Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.


  • Bronx Restaurant Grows Revenue during Pandemic after Key Improvement

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Richard Berroa is taking back control from delivery apps that cut into his profit using his own newly-optimized website, which has opened the door to entirely new revenue streams while restaurants like his have suffered numerous setbacks in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Berroa is an FDNY paramedic who opened Claudy’s Kitchen, a Peruvian restaurant in the Bronx, with his wife Claudia in June 2020.

    “We knew that we’d be mostly takeout,” he said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    But, the website Berroa first created on his own did not meet today’s demands for online ordering. The Bronx Chamber of Commerce connected Claudy’s Kitchen with the Small Business Resource Network – a public-private partnership created during the pandemic to help small businesses with digital marketing and technology resources and training.

    “Having the third parties did help us survive and move forward, but you know, we’ve gotten past that stage and now we want to keep more of the share,” said Berroa.

    BentoBox specializes in developing websites and digital ordering systems for restaurants while allowing establishments ownership of customer data for marketing, unlike the third-party apps. The company overhauled the website for Claudy’s Kitchen with the goal of matching the customer experience online with the quality of service patrons expect in-person.

    “We really have their whole digital storefront available to them, so that’s become increasingly important through COVID,” said BentoBox chief marketing officer Darcy Kurtz. “I think kind of the post-COVID modern restaurant is going to really have to have all this digital property in place because consumer behavior is just permanently changed at this point.”

    She told WCBS 880 that 77 percent of diners go online before heading to a restaurant.

    “There was a very real concern that technology impeded their most important thing, which was delivering hospitality,” Kurtz said, continuing, “Hospitality at its roots is about relationships. It’s about being in-person. But, what we found is that technology actually can enhance hospitality. It doesn’t have to be a barrier to (it).”

    “The big thing is that we’re getting more in-house orders,” said Berroa. “I see the Grubhub and the Uber orders dipping down while our in-house Bento(Box) is going up. So, so far it’s working.”

    BentoBox’s technology also allows restaurants to upsell and cross-sell customers at checkout in a way that adds value to the customer experience. As a result, Berroa said, Claudy’s Kitchen is getting more combination orders that increase the average per ticket.

    “If you’ve done it lately, you will see things like, ‘Hey, you bought the hamburger. Are you sure you don’t want fries?’ Some of the things that happen naturally in-person when you go to a restaurant, you want your online experience to be able to help do that so that your online ordering is equal or higher total ticket prices than your dine-in. You don’t want that to be some trade-off that you’re having to make,” said Kurtz.

    Claudy’s Kitchen also has a section for events that BentoBox sees as one of many incremental revenue streams that can hedge against COVID surges.

    “You’ve got to find ways whether it’s online ordering, whether it’s selling your merchandise, sell your barbecue sauce, sell your T-shirts, you know, do events, and have event management, but just find something else to give you an ongoing revenue stream so that you can level out some of that variability of the dine-in,” Kurtz explained.

    See the platform BentoBox developed for Claudy’s Kitchen along with growth ideas for restaurants on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • RippleMatch Platform Improves Early Career Hiring Process

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — RippleMatch helps college students and recent graduates launch their careers while improving employee retention rates by using data to find the best fit.

    “If you’ve ever had the experience of applying for a job, it’s often that you throw your resume into a black hole and just sort of hope that someone maybe gets back to you,” said RippleMatch founder and CEO Andrew Myers on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    “With RippleMatch, you know, we only present opportunities on the platform when a candidate’s very likely to be a good fit. They generally hear back really, really quickly. They always get an answer,” he said.

    Myers said that 66 percent of candidates on RippleMatch have gotten called for an interview.

    He founded the company in 2015 in his dorm room at Yale University after feeling dejected when he only got three or four job interviews out of 55 applications. Calling the process “overwhelming” and “daunting,” Myers sought a better way for his peers using data predictive analytics to match early career candidates with jobs where they are most likely to succeed.

    “Our mission (is) to replace job boards,” he said.

    RippleMatch is free for candidates. It earns all its revenue from employers that now include Amazon, eBay, and Ernst & Young.

    “One of the deals we make with every company that we work with is they commit to certain standards in terms of candidate experience and how they’re going to get back to candidates, and very typically prioritize the RippleMatch candidates that they’re getting matched with in terms of getting them into the interview process,” said Myers. “We just establish workflows on the back end that sort of get candidates into the company as fast as we possibly can, which is generally an advantage when it comes to candidate experience.”

    He said retention rates among Gen Z employees that used RippleMatch are much higher as a result.

    “The single thing (Gen Z employees) want most is professional development,” Myers said, continuing, “Within our own Gen Z workforce, we’ve seen really good retention within roles and I know a lot of our stronger companies have as well. So I actually think that good professional development with Gen Z employees can actually be a pretty effective strategy even in the heart of the Great Resignation. And, I think that there’s actually more shifting going on in sort of later stage positions than there are with Gen Z compared to millennials who are already pretty jumpy themselves. There’s not like a big Gen Z jump or anything like that that we’re seeing.”

    He said RippleMatch has upended the belief that the best talent comes from prestigious universities and it has the data to support it.

    “If you’re clinging to the notion that a candidate had to go to Princeton or you’re over attached to degree pedigree, I think it can actually mean you miss out on phenomenal talent,” said Myers.

    See how RippleMatch works for both job candidates and employers on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Whose Your Landlord Introduces Transparency, Accountability to Residential Rental Market

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — This business is redefining the landlord-tenant relationship.

    While studying entrepreneurship, management and information systems at Temple University, Ofo Ezeugwu saw first-hand that the trust between landlords and tenants was broken. He thought there had to be a better system, and in 2015, he founded Whose Your Landlord.

    “Housing started coming up a lot as we were talking to students,” he explained to Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    “There was (sic) so many issues around infestation or harassment between male landlords and female residents,” Ezeugwu said. “Things that, you know, quite honestly, no one should go through.”

    As a first-generation American whose mother is from Barbados and father is from Nigeria, he was motivated to make an impact and solve a glaring problem in the residential rental market.

    “At first, I thought there had to be some way just to review landlords so you knew what to expect before signing your lease. And honestly, as we built that out, there was (sic) so many other value-adds that having that insight be more prevalent in this industry,” said Ezeugwu.

    Whose Your Landlord launched in New York and Pennsylvania where he was attending school at Temple. Today, it is available in 400 cities with 25,000 different landlords and property managers reviewed on the platform.

    Tenants share their experiences in an apartment building, which informs others looking to rent. Reviews are vetted so it is appropriately mixed between positive and negative, and topics range from the landlord-tenant relationship to living conditions.

    “We see ourselves as being the number one used platform when it comes to resident reviews and analyzing resident insights for home providers,” Ezeugwu said, adding, “We also see ourselves really shifting that culture, that relationship between residents and home providers, forever.”

    This year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 winner for social impact told WCBS 880 he has observed rental conditions improving in Charleston, SC, Dallas and Houston, TX.

    “I think if we can kind of recreate how we think about our industry as a collective, it’s only going to lead to more positivity.”

    He said landlords benefit, too, from data that helps them provide better service and grow their real estate businesses.

    “They’re actively asking, ‘We want feedback. We want insights. Please share that with us,'” said Ezeugwu.

    Some of the analytics Whose Your Landlord collects and provides property owners for a fee, include complaint trends from appliances being out of service to snow and ice removal.

    The company also sells advertisements on its website to major brands who can further serve tenants.

    “So if you are Allstate, you know, renters insurance is huge and it’s actually pretty cheap comparatively to other insurances. So, why not protect your apartment and your car if people don’t usually often realize your car gets broken into that covers it, too?” said Ezeugwu of one brand partnership.

    “We would create content like that that helps support renters,” he said. “It was always adjacent to their experiences so that it would be more valuable to them as a(n) overall platform.”

    See more about Whose Your Landlord and get growth ideas for your business on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Decision Makers Exclusive: Marriott President Says ‘Bleisure’ is the Future of Travel

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    Produced by Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (Bloomberg/1010 WINS) — While travel lovers may still have the COVID-19 pandemic blues, one hospitality industry leader recently joined 1010 WINS and Bloomberg to explain why the future of travel looks bright as we head into 2022.

    Marriott International President Stephanie Linnartz told hosts Carol Massar and Larry Mullins in an exclusive Bloomberg/1010 WINS Decision Makers interview that “Bleisure,” or mixing business and leisure travel, is poised to be the future of the industry.

    “I’m more bullish about the future of travel and my company than I’ve ever been,” she said.

    Near the start of the pandemic in April 2020, Marriott – a hospitality company that operated 2,149 properties as of the end of last year, including JW Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis and W Hotels – saw business drop by 90 percent. Lockdowns and travel restrictions severely curtailed travel around the globe.

    Since most of the company’s employees work on-site, around 80 percent were furloughed, laid off or lost their jobs when the pandemic hit and 25 percent of Marriott’s hotels were closed.

    “It was really the most unprecedented, devastating event to ever hit our industry and other related industries,” said Linnartz, who has been with the company for 24 years.

    However, she said the company worked quickly and creatively to adapt. When travel was restricted, this often meant entering the Marriott Bonvoy brand into partnerships with companies such as UberEats.

    Now that travel has opened up more, Linnartz said she can see people eager to hit the road more than ever.

    “We have really entered into a phase of recovery in the travel business,” Linnartz told WINS and Bloomberg. “I really think that travel is part of the human condition,” she added.

    With the pandemic, the hotel experience has also changed, Linnartz said. Heightened cleanliness procedures and more features, such as check ins and room service, are offered via mobile devices.

    “That’s something I think that’s going to stick,” said Linnartz of the technological advances spurred by COVID-19. Yet, she said it won’t replace the “human element” necessary to make travel great.

    Going forward, the company is also planning to focus on some initiatives launched before the pandemic: becoming more environmentally friendly as well as offering high-end rental properties and yachts.

    In 2019, Marriott International announced it would replace single-use toiletry bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel in guestroom showers with larger, pump-topped bottles to reduce landfill waste. As of that August, the larger bottles were already in use at around 1,000 North American properties.

    Another project from 2019 is the Marriott rental property program. Unlike other similar services offered by companies like Airbnb, Marriot properties are only premium or luxury, with high standards for amenities. Since the program started, offerings have grown from 2,000 properties to around 50,000.

    “Things are moving in the right direction,” she said. “Travel is coming back in a major way.”

    A remaining challenge for the industry has been finding staff amid a labor shortage, but Linnartz said Marriot’s commitment to a solid work culture and offering opportunities for advancement has helped prevent high turnover.

    “Our culture at Marriott has always been our secret sauce,” she said.

    “When you had a job at a place like that, you know, you were big stuff in the neighborhood you had a pride in doing that,” said Mullins, reminiscing about his time as a Marriott employee in Orlando, Fla.

    As Marriott continues to look for ways to make work experiences for its associates positive and shaped to today’s challenges, Linnartz can also see how new, flexible work schedules in other industries are impacting the travel business.

    “Bleisure,” is growing because people can work remote and take longer vacations, she explained.

    Another challenge for the travel industry is the recent surge in omicron variant COVID-19 cases, which has set off mask mandates in the U.S. as well as some international travel restrictions.

    Now that Marriott has weathered one part of the pandemic storm, Linnartz has high hopes for the future.

    “From crisis comes creativity,” she said.

    Decision Makers is a joint production from Bloomberg and Audacy – the parent company of 1010 WINS. It is produced by Neil A. Carousso.

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