The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 3.5 percent last week, unemployment has been over nine percent nationwide for more than a year, and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke balked at a recent question about the possibility of an upcoming double-dip recession.
In these tough economic times, employers must reinvent, adapt and pinch pennies, Amparo Connors, president of Allied Personnel Services Inc. in Forest Hills, said during a panel discussion on small businesses at Queens College Friday.
“I have to be a fiscal hawk,” she told the roughly 300 event attendees. “I nitpick every bill.”
Connors, whose Queens Blvd.-based company provides temporary and permanent staffing, related that she has saved thousands of dollars in overhead costs through such acts as renegotiating her lease and requesting a “loyalty discount” from her long-time drinking water provider.
“I eat a little crow and ask for help,” she said.
Connors has learned to roll with the punches since founding Allied Personnel in 1999. She completely eliminated her services in the warehouse field due to financial reasons, and she has lost some good salespeople, thanks to a lack of things to sell.
“We learned to do more with less,” she said.
Her survival is due in part to becoming certified as an M/WBE (Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise) in 2007. This classification led to her second-biggest contract with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, she said, as the USMMA found her on a federal database.
But she also stressed the importance of networking, pointing out that she maintains mutually beneficial relationships with former salespeople.
The other panelists—Audra Fordin of the Great Bear Auto Repair and Auto Body Shop in Flushing; Dominic Valente of Valente Yeast Company Inc. in Maspeth; and Kenneth J. Buettner of Long Island City’s York Scaffold Equipment Corp.—agreed with the reinvention-adaptation-penny-pinching philosophy.
Valente said that his third-generation, family-owned company, which distributes baking ingredients to eateries in the Tri-State Area, is constantly keeping up with fads. In the 1970s, croissants became popular in New York City, and his company reacted quickly. Since then, he has dealt with the rising and falling popularity of muffins, frozen bread and organic products.
“Right now, we’re riding the crest of cupcakes,” he said.
Buettner said that what is now a fourth-generation, family-owned scaffolding company actually began as a painting business. While on painting gigs, his great-grandfather realized that he could install scaffolds better than anybody else and pivoted.
Fast-forward to the present, and Buettner is getting more and more jobs on movie and fashion sets, while construction-related projects dwindle.
Fordin said that she uses social media to promote her business, emphasizing that she provides a female touch in a male-dominated industry. She also operates a gender-forward website, www.whatwomenautoknow.com.
Fordin, a licensed auto technician, added that hybrid cars, which have much different interior mechanics than purely fuel-injection vehicles, are gaining in popularity. Thus, she is always upgrading her skill set.