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.
Neil A. Carousso is the producer 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.

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  • Hometown Flower Collective Expands Flourishing Mobile, Digital Business

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — This business has mastered digital sales and is now doing the reverse pivot in their expansion.

    On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso caught up with Jaclyn Rutigliano of Hometown Flower Collective who brought her 1976 Ford F100 to Huntington for the WCBS Business Breakfast in October 2019.

    Jaclyn was positioned to succeed in the pandemic with a digital and mobile-first business that has since accelerated with her strategic use of Instagram and local partnerships.

    “Since day one, we really knocked on all the doors of any like-minded businesses just to say, ‘Hey what can we do?’ From a photo shoot to an event to a workshop to free flowers to a giveaway, anything, collaboration has been the number one focus and the number one growth tool for us,” she said.

    “If you’re looking to go online, pay attention to that and try to offer ways to help other small businesses because that’s really what we try to do. Help us, help you.”

    Hometown Flower Co. is increasing their mileage. They recently expanded their footprint from Long Island to Brooklyn and Queens.

    “There are some incredible designers, especially in Brooklyn, so it’s definitely humbling,” Rutigliano said.  “Our design aesthetic really has resonated with a certain group, especially in Brooklyn and Long Island City and those parts. It’s been fun and it’s also attracted some people in the media landscape and fashion world.”

    The public relations professional told Connolly and Carousso that the city can be intimidating, but called it “validating” for her business.

    Hometown Flower offers monthly, weekly and annual subscription services to its customers, sourcing from 10 to 12 Long Island farmers. They played an important role helping their customers cope with the sadness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, they are being approached for large-scale and private events.

    “We’ve increased our wedding work, which is something we never thought we would be doing,” Rutigliano said.

    She and her husband Marc Iervolino have also opened their first brick-and-mortar store in Huntington Village to service pickups across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Rutigliano realized she and her Ford truck cannot be everywhere at once.

    By all accounts Hometown Flower Co. is operating on all cylinders, but Jaclyn and Marc are struggling to find skilled workers, which is hindering their ability to scale.

    “It’s been very difficult to find drivers, it’s been very difficult to find administrative and associate-level support as well. It’s tough and we can’t scale if we don’t have the support. It’s just not sustainable,” she said.

    They were able to find a designer who Jaclyn refers to as her “right hand.” Before the hire, Jaclyn had been designing until 3-4 AM every night. But, in order for them to grow even more, Hometown Flower will need support staff. Meantime, they’ve had to turn down some events that are coming back in full force this summer.

    See this creative, flourishing business in-action and see how Hometown Flower Co. is managing fast growth on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Queens Juice Bar Owner’s Recipe for Success Blends Passion for Nutrition, Mentorship

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Making the leap to start your dream business can be daunting, especially in uncertain economic times.

    While a record number of new businesses have been formed during the pandemic, succeeding in a new venture presents a myriad of challenges, and for that reason, roughly 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Dawn Kelly was let go from Prudential Financial in 2015 after 16 years leading its global communications team. Before that, she spent about nine years with AARP and roughly five years as director of public relations for York College. She combined her severance pay from Prudential and her savings to fund The Nourish Spot – a juice bar she opened in Jamaica, Queens with her daughter.

    “When we started The Nourish Spot, I spent over 30 years as a public relations practitioner for a number of different brands and organizations, so I lean on that for the business,” she told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    Now a mentor at the NYC Department of Small Business Services, Kelly says anyone looking to start a business does not necessarily need an infusion of capital. She advises small business owners to never feel shy about promoting themselves because it is essential for marketing any business.

    “I was taking clients before The Nourish Spot opened to help them promote themselves,” Kelly said.

    “This wasn’t really a dream for me. I’m an employee,” she explained on the Small Business Spotlight as her workers made smoothies behind the counter in the background.

    But, her passion for nutrition and mentorship is palpable.

    “I actually thought that I would work until I didn’t anymore. But, God had another idea for me. He gave me this idea to do the juice bar and I’m really proud that it’s actually working,” said Kelly, flashing a smile from ear-to-ear.

    She was accepted into a program through the Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation and took online classes during the pandemic to guide her through managing the business and launching new services.

    While most people walk in to The Nourish Spot to order a smoothie off the menu, Kelly realized there was a market for people with medical conditions. One of her customers is a home health aide in Queens who walks in with a prescription from her client’s doctor.

    “Her client doesn’t eat as much fruits and vegetables as they’re supposed to. And so, the way she makes sure that her client consumes the balanced diet, is she comes and makes a smoothie for them and then takes it to them,” she said.

    She also worked with non-profit organizations during the pandemic to help combat food insecurity in her neighborhood, which was once the epicenter of the coronavirus in the spring of 2020.

    Kelly lives by the principle of treating people the right way. She empowers her workers to pass on joy with a smile and grace. Many of them, Kelly sourced from local non-profits when she opened The Nourish Spot.

    “These young people came into us as interns. And, those that showcased themselves as dependable, honest, passionate about food and people, we’ve hired them,” she told Connolly and Carousso.

    She said she tapped into a “community pipeline” of talented, hard-working people who just need an opportunity to prove themselves and flourish. Some of her employees have worked at the juice bar for nearly four years.

    “We’re really really proud,” said Kelly.

    See her story and pickup ideas for new services on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: What NYC’s New Normal Will Look Like this Fall

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The post-pandemic future could be a win-win for workers.

    Many businesses are preparing to welcome their employees back to the office after Labor Day, but they’ll be returning to a new normal.

    “I think this time there’s going to be much more of an interconnected expansion and that that you’ll have more people that might be working in satellite offices or remotely in the suburbs, have a quality of life that’s more affordable, more open space, but then be able to come to the city when they want to be in the city and interconnect with these companies,” said Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of RXR Realty, which owns large office buildings in New York City and the suburbs.

    On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, Rechler told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso he expects both the city and the suburbs to recover “collectively.” He said most of his business tenants anticipate being back in September, but not at full capacity.

    “We need to start reimagining a post-pandemic playbook,” he said.

    That playbook includes hybrid schedules and a redesign of the city.

    “There’s some office buildings and there’s frankly some retail buildings and hotels that just will not be competitive in a post-COVID world,” said Rechler. “The right thing to do in that instance is to convert them to multi-family.”

    The Regional Plan Association Chairman told WCBS 880 adding multi-family apartments in place of empty office buildings could improve New York’s affordability and attract people to work and live in the five boroughs.

    New apartment leases in Manhattan are at record levels as tenants gobble up rentals at a discount while preparing to return to offices. The number of new leases increased fourfold in May from the year previous to 9,491, according to Miller Samuel Inc. and Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

    “(It) gives me confidence that people believe in the future of New York,” said Rechler, adding, “If they’re here, the big companies that want to attract that talent, that bring that talent in to grow their businesses, are going to be here as well. So, it’s a great leading indicator of what’s to come.”

    Rechler, who oversaw the redevelopment of the World Trade Center as the vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told Connolly and Carousso hybrid work schedules are here to stay, though, because there is a “quality of life” balance that many people have enjoyed while working from home.

    He’s advising businesses, telling them, “Don’t be a prisoner of the past, be a pioneer of the future.”

    While productivity was high during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the developer said businesses are finding productivity is slumping now that the U.S. has largely reopened 15 months after the initial shutdown.

    “This is about bringing people back so they can build culture, they can have mentorship, collaboration, a sense of community, and create that corporate value set that makes their team members feel part of something bigger,” Rechler said. “You’re not going to get that if everyone’s in different satellite offices.”

    See how developers are planning New York City’s post-pandemic future on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Westchester Bakery Forced to Pivot Online Discovers Promising New Business Model

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The macroeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are measurably impacting local businesses, their workers and their customers.

    Rising commodity prices and the labor shortage are two of Liv Hansen’s biggest challenges at The Bakehouse in Ardsley and Tarrytown. It’s now forcing her to rethink her traditional business model at her family-run bakery.

    “Some of the foods we buy are up 8 percent,” Hansen told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    The Bakehouse is known for its custom homemade cakes. They also sell a variety of baked goods, sandwiches, soups, and even, pot pies. Hansen and her husband took over the Ardsley location at 660 Saw Mill River Rd., known as The Riviera, from her mother about 10 years ago. The Riviera Bakehouse has been a community staple since 1950.

    The bakery business in Ardsley had been thriving before the pandemic, attracting customers from Westchester, Rockland and the surrounding areas. In March 2020, Hansen opened a new location inside the former Metro-North station building only to shut down when the coronavirus emerged the same month. They anticipate sales of breakfast goods and treats will spike when more Manhattan commuters pass through.

    “We’re hoping as the city opens up that the commuters are up in full force,” Hansen said.

    But, The Bakehouse is struggling to find enough skilled workers to make the volume of homemade custom cakes they churned out pre-pandemic. Currently, they employ four full-time workers and three part-time workers. They had been down to two workers at the height of the pandemic.

    As a result, Hansen is expanding her website with “semi-custom” homemade cakes to order for occasions from graduations to weddings to birthdays.

    “We hope that in the future, that will become our main source of orders,” she said. “It is much more efficient for us because we see what’s coming in really quickly rather than having people place the orders via phone and have a hand-written order.”

    Even traditional businesses like bakeries have been disrupted by the pandemic. It’s become essential for The Bakehouse to streamline operations and make more cookie-cutter products with a selection of custom features to grow profit margins.

    Hansen has also found cost savings in ingredients. When matzo meal became unavailable, The Bakehouse took one of their popular chocolate cakes of the shelves and developed a cake-like brownie special from a current recipe.

    “Really, it’s cake, but it’s a very moist cake and we top it with different things,” she explained. “We have an Oreo one, just a plain fudge one, we have one with sprinkles, one with peanut butter butter cream, and we sell them as brownies.”

    Since kitchen staff at The Bakehouse make the chocolate cake daily anyway, it saves time, labor and commodity costs, and increases their margins with an additional tasty dessert on the menu.

    “It has made a great efficiency for us,” said Hansen.

    See ideas to make yourself sustainable in the post-pandemic economy and grow profit margins on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast: New Creative Sales Methods to Rise from the Pandemic

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    Presented by First National Bank LI. Member FDIC.

    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges and barriers to growth upon the reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic, but this panel of business leaders offered optimism and concrete solutions for a recovery.

    Nomad Health Founder Dr. Alexi G. Nazem, Shoptiques Chief Marketing Officer Lindsay Lightman, and MadCreek, LLC Founder and Creative Director Andi Jennings shared their approaches and experiences with Business Reporter Joe Connolly on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, presented by First National Bank LI. Member FDIC.

    Lightman said her company’s mission is to “help small get smarter,” explaining that the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital as consumers were forced online amid the shutdown in March 2020 and subsequent COVID-19 restrictions, which provided an opportunity for them to grow their digital services previously resisted by some boutique owners on Shoptiques’ online marketplace.

    “On the front-end of our business, we have our marketplace where we’re selling to consumers but on the back-end, we’re really just a services and technology company supplying boutiques and small business owners with everything they need to be successful digitally,” she said, continuing, “So, they were all of a sudden, challenging our online tech, forcing us to innovate quickly, innovate faster, innovate more, give them more tools, give them more access, give them more customers, and in a great way, it forced us to really think outside of the box and grow.”

    Lightman, who is overseeing the company’s digital expansion and customer acquisition, told the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast that online sales are picking up for boutiques on her platform this spring. She said customers are now spending about 20 percent more per order than a year ago.

    “They’re now buying outfits to go out and accessories and home goods and gifts for people,” she said.

    880 Business Breakfast

    Managing Fast Growth So You Don’t Grow Out of Business:

    New York-based Nomad Health has been growing exponentially. They digitize the healthcare hiring process to help connect providers with clinicians worldwide to combat staffing shortages and provide competitive career opportunities for doctors and nurses.

    “There has been this war for talent in the technical field and what that has caused us to do is broaden our horizons and start hiring people all across the United States,” he said, noting they are not only competing with other healthcare companies, but also technology firms that have disrupted traditional industries.

    A number of businesses are struggling to hire workers amid a labor shortage while the enhanced unemployment benefits exceed wages in some cases.

    “We’re starting people at higher rates than we used to,” contributed Michael Aboff, third-generation owner of Aboff’s Paints which has 32 locations on Long Island. Aboff’s home improvement business has flourished the last 15 months.

    Nazem, a Yale and Harvard-trained doctor and businessman, agreed with Connolly that fast growth requires him to be selective and focus on his business objectives.

    “There are so many shiny objects and you have to resist the temptation to pick all of them. You have to succeed somewhere before you can succeed everywhere,” he said.

    Nazem added he communicates Nomad Health’s detailed growth strategy with its employees on a regular basis so they can focus on providing exceptional service to their clients and meet company goals.

    Finding New Customers In The Post-Pandemic Economy:

    New Jersey-based MadCreek has an impressive portfolio of clients for design and marketing, including Union Catholic High School, Rutgers University Libraries and Seton Hall Athletics. Many of their customers were forced to pivot to remote work last spring, but Jennings’ team of mostly mothers had already been working from home for years, and thus, became local experts in the virtual space.

    “What we decided to do with our customers or our clients to attract new customers was explain to them that, ‘While your business is maybe slow or while you’re figuring things out, really try to think of other things you’ve always wanted to do with your business.
    And, what are those things? And, how can we help you?'” the creative marketer said.

    Jennings has become more of a “trusted consultant” for her clients in the pandemic, using virtual whiteboards and other collaboration tools internally and externally, which she demonstrated on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast.

    “If they come to us with a very unique problem or a service that we don’t necessarily provide, chances are we’re going to research what type of service they need, find the greatest professional in that industry and provide them with all the tools they need,” she said.

    Lightman told Connolly she loves when boutique owners present her and her team with big ideas. She said Shoptiques will try just about anything.

    “When you stop learning, you stop living,” said Lightman.

    Nazem agreed with that mantra.

    “You have to be willing to try different stuff and fail fast so that you can learn that, ‘Okay, this is an area that probably isn’t right for me.’ But, you have to try multiple things,” he said.

    “Try selling to them in a different way, try hosting events, try anything you can, but thinking digitally first is really important,” said Lightman, adding, “Customers are not going to go back to just shopping in stores.”

    One of the lessons from the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast is ensuring products are diversified. Another is to be diverse in ranks so that workers’ skills complement each other.

    “I think you have to look out of the box and learn and be creative and it really helps to have young people on your team – next generations that know the world of what’s going on today with Instagram and Facebook and TikTok and all those mediums that help you to sell,” said Candy Udell, president of London Jewelers.

    Several retail owners have asked Connolly and WCBS Business Producer Neil A. Carousso about finding new customers online now that their stores are not as busy compared to before the pandemic as some consumer behaviors have changed. Carousso asked the panel about acquiring customers.

    “We actually rely really heavily on affiliate marketing,” Lightman responded. “It’s a really big channel for us. You only pay for what you get. There’s little risk in it. So, it’s a really great source.”

    The Shoptiques CMO said they shy away from social media because it’s an overcrowded space and hard to compete against large corporations that have sizable digital marketing budgets.

    “It’s ironic, but for us, our customer base responds really well to SMS and email marketing, still. They really love us putting forth trends and being like a thought provider as to what they should shop and that’s where we see the best results,” said Lightman.

    How To Handle Competitors Undercutting Your Prices:

    One challenge all three panelists have faced is competitors driving their costs down.

    “A lot of times, they’re going to find cheaper online outlets with people that don’t know their business, that don’t care about their business, but they’re just running out there because they need a logo or they need a landing page,” said Jennings. “So, the money that they’re spending out there on these one-shot deals really does not help them grow foundationally.”

    She told Connolly it happens frequently among her smaller clients working on tight budgets, but more often than not, they return because MadCreek is invested in the success of their business.

    Nazem commented that people will pay for higher quality work and personal service as Jennings described, but he’s concerned technology companies are disrupting hard-hit industries and driving prices lower for small businesses that are operating on tight profit margins.

    See solutions, fresh growth strategies and innovative ideas to jump-start sales on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, presented by First National Bank LI. Member FDIC. Watch the free one-hour program above or on our YouTube page.


    About Alexi Nazem, Co-Founder & CEO of Nomad Health:

    Alexi Nazem

    Alexi Gharib Nazem, MD, MBA, is the co-founder and CEO of Nomad Health, the first online marketplace for freelance clinical jobs. In addition to leading Nomad, he is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell in New York.

    Previously, he led field operations for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s successful 100,000 Lives Campaign.

    Alexi trained in internal medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston after receiving an MD from Yale and an MBA from Harvard. He also holds a BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale.

    About Lindsay Lightman, Chief Marketing Officer of Shoptiques, Inc.

    Lindsay Lightman

    As Chief Marketing Officer of Shoptiques inc., Lindsay is responsible for developing and managing the companies B2B and B2C marketing strategies; as well as identifying and negotiating strategic partnerships. This includes overseeing the marketplace customer acquisition, marketing, merchandising, and support; developing and growing Shoptiques Managed Marketing Services for luxury boutiques; and building the Shoptiques SaaS offerings designed for small business owners, focused on helping small get smarter.

    Lindsay joined the company in 2018, as Head of Support & Business Development, bringing her over 7 years of experience in global marketing and relationships. In this role, Lindsay helped bring to market Shoptiques first tech product, SPOS; was tasked with bringing new business into the portfolio; and developed account management and technical support for Shoptiques VIP boutique partners.

    Prior to joining the organization, Lindsay served as Director of Global Strategic Market

    Development & Chief of Staff to CRO at True Fit. During her tenure at True Fit, she nurtured long-lead retail relationships with enterprise retailers like Nordstrom, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren. Lindsay managed the global events strategy, PR and communications, and social media marketing, developed a client success program and marketing strategies for retailers to grow customer adoption of True Fit, and facilitated the onboarding of new retail brands onto the True Fit SaaS Platform.

    Lindsay received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, and Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish Linguistics from Occidental College in California.

    About Andi Jennings, Founder & Creative Director of MadCreek, LLC:

    Andi Jennings

    Andi Jennings has spent 25 years in the advertising and design industry with the majority of her career leading MadCreek, LLC as founder and creative director.

    With an award-winning design portfolio, and a history of diversity and longevity in the MadCreek client roster, their extensive, brand management experience, top-line creative direction expertise, and strategic digital and social management, allows them to stand the test of time and keep their clients current.

    MadCreek’s clients include the athletic programs at Rutgers University and Seton Hall University, Union Catholic High School, AAA, Hoboken Cultural Affairs and JustinTime Foundation.

    They are guided by a strong belief that their job is to function as a problem-solving tool and find ways to turn any idea into reality.

    Andi recently realized that her lust for creativity and problem-solving had no boundaries. She dove into multiple labors of love, creating art societies and town-wide ‘art walks,’ managing fine artists, and co-writing children’s books. She tackled interior design projects, taught software applications, and has even written short stories and memoir essays.

    Her newest adventure is co-founding “Project CheerUP!”, a positivity movement, uniting cheerleaders to “CheerUP!” the world, literally.

    The WCBS Business Breakfast series with Joe Connolly is produced by Neil A. Carousso.

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