‘Shark Tank’ Star Barbara Corcoran’s Advice for Businesses Recovering from Pandemic
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — As the economy reopens this spring, businesses are increasingly struggling to fill open positions. Barbara Corcoran, investor on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank” and founder of The Corcoran Group, says “competing for workers” is the number one priority for business owners right now.
“The workers are in charge now,” Corcoran told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank. “The (businesses) that are treating their workers like kings and queens, like they deserve to be treated, are retaining their workforce. And, those who aren’t, can’t do business because they’re cut off at the pants because they don’t have the workers to support it.”
She said some small and large businesses are offering to pay a chunk of tuition for part-time workers and other employers are offering signing bonuses to workers who commit to a term of employment.
“I never heard of that,” the entrepreneur said.
Corcoran noted some people are receiving higher unemployment benefits than wages offered, which is an unintended consequence of the enhanced federal unemployment benefits that were extended to September. There are now 23 states that are ending the $300 weekly federal bonus checks next month, including Florida, which announced Monday it would follow other conservative-majority states. It has been a key safety net for families whose children have studied remotely in the pandemic.
“Most businesses that are coming out of the pandemic are in debt,” she said. “They can’t squeeze their profit margins so what is actually happening instead is they pass along that additional cost to the consumer.”
Corcoran experienced that first-hand last week when she went to dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant in Manhattan. She noticed the service was unusually slow because they didn’t have enough workers in the kitchen, so the former New Jersey waitress lent the owner a hand and started serving dishes to customers. But, rather than earning tips, she was caught by surprise when she got the check.
“It felt like it was about 30 percent more expensive,” she said. “But, that’s the new norm.”
Restaurants are not the only businesses that Corcoran believes will be forced to raise prices this spring and summer to survive. The “Queen of New York Real Estate” still walks around Manhattan, surveying local businesses in her neighborhood, and befriending several owners who have closed their shops. The neighborhood is changing; blocks that she described as being “empty with no sign of life, no light” over the past 14 months are now bright with new faces.
“Over the past couple of weeks, I see constructions going on inside the storefronts and I see new signs out front, so we’re going to get a whole new breed of entrepreneurs who are starting businesses,” Corcoran said, adding, “The old guys won’t be back because they couldn’t take it; it was too long. But, new kids are taking their place. And, this is going around America.”
She sees a refreshing spirit among the new entrepreneurs who have found opportunities in the pandemic. In fact, she says about a third of her “Shark Tank” companies have grown somewhere between 50 percent and 200 percent. Another third are out of business and the remaining third, she said, are hanging by a thread.
“You need to learn how to try and that’s taught by the parents,” the mother of two said, telling Connolly and Carousso how she raised her children to have the courage to try and “get back up” after failures. Corcoran said “courage” is a quality successful entrepreneurs learn through great adversities.
She said she noticed a troubling pattern among some of the businesses she invested in on the show. Some of them were not effective in gaining repeat customers, which she said starts with organization.
“They were all over the place,” the “Shark Tank investor said. “I have to get them between their ears, squeeze their head in, get their ego back intact, and say, ‘Sit down, make a list of where all your businesses come from,’ and believe it or not, almost 80 percent, sometimes 90 percent, is coming from the same source. And, they don’t know it. They’re spending all their time on 80 percent of other stuff that’s not amounting to anything.”
Corcoran said that lack of focus can prevent businesses from upselling and finding new customers.
She told WCBS 880 digital tools assist in many areas and encouraged owners not to think of digital as a foreign language, but rather as something they need as part of their operations. An example she gave on the Small Business Spotlight is South Carolina-based Daisy Cakes, which she invested in on season two of “Shark Tank.” When their store closed due to COVID-19, owner Kim Nelson, once reliant on her Southern charm, made frantic calls to customers with ideas for cakes of the month.
“And then, she went online and started selling cakes through Goldbelly,” said Corcoran, adding Daisy Cakes sales tripled within a month. “What a wakeup call.”
The real estate mogul likes to use her social platforms to have fun, too, and said business owners should look at social media as a “free public relations vehicle accessible to all.” If you’ve been on Corcoran’s social media pages recently, you’ve seen the millionaire Shark dancing and “being silly” in TikTok videos.
“Does Facebook or TikTok or a stunt event of me bringing down my phone booth down to a park in New York City and reading tarot cards – all stunts, all ways to attract attention, all ways to entertain people – does it materialize in business?” she asked rhetorically. “I truly believe it does.”
“Each and every time you touch someone’s funny bone, get their eyeball on you, they’re predisposed to liking you. And, when people like you, they want to do business with you,” said Corcoran.
Watch Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Barbara Corcoran on the Small Business Spotlight video above.