A pandemic. Inflation. Online shopping. Ever-changing malls.
Throughout North Jersey, our towns and counties are peppered with small businesses — enduring gems of local commerce that’ve rode out some of the harshest waves imaginable.
Selling everything from sandwiches to comic books and tattoos to medical supplies, these mainstays of Main Street have stood the test of time. Business owners here have seen a lot change over the years, and they’ve learned a thing or two along the way.
But what sets these businesses apart from the rest? How did they become successful, beloved by their customers and all while staying true to themselves and their communities? What have these owners and operators learned that might help others who are just starting out?
NorthJersey.com video producer Miguel Fernandez asked the operators of six such businesses for practical tips geared toward anyone thinking of starting a local business in North Jersey.
We transcribed what they had to say in a simple-to-read format. Here’s what these business owners had to offer.
Lark Street Music, Teaneck
Based at 479 Cedar Lane and open since 1968, selling music and instruments. Here’s what shop owner Buzzy Levine had to say.
Know your market: “I would say one important thing is to, don’t get into something that you don’t know anything about, that you think you’re going to learn as you go. That can work in some instances, but when you’re making decisions in a business, you’ve got to know what you’re doing.”
Keep expenses down: “Spend less money than you have. Being in debt, sometimes it’s necessary, like when you buy a house or a car. When you go into a business, you want to keep the expenses down to a minimum. Maybe I’m just cheap, but I like to keep things under control so that if things go bad, the fixed expenses are going to kill you.”
Give people room: “We treat people like we would want to be treated. Sometimes that comes off as we don’t care about our customers — like we’ll come in we’re not on top of them, we’re not you know, selling them, and sometimes that comes off as we’re very unfriendly, and I’m sorry if that’s what we portray, but it’s really because we want you to have a good time here and not be bothered by us.”
The Game Zone, Hillsdale
Based at 106 Broadway, Hillsdale, since 1996, selling video games, trading cards and toys. Here’s what shop owner Anthony Gugino had to say.
Engage your audience: “Make it interesting. That’s the biggest thing because it’s engaging. Like when you come into a store, you know, the age right now is all digital and online e-commerce.”
Have a lot of merch: “You’ve got to diversify yourself. You’ve got to go into a place like this, and like, ‘Oh look at all the things.’ “
Play on nostalgia: “The biggest phrase I hear is ‘Oh my God, that’s my childhood.’ That’s the phrase I hear all the time.”
Update your inventory: “Keep the products different and fresh. It’s not just what people expect to see but what they don’t expect to see. Keep it clean. Not just morally, but orderly. I don’t necessarily put prices on every single thing. Everything is priced in the store, but everything is organized. So if you go over there, you know what you’re going to find over there, you know what you’re going to find over here. The floor’s clean. There’s no cobwebs. It’s bright and fun.”
The Joker’s Child, Fair Lawn
Based at 12-23 River Rd., Fair Lawn, selling comic books and toys since 1988. Here’s what owner Len Catz had to say.
Set yourself apart: “We’ve been in business for 37 years now, and three pieces I would give, number one, to a small business, especially in this time, is to have a product that you can’t get from Amazon or from a large box store. Try to find a unique product or service that you don’t get anywhere else.”
Be helpful: “Work as though you mean to stay in business. So some of the things that I found, is when you walk into a store, they should be — or the store should be — very, you know, responding to the customer or tries to respond to the customer. So, notice that they’re there, try to find out what they want.”
Hold on to good employees: “So, one of the things that’s very hard to do is to find people that are good for your business or that exist at all. Right now, there’s a lack of anyone looking to work. The pandemic has made an interesting situation where people quietly quit and never went back to work, so there’s a lot of people who are all doing gig jobs, which is not a retail job, so retail businesses across the country are having problems; restaurants, businesses. Hiring well and finding somebody, once you have them, whatever you can do to hold onto them is very important.”
Lola’s Tattoos, Bogota
Based at 117 E Main St., Bogota, offering tattoos since 1973. Here’s some of owner John Newcomb’s business wisdom.
Love your work: “Be humble. Enjoy what you’re doing. You know, that’s the key thing, like if you’re doing something that you love to do, it doesn’t feel like work. But there are times when it does.”
Do your best work: “You put out the best quality that you can do. People come in, you respect your clients, you talk to them, we figure out what they want to do, and we try to give them the best that we can.
Weather the storms: “There’s going to be plenty of ups and downs, so there’ll be some good days, there’ll be some bad days, there’ll be some obstacles, issues, but any business, with anything. And the best thing to do is just keep pushing through and do your best.”
Be nice: “Be kind to people and your employees and stuff too, and if you treat it more like a family, than people working for you, it’s totally different. It’s not like people working for you, it’s just ‘we’re just a bunch of people working together, having a good time and everything, enjoying what we’re doing’.”
Frames of Mine, Fort Lee
Based at 482 Main St., Fort Lee, selling custom picture frames since 1977. Here’s owner Susan Boni’s secrets to success.
Love what you do: “I think the most important thing to do is to make sure you love what you do and you have to be open and honest with every single person and every single thing that you do in life and in business, even with your company, your customers, everybody. You have to be honest.”
Call people back: “The second piece I would say is make a phone call back by five o’clock. Everybody gets a phone call back by five o’clock. If not, they’re getting called in the car on the way home. I call everybody back. I hate when people don’t call me back. I make sure everybody gets a phone call back.“
Watch the bottom line: “I think the most important thing is to make sure you know what you’re doing, but you have to keep up your bills. You have to not overdo your business, that you overbuy or overdo. You have to live within your means of the business.”
Vitamia & Sons Ravioli Co., Lodi
Based at 206 Harrison Ave., Lodi, selling homemade Italian food since 1967. Check out owner Paul Vitamia’s tips for food and dining entrepreneurs.
Strive for quality: “We enjoy making our food where we use the best ingredients and stick with it, but make sure you give them the best. You’ll never go wrong. Business goes up and down, but guess what? Everybody comes here with a happy face.”
Know your customers: “We cater to the first generation born in this country on. But basically they only want to acquire the taste of what their mother and father started them with, and they just keep repeating. And guess what? Sunday, the best, the family gets together and guess what? Vitamia on the table. Fresh raviolis, fresh bread, fresh whatever you want to have, it’s all here.”
Keep up with inventory: “The food is fresh constantly.”
Daniel Munoz covers business, consumer affairs, labor and the economy for NorthJersey.com and The Record.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter:@danielmunoz100
Credit: Source link