattan South, which earned it the moniker “Silicon Alley.”

    “It’s been very both resilient and flexible and innovative in its character over the years,” Mettham said, continuing, “Whether it’s been from the photography industry, the table top industry, original Silicon Alley 20 years ago, it’s always been able to build on its successes, reinvent itself and I don’t think this is going to require a full reinvention.”

    Hear more about the new businesses opening in the Flatiron District and how existing ones are bracing for the second wave of the pandemic on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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