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.