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.

The Latest

  • FourBlock Spring 2021 Celebration: Inspiring Veteran Career Success Stories

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    Produced by Neil A. Carousso, Carousso Enterprises, LLC

    NEW YORKFourBlock, a non-profit organization preparing U.S. veterans for careers after service, is celebrating the graduates of their Spring 2021 Career Readiness Program and commemorating their 10th anniversary in a live virtual event produced by Carousso Enterprises, LLC.

    The event features a keynote fireside chat with former U.S. Army Officer and Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick, facilitated by retired U.S. Army Colonel and Citigroup Managing Director John Tien.

    The one-hour FourBlock Spring 2021 Celebration will stream live on FourBlock’s LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages on Thursday, May 13 at 7 PM. All FourBlock students, alumni, military spouses, staff and volunteers, partners and the broader military and veteran-connected community are invited.

    Carousso Enterprises specializes in producing corporate and sponsored videos, premier in-person and virtual events and multi-media content.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Brooklyn Retailer Sees Sales Bump After Rent Negotiation

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Local retailers are hoping to see New York City’s tourism industry bounce back this summer and more commuters flocking to Big Apple office buildings. One Brooklyn owner was able to better position himself for increased foot traffic.

    Douglas Grater, owner of Something Else, an apparel and home goods store with locations in Cobble Hill and Park Slope, told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, that the Cobble Hill store has taken the biggest hit because it relies on tourist foot traffic from Manhattan.

    “I mean you have millions of tourists that maybe 10 years ago would walk across the Brooklyn bridge, take a picture, and then reverse themselves and walk right back. And now, with Brooklyn being so hot over the last 10 years, it’s really cool to continue on into Brooklyn and the flow takes them right into our shop, which is on Smith Street,” he said.

    Something Else in Park Slope is in a residential neighborhood. Grater actually moved one block where he said he gets “70 percent more eye balls” on the store.

    “That move was a magical move for us because it just put us on the corner of two major streets,” said Grater whose store is now on the corner of Union Street and 5th Avenue.

    The 30-year retail veteran was able to negotiate with a small landlord at the new location who was willing to give him a reduced rent plus a break while non-essential businesses were shut down last spring.

    “So we probably got three and a half months where we were able to move, build a new shop, get ready, and then, the second we were opened up, then that landlord started our lease,” Grater explained. “By getting out of the lease, I stopped the rent at the older store and by moving to the new store, I didn’t pay any rent.”

    He says he “got lucky” because he was a good tenant. On the Small Business Spotlight, Grater advised other owners to be respectful to their landlords.

    Another key to Grater’s success was liquidating old inventory and being patient, knowing the pandemic will not end overnight.

    “Understand that it’s not a day-to-day or a week-to-week or a month-to-month situation; this is a 5 to 10 year plan all of a sudden,” he said.

    Apparel sales at Something Else were down 30 percent before the pandemic and remained low in the last year, but now, clothing sales are increasing as New York State lifts COVID-19 restrictions.

    “I’m seeing men and women starting to buy more fashionable products than just sweats and stuff,” Grater said. They’re looking to go out even in New York.
    They’re dining, they’re eating outside, they’re preparing to look good. I think there’s a lot of people out there that say, ‘I need to meet a significant other and look good.’ And, I see it ticking up.”

    The third generation apparel business owner told Connolly and Carousso dress sales are rising along with fashionable tops for men and women. That was not the case a year ago. Candles have been the top selling home goods item at Something Else.

    See advice for recovering in retail on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Social Missions Brew Business for Midtown Coffee Shop

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Bird & Branch Coffee Shop on 45th Street and 9th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan is brewing opportunity for those struggling to find work.

    “It’s just in our face all the time like the great need that New Yorkers have and I just felt like what I did either helping out at a soup kitchen or giving money were just very small Band-Aids to a huge problem,” said owner Faith Lee on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight with Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    Faith and her husband Brandon opened the store four and a half years ago not for a love of coffee but out of a mission to help New Yorkers overcome barriers to employment. They train mostly younger workers on soft skills that are transferrable to careers in retail and hospitality. Currently, six people work at Bird & Branch – down from 13 pre-pandemic.

    “We allow them to sort of go through that process without the pressure of having to perform at the level we ultimately want them to perform at, but allows them to sort of grow into that space and I think people need that time,” she explained.

    Bird & Branch Coffee Shop was awarded a $10,000 grant through Newell Brands’ “Made For More” Small Business Fund for their commitment in helping to restore the city through their skills training program. The makers of Ball® home canning products selected 10 small businesses for the grant out of about 2,000 applicants in recognition of those who have gone above and beyond in their local communities. The winners receive the grant, public relations support and exposure on the Ball home canning brand’s social media.

    Faith was an opera singer for 10 years and Brandon worked in event marketing before they got into the coffee business with the help of friends and family who wanted to invest in their social mission.

    “We were talking about it a lot to just our friends, random people we met, and every one of our investors actually approached us about investing,” Lee said. “We never pitched anyone.”

    Sometimes the most effective sales strategy is not outwardly selling but letting one’s passion for his or her business shine through.

    Bird & Branch is seeing a gradual increase in foot traffic now that some people have returned to work in Midtown offices more than a year after the pandemic ravaged the Big Apple. Their customer base changed in the pandemic from mostly commuters to Manhattanites living nearby.

    During the height of the pandemic, they collected donations for breakfast meals they prepared for hospital workers. Lee told Connolly and Carousso that a number of her customers started inquiring about similar care packages to send their loved ones.

    “We just started shipping out these care packages, which include baked goods that we make in-house as well just some other fun things,” she said. “People have been down or they haven’t seen each other in so long they just wanted to send their friends something and that has really enabled us to stay alive as well.”

    Bird & Branch’s business pivot led to a full-time, profitable service.

    See how to grow a business with a social mission on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Gyms Feel Weight of the Pandemic 13 Months Later

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — While people start to think about getting in shape for the summer, fitness gyms are struggling to stay open.

    Indoor fitness classes in New York City are allowed at 33 percent capacity. Outside of the city, gyms may increase their capacities from 33 percent to 50 percent on May 15. Many gym owners say it’s not enough to sustain as the COVID-19 pandemic nears its 14th month.

    “Right now, we offer in-person classes but also online classes as well and some people do both,” said Katie Muehlenkamp, Brooklyn franchisee of The Bar Method with locations in Cobble Hill and Williamsburg.

    On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, Muehlenkamp told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso that online classes have only supplemented her revenue.

    “I generally find that people either prefer one or the other,” she said. “People who come back in-person generally just do the in-person, because they feel and see the value of being in-person much more.”

    Muehlenkamp, a former competitive gymnast and instructor at the company’s flagship studio in San Francisco, said online classes can only work for a “small subset of people” because The Bar Method requires more space than a Brooklyn studio apartment. It consists of isometric exercise; small motions work targeted muscles to build strength.

    She also said in-person classes offer a sense of camaraderie and accountability for one’s fitness goals that her clients are “craving.”

    “We’re human beings. We have a fundamental desire to be around other people and fitness is just one aspect of it,” Muehlenkamp said.

    But right now, The Bar Method hosts less than 40 classes a week with 10 people max. Pre-pandemic, they ran 80 in-person classes with up to 30 people in each class. They are now offering meditation classes at the Williamsburg location as clients seek mental health services to cope with the pandemic.

    “I think there’s a huge generational group that’s looking for those outlets,” she said, noting other gym owners are launching adjacent health and wellness services.

    Muehlenkamp is advocating for the GYMS Act of 2021, which would authorize the U.S. Small Business Administration to make initial and supplemental grants to privately owned fitness gyms that have struggled in the pandemic.

    She received two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to pay employees and the SBA provided relief on business loans she obtained to open her franchises. But, the biggest sense of relief came when her landlords agreed to reduce her rents.

    “I think they get it. I mean these are smart people,” Muehlenkamp said, acknowledging her landlords have their own financial obligations.

    She said she approaches her negotiations with full disclosure and candor.

    “It’s kind of like, ‘Okay, well if you don’t lower it to about the amount that I’m talking about, this business isn’t viable. Here’s my financial statements. I’m not hiding anything. This is the situation,'” Muehlenkamp explained.

    While she feels uncertain about the fitness industry’s future, Muehlenkamp told Connolly and Carousso she is encouraged by new small businesses that are catering to current market needs.

    Watch the Small Business Spotlight video above for more advice for fitness gyms and other hard-hit industries.

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  • ‘Influence starts with listening’: High-powered business coach on inspiring results

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The most successful business leaders inspire and motivate their employees to do their best work.

    “The number one reason people will do things for you is because they like you,” said Alisa Cohn – a former startup CFO who blossomed into a startup and CEO coach, advising the leaders of major corporations such as Pfizer, Microsoft, Google and IBM.

    Cohn writes, “Influence is the way you get others on board and sell your ideas.” On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, she elaborated by telling Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso that “influence starts with listening” to employees’ perspectives and aspirations.

    “When you listen to people and hear back what they say, that is the way people begin to start liking you, appreciating you, and that relatedness is going to help you sell ideas even if they’re a little bit controversial to the person that you’re talking to,” she explained.

    This effort to understand diverse views will put workers in the best position to succeed and achieve corporate goals.

    “You can’t just tell people what to do even if you’re the boss,” Cohn said, adding, “They don’t do what you want them to do just because you want them to do it, and if they did, they’re not really the best workers because you want people who are innovative, and creative, and resourceful. You don’t just want compliant order takers.”

    The highly regarded business coach and guest lecturer at Harvard University and Cornell University allows it’s hard work to cultivate a team of entrepreneurial-minded employees, but that will foster sustainable growth.

    “If you invented and are now building a startup around a new way of doing COVID testing that’s quick and easy, that’s fantastic but that may not be the market need over time,” Cohn said of sustainability in an unprecedented business climate. “You got to expand that to think overall about doing testing of other kinds of things so that people can get the information they need, because they don’t necessarily need to know forever if they have COVID, but they do need to understand important health information about themselves over time.”

    Cohn told Connolly and Carousso the best way to grow a brand is to build a strong reputation and find opportunities to disseminate your ideas with potential customers and the business community.

    “It’s very helpful to share your ideas on a blog, get published, and over time get published on more and more prestigious and high-end publications so your ideas have merit,” she said.

    Links to publications where you and your business were quoted or featured on your website are effective marketing tools along with client testimonials. Cohn calls this “social proof” whereby those with whom you’ve done quality business are implicitly or explicitly endorsing your services.

    Learn how to grow a sustainable business and empower your workers to deliver results on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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