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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Michele Alperin was
prepared for the February 28, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All
Selling The Sizzle
After taking an intensive course on pianos in
preparation for selling them, Rocky Romeo
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
"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
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
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
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
And, it turns out, in business, and particularly in retail,
is more than words. As Romeo points out in these tips for adding curb
appeal, communication can be a over-sized gorilla:
"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.
of motion — are the keys to getting a glance from passersby.
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.
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.
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."
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.
attractive lights, and perhaps even fragrances need to blend with
well-trained salespeople in creating an environment to draw shoppers.
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
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."
difficult. "It’s hard, hard work," Romeo says. With or without
a gorilla to drag in prospects.
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
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
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
For companies ready to explore potential markets, Keld Hansen
CGB’s director, offers a class on "Sources of International
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
Companies looking for an appropriate export market, says Hansen, need
two types of information: official information, found largely in
Internet data bases, and informal sources, which require a little
creativity to uncover. They can use this information to answer a
of questions that will help them narrow their search:
and income levels? Companies can use their experience in the U.S.
market to determine the correct parameters.
at the appropriate socioeconomic level? "You are normally
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
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
— and even trade leads.
exporting? The United Nations International Trade Statistics
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
A business can get a sense of how markets have developed over recent
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
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,
difficult to do business with a country? "It makes a difference
when you have to pay a large income duty," says Hansen.
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
to use the resources of the CGB as well as those of the U.S.
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
small-to-medium size N.J. companies with access to local
without paying any money or paying very little. In a foreign
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
is available to them for free with regard to international
— Michele Alperin
As president of the Metropolitan Trenton African
Chamber of Commerce, John Harmon draws on his own life
when encouraging member businesses. "Minority businesses need
to get out of their comfort zones," Harmon says. Mainstream
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
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.
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;
L. Morrison, Young Scholars Institute; and Rocky Peterson,
an attorney with Hill Wallack.
The catalyst for the MTAACC, Harmon says, was the renaissance of
"There was a great amount of economic opportunity coming into
Trenton," he says, referring to projects like the arena, the
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.
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
Harmon says MTAACC is working with banks on coming up with
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
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
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
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
chamber, but we realized we weren’t alone in the struggle," Harmon
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,
First Union and Summit Bancorp. PSE&G and Isles are also members.
The roster of minority-owned businesses in MTAACC’s membership
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
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
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
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
as the logical alternative.
Harmon has this advice for minority-owned businesses that want to
take advantage of work arising from Trenton’s redevelopment:
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
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.
an algebraic thing," he says. "You have to work on both sides
of the equation."
have to have sound business fundamentals — how to properly market,
the significance of networking." Like all businesses,
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.
a membership base of large corporations, non-profits, small
and government agencies, minority businesses need a diversified group
of clients. "Don’t be overly dependent on one source of
Harmon says. "It helps you when the economy turns. You will have
a leg up on the competition."
realize the significance of having an organization that represents
their interests," Harmon says. But, with the memory of being
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
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
looking for financial backing encompass retail, transportation,
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
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:
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.
long-abandoned factory is getting ready to take on new life as a
and entertainment complex.
night clubs, offices, and stores are planned.
Sons’ Wire Rope Works, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, is being
into a retail, housing, and office complex, with an emphasis on
and high tech industries.
face lift that will add new retail space as well as public spaces
for art and tourism promotion.
owned by the city, which is conducting a structural evaluation and
a restoration/reuse survey.
partnership of the city and Mercer College for a 23 acre site that
has been vacant since CV Hill Refrigeration, the city’s largest
firm, pulled up stakes and headed for Virginia in 1996.
former Champale Brewery site near the Delaware River, and close to
KatManDu, into an entertainment and activity center.
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