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.
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.
MEET THE PANELISTS
About Alexi Nazem, Co-Founder & CEO of Nomad Health:
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.
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 Shoptiques.com 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 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.
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The key to business is often relationships. But, getting a foot in the door, especially with a prominent brand, is challenging.
“You have to start with the end user and you have to never lose sight of the individual at all,” suggests StrongArm Technologies CEO Sean Petterson on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
StrongArm Tech counts Walmart and Toyota North America among its clients. Walmart recently reported the Brooklyn-based tech company helped the retailer reduce worker injuries in its factories by 64 percent using StrongArm’s wearable safety devices called FUSE that utilize haptic technology to alert laborers to risk on the job by vibrating. FUSE collects real-time data so companies can make safety improvements.
“The goal for us is to not overcomplicate anything, but rather just provide small insights throughout your day so you can avoid getting hurt,” he said.
Petterson told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso that the key to gaining big clients has been loyalty to their original ally within large corporations.
“They may not have the budget to take you globally with the organization, but they are the champions and they are the best voice of customer,” he explained.
“It’s almost like the old adage ‘treat your new friends like silver and your old like gold.’ That’s really how we try to operate.”
StrongArm Tech’s first client eight years ago was a small charity distribution center in Upstate New York, which purchased their exoskeletons that provide ergonomic support to industrial workers lifting heavy materials.
Petterson told WCBS 880 one way they’ve been able to scale is by taking their data “a step further” to help their clients find cost savings.
“By eliminating those injuries, we don’t simply have the dollars fall on the bottom-line,” he said. “If you’re anticipating a workflow improvement, but you can’t really find the operational budget to do so, there’s a very good chance that there’s a safety ROI hidden in those numbers.”
He told Connolly and Carousso their clients have been able to increase profits and productivity by placing value in the labor system.
Petterson tells his clients “if you can measure it, you can manage it.”
New York City tech companies, like StrongArm, are booming largely because they are introducing needed solutions and upending traditional businesses that were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
See ways local tech companies are innovating and growing and get ideas on how to scale a business on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (AWMF) has announced the winners of the 46th Annual Gracie Awards.
WCBS Newsradio 880 has been honored with an award in the category Frontline – Special Report [Radio Local] for our hour-long special “Chaos in the Capitol — A Nation Divided,” anchored by Lynda Lopez.
“Chaos in the Capitol — A Nation Divided” was a collaborative effort by the WCBS 880 team in the days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
The program featured firsthand accounts from lawmakers and reporters who were in the nation’s Capitol when it descended into chaos, including interviews with freshman Congressman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, former Long Island Congressman Steve Israel, 20-year-old Black Lives Matter protest organizer Yahshiyah Vines and more.
WCBS Newsradio 880’s Steve Burns, Marla Diamond and Neil A. Carousso contributed reports to the special. The program was written by Martin Untrojb and produced by Carousso and Lopez.
You can listen to the Gracie Award-winning report below:
The Gracies recognize exemplary programming created by, for and about women in radio, television, cable and interactive media.
Honorees are selected in national, local and student markets, including both commercial and non-commercial outlets.
“Throughout this important year, we have enjoyed some of the most compelling content in our history. We were informed, enlightened and entertained by women in media across all platforms,” said Becky Brooks, President of the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation. “As we celebrate AWM’s 70th anniversary, we are thrilled to honor this incredible group of women who have demonstrated their commitment to sharing emotionally-charged, timely and compelling content. We look forward to reconvening in person to recognize these incredible achievements and brave storytelling.”
The Gracie Awards Gala will take place September 27, 2021 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. It will honor some of the most talented women in television, radio and digital media, including Kerry Washington, Kelly Clarkson, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and more.
This year’s ceremony will also recognize entertainment and news programming that addressed timely topics and social issues.
Click here to see the full list of honorees.
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — People returning to New York City are having real positive effects on the local economy.
“I’ve been hearing schools are reopening more, and being on the Upper West Side, that affects us because there’s a lot of families here, which is why we wanted to be here,” said Kim Duncan, owner of goldenlight visions, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
Duncan opened the custom printing and photo store on 95th and Broadway in December 2019, just three months before the pandemic shutdown.
She thought her business would always be secure at a prime location strategically near the subway. COVID-19 has forced her to reimagine her business.
“We always wanted to grow our website and our reach and be found online, but it is difficult,” she explained. “Search engine optimization is a whole world that we are exploring.”
Kim and her business/life partner Bretton May believe “failure is not an option.” Duncan told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso they plan to make it work.
“I know we’ll get past this. It’s just been a really long year,” she said.
Duncan has a background in marketing and customer service and is eager to welcome people back to the Upper West Side. May is an artist who designs the store’s custom vinyl canvases.
During the shutdown, she took advantage of guidance and support through the NYC Small Business Resource Network to learn digital marketing and e-commerce. They also offer one-on-one personalized assistance with business coaching, financial planning, loans and grants.
Goldenlight visions began offering a new adjacent service that has taken off: photo tips.
“Everybody that comes in is concerned about their images,” Duncan told WCBS 880. “Our tips will help people make them better, and then, we can take it to the next level.”
Now that subway ridership is inching back to nearly 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, some commuters are just noticing goldenlight visions for the first time.
“It’s great to finally see people where they’re coming in now saying, ‘Oh, is this new?’ And here, we’ve been here over a year and people are just finding us now,” she said.
Watch the Small Business Spotlight video above for more on goldenlight visions and Midtown’s recovery.
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Traffic has returned to the Crossroads of the World, giving a significant bump to businesses that have weathered the pandemic storm.
“Ninth Avenue is now the old parking lot that it used to be, which is a tell-tale sign of people coming back,” said Shane Hathaway, co-owner of Hold Fast Kitchen and Spirits, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
Hathaway told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso both foot and vehicle traffic has steadily increased this spring as many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
“Times Square is rising up,” he said, adding, “It seems like there’s a vibrancy that obviously was not there last year.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see the difference between last summer and this summer,” he said.
The restaurateur is hopeful New York City’s $30 million tourism campaign and Broadway’s reopening this fall will guide people past his establishment on Restaurant Row, which has stayed afloat because of outdoor dining.
“You’re supposed to be outside of your building and we were able to extend to the next building by the wonderful graciousness of Judy the landlord who has allowed us to use the frontage of her space to expand ours – effectively doubling our space,” Hathaway said.
He returned that act of kindness with a cocktail named “Judy’s a Beauty.”
“It’s strategically placed right under ‘Hold Fast Our Dreams,’ which is our namesake, because she’s helping hold us up,” Hathaway said.
The gritty owner explained on the Small Business Spotlight that “Hold Fast” is a military motto that means to “stand your ground” and “bear down to weather the storm.” Sailors would tattoo “H-O-L-D F-A-S-T” across their eight knuckles so their fists would spell out “Hold Fast” when holding the line upon rough waters on-board their ship. Hathaway told Connolly and Carousso he has lived by that motto through the pandemic and told his staff to believe in themselves.
He hired “12-14 people” through the pandemic, filling vacant and new food delivery positions even though he has not been profitable the last 14 months. Now, Hold Fast is hiring again.
“We’re looking for bartenders, we’re looking for servers, we’re looking for front of the house people for support staff, we’re looking for kitchen staff, because now with the expanded hours, you can only push people so much,” Hathaway said. “We’re burning out and everyone’s only human and you can only be there so long before it starts to have an impact on your mentality and your social life and that’s not healthy for anybody.”
He described hiring people as a “special feeling,” especially during an economic crisis when job opportunities are helping families make ends meet.
Meet this determined owner and see Times Square’s re-emergence on the Small Business Spotlight video above.