WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast: Local Business Leaders Share Wisdom On Survival, Recovery
By Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Three local pioneers have made pivots to stay afloat and support their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cindi Bigelow, third generation owner of Bigelow Tea, Boxcar’s Joe Colangelo and Michael Bednark of Bednark Studio shared their experiences with WCBS 880 business reporter Joe Connolly on the first-ever WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, sponsored by Investors Bank and Spectrum Business.
“I try to pride myself on thinking ahead,” said Bigelow, who was forced to adjust her Fairfield, Connecticut factory operations and implement new safety procedures. “I found myself, really, just operating as fast as I could to try to keep up with what else we needed to do to do it right at Bigelow and for our employees. It was hard. It was a lot of work.”
Cindi said that at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, health guidance changed so rapidly that she and her executive team updated procedures multiple times a day. While sales for tea surged, other areas of her business continue to suffer and safety for her employees remains the priority.
Colangelo’s commuter parking app business plummeted 100 percent; revenue dropped to $0. The U.S. Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan was forced to pivot into a new line of business.
“Talk to your customers on the phone. Just say, ‘Hey, can I grab you for fifteen minutes? I just want to hear what your problems are,'” the Boxcar founder said of how he developed four new services in New Jersey.
Today, Colangelo’s Cranford-based company offers grocery pick-up and delivery services, car detailing, outdoor pools and shows drive-in movies, which help boost its brand awareness.
“There may be these ways that you can solve their problems that you haven’t thought of, yet,” the Naval officer turned entrepreneur said.
Michael Bednark transformed his Brooklyn Navy Yard factory from designing and manufacturing displays for clients, including Saks Fifth Avenue, to becoming an essential business by making face shields and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for New York City hospital workers. They actually beat the largest face shield manufacturer, Bauer Hockey, to market.
“I don’t want to go into a completely new business, but something that’s not that far off of an iteration of my business,” Bednark explained to Connolly and the Virtual Business Breakfast panel.
He said his mentality at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in New York in March was focused on how he can help to “serve those people with the team and the equipment that I have.”
Bednark added a new COVID-19 product line last month by making and installing plastic dividers in ride sharing drivers’ cars to prevent the spread of the virus.
“How did you want to act during this crisis?” reflected Colangelo. “Were you out there helping people, treating your counterparties, your partners fairly? Because, you will build up the best brand and that brand will be around for 30-40 years if you treat people fairly right now.”
The entrepreneurial spirit on the panel was palpable, punctuated by the drive to serve their customers, employees and business partners in an unprecedented health and economic crisis that is fueling uncertainty and stress.
“It’s just constantly reassessing and listening more and taking all your years of experience and just keep pushing that envelope and keep pushing that bar up,” Bigelow said, adding, “No matter what, just keep trying.”
Watch the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast above to learn innovative ideas to survive and recover from the pandemic.