Go Global

For Minorities, Time to Reach

In Trenton, New Talk, New Look

Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Michele Alperin was

prepared for the February 28, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All

rights reserved.

Selling The Sizzle

After taking an intensive course on pianos in

preparation for selling them, Rocky Romeo tried out his

expertise on a young couple. He removed keys. He took out screws. He

spoke of Adirondack

spruce parts. "I practically had the whole thing apart on the

floor," he recalls.

The prospective piano owners told him they were impressed with his

knowledge, and promised to return on the following Thursday. When

they failed to show, Romeo called them. "We bought a piano,"

the husband said. They hadn’t planned to buy from anyone but him,

the new piano owner said. But they were walking through the Freehold

Mall, passed a piano store, and the salesman played their wedding

song for them. "We just had to buy the piano," the husband

said.

"I learned a big lesson about product knowledge," Romeo said

of the experience. "It doesn’t matter that you know all about

the product. You have to figure out the customer’s problem, and solve

it. That’s what sells." Armed with this insight, Romeo sold four

to six $50,000 to $100,000 pianos a month for six years. From there

he went on to selling computers before starting a retail sales

consulting

business, Edutech Business Development Systems Inc. in 1984.

On Thursday, March 1, at 6:30 p.m. Romeo speaks on "Creating Curb

Appeal for Your Business" at the Flemington Borough Building as

part of a Marketing with Success program sponsored by Raritan Valley

College. Cost: $22. Call 908-526-1200, ext. 8516.

Romeo, who graduated from Westminster College with a degree in

education

in 1977, started out teaching music at St. Mary High School in South

Amboy until his job was axed in a budget cut. Moving on to sales after

that, he noticed that most mom and pop retailers didn’t have regional

sales managers, but could use the advice of someone in that capacity.

Setting out to fill that role on a consulting basis, Romeo had a hard

time landing his first client. "I didn’t have clients, so I

couldn’t

get clients," he says.

Finally, Romeo went to the owner of a store in Peddlers Village and

offered to work free for a week in return for a referral letter. The

store owner agreed, and the referral letter did the trick. Romeo went

on from there, consulting first to stores, then adding shopping malls,

and, more recently, towns interested in attracting more visitors.

Romeo also does consulting for the Small Business Administration (SBA)

in New Jersey. "I just worked with an Argentinean woman who wants

to sell Argentinean barbecue grills," he says. "I’ve worked

with a business selling magnetic horse blankets." No matter what

the business, he says, "nine times out of ten the problem is

communication."

And, it turns out, in business, and particularly in retail,

communication

is more than words. As Romeo points out in these tips for adding curb

appeal, communication can be a over-sized gorilla:

Don’t rely on your merchandise to bring in customers.

"A lot of retailers fall into a myth," Romeo says. "`I

need a quality store and quality merchandise, and people will come,’

they think." No, Romeo says, they won’t come. Not automatically.

Shoppers need to be enticed.

Try blinking lights. Color, light, and motion — lots

of motion — are the keys to getting a glance from passersby.

"You

want them to turn their heads," Romeo says. A blinking red light

is a good draw. An intricate pattern of motion is even better. It

will not only stop people momentarily, but also tends to mesmerize,

leading to a longer look in your store window. A costumed figure,

perhaps the Easter bunny waving to motorists outside of a candy store,

also works well. The most dramatic attention grabber Romeo has seen

is 75-foot inflatable gorilla perched atop a gas pump.

Encourage a longer look. Once your lights or faux

waterfalls

have done their work, give shoppers something more to look at. A clock

with its works displayed is the sort of thing to hold attention, Romeo

says. In another hold-them-awhile tactic, some New York City stores

have started to pose live models in windows.

Invite them in. While a crowd of gawking shoppers is good,

a storefront needs a closing tactic to get them inside. "A `sale’

sign doesn’t do it," Romeo says. "Customers can’t distinguish

between `for sale’ and `on sale.’" Possible lures include guest

appearances, "10 percent off today" signs, seasonal events,

or simply an invitation: "If you like what you see, come in."

Carry the window’s promise into the store. An enticing,

professionally-designed window is just the beginning, Romeo says.

"The store has to be unique," he says. "Think of your

customer. It’s 6 ‘o clock. He’s tired after work. It’s cold. How are

you going to get him to come out?" Presenting merchandise is not

enough. Retailers have to pull out all the stops, Romeo says.

Entertainment,

attractive lights, and perhaps even fragrances need to blend with

well-trained salespeople in creating an environment to draw shoppers.

Make it easy. Once a shopper is in the door, sales clerks

need to find out what his concerns are. Perhaps, Romeo posits, the

customer needs a gift, or prom dress, or a replacement vacuum cleaner.

Engage him in conversation, he says. Provide a solution to his

problem.

Then make it easy for him to make a purchase. Merchandise has to be

well organized, Romeo says, and prices need to be clear. "If a

shopper picks up three things looking for prices, he probably won’t

pick up a fourth," he says. "The price needs to be in the

same place on every item."

Making shopping easy is one thing that makes profitable retail

difficult. "It’s hard, hard work," Romeo says. With or without

a gorilla to drag in prospects.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Top Of Page
Go Global

Exporting internationally is not a panacea for a failing

business. But for a financially solid company, foreign markets offer

significant opportunities for growth in sales and profits. For New

Jersey companies considering international exports, the critical

decision

is finding the right target market. To provide information, support,

and networking opportunities to these companies, the Center for Global

Business (CGB) was created in July, 2000, at Mercer County Community

College.

For companies ready to explore potential markets, Keld Hansen,

CGB’s director, offers a class on "Sources of International

Business

Information," one of a series of five pragmatic, business-oriented

classes leading to an international business certificate. The class

meets on two Thursdays, March 1 and 8, 7:10 to 9:10 p.m. at Mercer

County Community College. To register, call 609-586-9446. Cost is

$48.

Companies looking for an appropriate export market, says Hansen, need

two types of information: official information, found largely in

linked

Internet data bases, and informal sources, which require a little

creativity to uncover. They can use this information to answer a

series

of questions that will help them narrow their search:

What does my product require in terms of standard of living

and income levels? Companies can use their experience in the U.S.

market to determine the correct parameters.

Are there sufficient numbers of people in a particular

country

at the appropriate socioeconomic level? "You are normally

selling

to people, not to countries," says Hansen. "A country like

India may have a low standard of living, but there may still be a

sizable part that has a high standard of living." Excellent

sources

of socioeconomic and market data are available on the Internet. Two

sites that are free or inexpensive are www.stat-usa.gov (a Department

of Commerce website) and www.ita.doc.gov. Two subscription sources

are also excellent: the National Trade Data Bank and the International

Trade Data Network (available through the CGB). These sites provide

country-specific statistics — rate of inflation, imports and

exports

— and even trade leads.

To which countries have my competitors been successfully

exporting? The United Nations International Trade Statistics

Yearbook,

Volume 2, shows which countries export and import products in 1312

standard U.N. product subgroups. Hansen finds this comparative data

more interesting than the single-country data offered on the Internet

sources, because, he says, "it gives you the whole-world

picture."

A business can get a sense of how markets have developed over recent

years.

Is the country politically and economically stable?

"Businesses

are interested in stability," says Hansen, "because when you

have stability, you can plan." The U.S. Department of State issues

reports about short-term and long-term political conditions in every

country. Data ranges from how risky it is to visit the country

tomorrow

to projections of how stable the political system and the foreign

currency will be in the future. One particular issue is the likelihood

of convertibility restrictions on currency. A business needs to be

able to exchange any money it earns within a country for dollars,

says Hansen.

Are there any tariffs or income regulations that make it

difficult to do business with a country? "It makes a difference

when you have to pay a large income duty," says Hansen.

What market developments in different countries and regions

will affect my decision to export? To perform market research in

a designated country, a company should find a local distributor or

agent who is also knowledgeable about the local market for the

particular

product.

Once a company has decided on a particular country, it is ready

to use the resources of the CGB as well as those of the U.S.

Department

of Commerce, the State of New Jersey’s Commerce and Economic Growth

Commission, and local export offices of foreign governments. Referring

to the last three organizations, Hansen says, "These offices

provide

small-to-medium size N.J. companies with access to local

representation

without paying any money or paying very little. In a foreign

environment,

it is very helpful to have someone on the ground."

Through its impressive technological resources, the CGB can provide

New Jersey companies with the specific information they need. "The

clothing analogy is a good one," says Hansen. "If it’s off

the rack — either it fits or it doesn’t. If it is tailor-made,

the information will be exactly what you want."

One CGB program designed to provide companies with the tailor-made

information they need is its breakfast seminars focusing on exporting

to a particular country. At these meetings, CGB creates action groups

of five to six companies, which Hansen describes as similar to

"Weight

Watchers groups, supporting each other as they move towards a similar

goal." After breakfast, the newly-formed action group uses CGB’s

videoconferencing facilities to confer directly with trade

representatives

in the target country. Group members introduce themselves, state their

export objectives, and make inquiries about their particular needs.

They can fax any supporting information to the country’s trade

representative.

CGB also sponsors reverse trade missions, where foreign government

representatives meet with local businesses to share their needs for

industrial imports. In addition to information about exporting, CGB

provides companies with legal and accounting assistance.

Another source of help with international business transactions is

the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s

Commercial Service, with offices in U.S. embassies and consulates

worldwide. The local Department of Commerce office, the Trenton Export

Assistance Center, Raritan River South, works with these foreign

offices

to promote business development through exporting and, in concert

with the Export/Import Bank and the Small Business Administration,

helps local businesses arrange financing. (The senior international

trade specialist for Monmouth, Middlesex, and Mercer counties is

Thomas

P. Mottley.) The overseas offices help companies to find overseas

agents, distributors, and trade leads, and to arrange meetings or

video conferences with potential customers.

Hansen was born and raised in Denmark and received his masters in

chemical engineering from the University of Technology in Copenhagen

in 1962. He attended Harvard Business School on a full scholarship

and has since gained international experience in a variety of

companies.

After six to seven years with Colgate-Palmolive International, where

his last position was general manager, he moved to Dansk International

Designs, where he spent a half dozen years, rising to worldwide

president.

At Lenox Inc., he was corporate group vice president in charge of

international business and was also responsible for companies in the

United States purchased by Lenox. In 1983-’84, when Lenox was bought

by Brown & Forman, he went out on his own — investing in and

selling

bankrupt companies. In the mid-1990s, he became a private investment

banker at Passer & Crown. When the opportunity came to direct the

new CGB, he saw the chance to use his own wide-ranging experience

in corporations and foreign trade to "help companies achieve their

goals, internationally and profit-wise."

As director of CGB, Hansen hopes to alert people to the fact that

it is not that difficult to get good information and it doesn’t cost

much. "It is amazing how little people know about how much

information

is available to them for free with regard to international

business,"

Hansen says.

— Michele Alperin

Top Of Page
For Minorities, Time to Reach

As president of the Metropolitan Trenton African

American

Chamber of Commerce, John Harmon draws on his own life

experiences

when encouraging member businesses. "Minority businesses need

to get out of their comfort zones," Harmon says. Mainstream

businesses

in Central Jersey are receptive to their minority counterparts, he

says, but it sometimes takes gentle encouragement from MTAACC to jog

minority business owners to reach out for the opportunities.

Harmon started his career as the first African American management

trainee at the Bowery Savings Bank in Manhattan. "I was up against

150 candidates," he recalls. "Coming from Trenton, it was

somewhat intimidating."

The MTAACC, which was founded in 1997, has grown in the last year

from 25 members to 90. This Wednesday, February 28, at 6 p.m. MTAACC

is honoring prominent minority leaders at the Princeton Hyatt. The

keynote speech, "Achieving Success Together," is by Charlie

Allen, chairman of the American Automobile Association. Cost: $75.

Call 609-393-5933.

The honorees are Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., secretary

of state; James B. Golden Jr., director of the Trenton Police

Department; Larry Sheffield, Universal Consulting Group;

Jerri

L. Morrison, Young Scholars Institute; and Rocky Peterson,

an attorney with Hill Wallack.

The catalyst for the MTAACC, Harmon says, was the renaissance of

Trenton.

"There was a great amount of economic opportunity coming into

Trenton," he says, referring to projects like the arena, the

Roebling

complex, and the Marriott hotel project, "but blacks and other

minorities were still being passed by."

The biggest reason this was occurring, Harmon says, is unequal access

to capital. "It was a problem then, and it’s a problem now,"

he says. Minorities often do not have the backup resources to get

them through a slow sales cycle or an emergency. "Typically in

the mainstream," he says, "your father is in business, your

grandfather is in business. You can call on them in time of trouble

to get some relief." This backup is far less often available to

blacks, he says, and the result can be a few missed payments.

"Banks

have electronic credit scoring systems," says Harmon, who worked

as a banker for nine years. Applications are sometimes kicked out

despite the fact that the business may have contracts and solid

prospects.

Harmon says MTAACC is working with banks on coming up with

"creative"

financing opportunities, including automatic repayment from borrowers’

checking accounts. It is also asking banks to tell minorities turned

down for business loans why their applications were rejected, and

what they can do to get a loan. If the business meets the bank’s

conditions,

it should get the loan, Harmon says. "We need a better dialogue

with the banking system," he says. "What we’re proposing is

that MTAACC work as a conduit between the bank and borrowers."

While it is working with banks on minority-friendly policies, MTAACC

is also educating minority business owners on maintaining a good

credit

rating. "In the black community, we really don’t have a history

of understanding the importance of credit," Harmon says. "If

you’re presented with an opportunity, the past may haunt you."

This is the case right now, he says, for a friend in the trucking

business. The man just got a contract, but his truck has been in and

out of the shop for six months. He needs a new one, but, despite the

fact that the Small Business Administration will guarantee 80 percent

of the $100,000 the truck will cost, a damaged credit record is

keeping

him from getting bank approval for the loan.

Begun as a organization to address these and other issues as they

apply to minorities, MTAACC soon forged an alliance with the Greater

Mercer County Chamber of Commerce. "We started as an African

American

chamber, but we realized we weren’t alone in the struggle," Harmon

says.

In its membership too, MTAACC reaches out to the entire community.

White women business owners are among MTAACC members, as are major

corporations, including Bristol-Myers Squibb. Law firms Hill Wallack

and Buchanan Ingersoll are members, as are a number of banks,

including

First Union and Summit Bancorp. PSE&G and Isles are also members.

The roster of minority-owned businesses in MTAACC’s membership

includes

plumbers, electricians, painters, printers, graphic artists, florists,

entertainment companies, one CPA, and one physical therapist.

Unlike many minority business owners, Harmon, owner of a Trenton-based

refrigerated trucking company, did learn about "the agonies and

ecstasies" of the entrepreneurial life at home. His father

also owned a trucking company, and Harmon decided to follow in his

footsteps after Chemical Bank, where he was buying and selling real

estate loans on the secondary markets, transferred him to Long Island.

"Commuting to Manhattan was bad enough," says Harmon, who

made the Trenton to Manhattan commute for nine years. So he traded

the train for a trucking business. At one time he owned four tractor

trailers, but is now down to one as he concentrates on MTAACC and

on real estate investments in Trenton.

Harmon went through the Trenton school system before earning an

associate’s

degree in business management from Mercer College and graduating from

Fairleigh Dickinson with a degree in business management. He is one

of seven children. His mother was a factory worker at Heinemann

Electric.

A resident of Ewing, where he coaches two youth basketball league

teams, Harmon is married to a nurse who worked for HIP for 15 years

"until they shut their doors," and who is now an insurance

broker. They have three sons, 17, 13, and 11.

Harmon sees progress for minority business owners in the Trenton area.

"Troy Vincent just got a $1.3 million contract from the City of

Trenton to build transitional housing," he says of the Eagles

football player and Trenton native, who also owns a construction

company.

The contract is among the largest an African American has ever gotten

from the city, he says, and is a sign of things to come. "Folks

are beginning to realize what the minority community realized a long

time ago. It’s a hidden jewel, a gold mine." In addition to its

stock of substantial homes and its low office rents, the city is on

the brink of being redeveloped, he says, because "there is nowhere

else to go." Like Harlem in New York City, Trenton will benefit

from overdevelopment in adjacent areas. "Moratoriums in suburban

communities will limit development there," he says, leaving

Trenton

as the logical alternative.

Harmon has this advice for minority-owned businesses that want to

take advantage of work arising from Trenton’s redevelopment:

Make contacts outside of your community. "If you’re

in the black community, you can’t just depend on black people,"

says Harmon. "You have to come out of your comfort zone and reach

out." This is hard for many minority business owners. "It

has to do with the old stereotypes," he says. "One race

against

the other." While discrimination is less obvious now than 20

or 30 years ago, "the perception in the black community is that

it still exists." But while it may be difficult for minorities

to move beyond their own circles, Harmon says that they must.

"It’s

an algebraic thing," he says. "You have to work on both sides

of the equation."

Get a good business education. "Minority businesses

have to have sound business fundamentals — how to properly market,

the significance of networking." Like all businesses,

minority-owned

companies need thorough business plans. "Don’t be afraid to talk

to people who are successful," Harmon says. Information attained

in this way will add to business owners’ confidence. "Not being

knowledgeable makes people reluctant to go out there," he says.

Have a variety of customers. Just as MTAACC has built

a membership base of large corporations, non-profits, small

businesses,

and government agencies, minority businesses need a diversified group

of clients. "Don’t be overly dependent on one source of

business,"

Harmon says. "It helps you when the economy turns. You will have

a leg up on the competition."

MTAACC helps minority businesses reach these goals. "Folks

realize the significance of having an organization that represents

their interests," Harmon says. But, with the memory of being

intimidated

by competing for a job at a New York bank still fresh, he adds "we

seek to work with the mainstream business community. We do not want

to be isolated from the rest of society."

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Top Of Page
In Trenton, New Talk, New Look

A riverfront manufacturing center that fell on hard

times when factories went south, Trenton is working on a number of

fronts to reinvent itself. Projects already underway, funded, or

actively

looking for financial backing encompass retail, transportation,

entertainment,

housing, manufacturing, high tech, and the arts. Beyond restoring

the capital city, the projects are providing jobs and contracts, a

number of them to small business.

On Tuesday, March 6, at 8:30 a.m. Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer,

Christiana Foglio of Home Properties in New Brunswick, and

Ralph

Orlando of Schoor DePalma speak on "Development Opportunities

in New Jersey’s Capital" at the New Jersey Builders Association

at Forsgate. Cost: $40. Call 609-657-5577. Opportunities for builders

and other professionals exist in ongoing and proposed projects —

large and small. For example:

The Marriott hotel, Trenton’s first luxury hotel in over

15 years, is under construction next to its restored War Memoria.

The hotel will have 200 rooms, 15,500 feet of meeting space, and a

125-seat dining room.

Across the street from the new Sovereign Bank Arena a

long-abandoned factory is getting ready to take on new life as a

restaurant

and entertainment complex.

In the neighborhood around the Urban Word cafe art

studios,

night clubs, offices, and stores are planned.

The Roebling Complex, former home of John A. Roebling

Sons’ Wire Rope Works, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, is being

transformed

into a retail, housing, and office complex, with an emphasis on

E-commerce

and high tech industries.

The Trenton train station is slated for a $10 million

face lift that will add new retail space as well as public spaces

for art and tourism promotion.

The Eagle Tavern, dating back to Colonial times, is now

owned by the city, which is conducting a structural evaluation and

a restoration/reuse survey.

A high tech and biotech incubator is planned through a

partnership of the city and Mercer College for a 23 acre site that

has been vacant since CV Hill Refrigeration, the city’s largest

manufacturing

firm, pulled up stakes and headed for Virginia in 1996.

To add a little extra sparkle, the city is hoping to turn the

former Champale Brewery site near the Delaware River, and close to

KatManDu, into an entertainment and activity center.


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