By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fort Greene resident Michael S.Robinson is a man of many accomplishments. After emigrating to the U.S. from St. Vincent and the Grenadines when he was a teenager, he landed a job on Wall Street and put himself through Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. In 1992, Robinson started New York Staffing Services – one of the larger full-service human resources consulting and placement firms. He remains President and CEO of the company today.
Now, Robinson has another feat under his belt: he has recently published “One Hundred Pennies: The Importanceof Small Business in a Healthy Economy.” In his book, Robinson focuses on how we might build an infrastructure that would better support small businesses. He highlights the value of small businesses to the U.S. economy, drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur who has hired thousands of employees even during times of economic stress.
In celebration of the book’s release, Brooklyn Eagle checked in with Robinson, who tells us why he moved to Fort Greene, and offers his expert advice to small business owners in the area.
When did you move to Fort Greene and why did you decide to settle there?
I moved to Fort Greene in January 1990. I found an affordable apartment and liked that the neighborhood was close to the city, with charming homes and tree-lined streets. It felt like a community of neighbors who cared about each other, taking great pride in their homes and the blocks. In 1994 I bought my home on Clermont Avenue and have lived there since. I absolutely love my neighborhood.
Have you noticed any significant trends or changes in the presence of small businesses in your neighborhood?
There has been a huge increase of small businesses in Fort Greene during the past fifteen years – more trendy restaurants, cafes, specialty stores and wine bars. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is in Fort Greene, along with the downtown development and now the Barclays Center, has contributed to a demographic transition which has allowed for the increase in more product-based businesses. The Brooklyn Flea has been a huge attraction in the summer, bringing a diversity of vendors and local residents together in a friendly Saturday atmosphere, creating a warm, nurturing community.
Do you have any advice for small business owners in Brooklyn who might be struggling to stay afloat?
My advice to small business owners in Brooklyn struggling to stay afloat is to think objectively at what you're doing to grow, expand and promote your business. Too often small business owners are emotionally tied to a concept or idea that may not be moving forward at a reasonably successful pace. Here are seven tips to keep in mind when evaluation your current situation:
1) Look carefully at your competition and ask yourself if you're competing on the same level or below. If you answer yes to either, it's time to reevaluate what you're doing and take your business up a few notches.
2) Think about your target market and their needs. Have their needs changed, and if so, are you adjusting your product line to accommodate those needs?
3) Make sure you pay attention to sales and marketing of your product/service. This not only keeps you fresh and current in the minds of your customers, but broadens your target audience to other regions, and will increase sales.
4) Develop a jazzy website that reflects your product/service and incorporate social media. It is inexpensive advertising and promotion for any business today, but it also requires due diligence in terms of active management.
5) Form alliances with other businesses so that you can cross promote your products/services.
6) Keep a pulse on your customers by welcoming feedback, good or bad. This can be the difference between a thriving business or a sinking ship.
7) Remember that customer service is the key to growing your business and keeping your customers happy, so know what your customers are getting, even when you're not around.
8) Continue to evolve and remain flexible. Remember you're open for business and to new ideas.
Do you know of any cities or regions inside or outside the U.S. that have succeeded in making small businesses thrive?
Small businesses are thriving better in U.S. states that are pro-growth and pro-business, meaning lower taxes and fewer regulations. In states like Florida where income taxes are zero, small businesses are doing better than in New York, despite the sluggish economy. Texas and Nevada are also pro-business states that support the growth and development of small businesses.
There are many emerging markets across the world that are booming and looking to do business with the United States, especially since our brand remains number one in the worldwide. Many of these markets are small businesses looking to expand their products/services and trade with us. Countries such as China and India and parts of Africa like Gabon are looking to the west for products and services, whether to build their infrastructure or sell their products. This is an excellent opportunity for small business in the U.S. to capitalize upon this new and evolving sector.
Robinson will appear at Barnes & Noble at 555 Fifth Avenue (at 46th St.) for a reception and book signing on Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m. To gain entry, purchase the title at the event store location. RSVP at [email protected].