By Sholom Ber Nemanov
Chances are, the average person reading this article doesn’t spend much time thinking about the stores, restaurants, and supermarkets they patronize every week. In general, we choose where to shop and where to go out to eat based on simple variables like price, location, quality, and service; these decisions are hardly ever very complicated. But for the owners of the businesses we frequent and the people who make the products we buy, these decisions mean everything.
Retail has always been a tough business, and the change brought by the explosive technology revolution of the last 20 years hasn’t made things any easier. Now more than ever, it is absolutely essential for retailers to stay ahead of developing trends. The “Finding Success in Retail” event, hosted by CHYE (Crown Heights Young Entrepreneurs) this week Tuesday night in Lubavitcher Yeshiva Crown Street, was a forum for the men and women of the retail industry to do exactly that.
The event featured a keynote address from Mr. Abraham Banda of Pomegranate Supermarket along with roundtable discussions hosted by many business leaders, both men and women. Nearly 150 people attended (including over 60 women) and spent the evening having their questions answered, networking, and finding out more about various business resources, such as the brand new CHYE Investment Exchange, and the Shop Local Initiative from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
Things got kicked off by a fascinating speech from Mr. Banda, who spoke about his journey from a 19 year old yeshiva student with no experience or developed skills to the founder and owner of the world’s most recognizable Jewish retail brand. “People are always surprised that someone like me, from a place like Williamsburg is the owner of a store like Pomegranate” he told the crowd. To him though, it’s no surprise, just a simple story of siyata d’shmaya and following three basic rules. Those rules: 1) Find a need that needs to be filled, even if the people don’t know they need it yet. 2) Create an experience that’s about more than just getting in and out of the store quickly; make it memorable, make it stick. 3) Don’t get discouraged by naysayers. If you have a vision that’s backed up by real evidence, don’t be scared to stick with it. To close, Mr. Banda told the story of how right before Pomegranate opened, he spent more than $100,000 on a sign that he really couldn’t afford, but which ended up attracting the attention of a journalist whose coverage started a media blitz, ensuring that the grand opening was a smash success. A perfect example of the hand of Hashem, enabled by fearless decision-making.
After a short speech by New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton and one by Rabbi Yehoshua Werde of CHYE introducing the evenings event sponsors, the roundtable discussions got underway. With 9 Tables on the men’s side and 5 tables by the women’s, there was something for everyone. From a discussion on basic business management hosted by Danny Branover of Basil to one on understanding retail financials by Soochie Smetana, all the way to a nuts and bolts conversation about actually getting your product into a store, hosted by Jack Silberstein of Jack’s Gourmet, people were free to move from one to the other and ask any question they wanted. A wide variety of questions were asked of the roundtable hosts, like “How do I find investment capital?” asked to Yehuda Berg, Business Counselor at CHYE, and “What’s my best market entry point? The consumer or the person deciding what goes on the shelves? asked to Akiva Wigle of McCann.
Marketing and branding was a hot topic at the event, and experts on that subject were very popular, like Chanie Kaminker of Hannabi Creative, who ran a roundtable discussion on the topic of "Branding & Marketing for your Brick and Mortar". She responded to questions from people who were tired of the buzzwords and just wanted to understand what branding is what it does for you. In a nutshell? "It's making sure that every point of contact a consumer has with your business reflects the message that you'd like to send out into the world" Chanie says. Mimi Hecht and Mushky Hayes of Mimu Maxi were also in high demand, and answered questions about their social media based marketing model.
Some attendees were there to learn about their own current or future businesses. Like Mendy Lipsker of Mendy Realty, who wanted to “hear from others who’d been successful in business for longer than me” , or Menachem, a business major at Medgar Evers, who wanted to “learn how to apply retail principles to E-Commerce”. Others were there on behalf of their clients. Ashi Sapir, a paralegal at Bronstein, Gewirtz & Grossman, LLC (an event sponsor) was “interested in hearing about the operations of our clients from a different angle” and Yonit Tanenbaum, founder of YQ Media Marketing & Branding Company was there “because attending events like this one is a great way to get a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities that my retail clients deal with every day, and to learn about new methods that I can use to help them succeed. I'm also here to support CHYE, which was extremely helpful to me when I was starting out".
Rabbi Werde of CHYE, the organizer of the event, was very happy with the turnout and was excited to see the spirited give-and-take at all the roundtables. But what he really hoped was the evening's attendees would take full advantage of the resources that they learned about at the event, including those offered by CHYE (available at CHYE.info). CHYE is committed to helping businesses in our community grow, and events like these are just one of the ways they do it.
Despite the challenges posed by our changing world, retail is still very much an important market sector, and hopefully, people in our community will be able to continue taking advantage of the opportunities that exist for those bold enough to grab them. The next Pomegranate can begin to take shape at any moment, and Tuesday night felt like one of those moments.