By Benjamin Fang
A new initiative spearheaded by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce is offering free marketing help for small businesses in the neighborhood.
Last month, the chamber officially launched “Made in Flushing,” which will connect participating shops with Sixty First Productions, a Flushing-based company. They will provide website development, professional photos, video marketing, social media strategy and brand consulting
The free program has opened up the application process and will accept up to eight businesses on a rolling basis.
According to John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber, applicants have to be based in Flushing, employ 10 or fewer workers and cannot be a franchise.
“The underlying motivation is really to show the pride we have in these businesses,” he said.
The chamber and Sixty First Productions has already conducted a pilot program with three local businesses: New Asian Food, a South Asian vegetarian restaurant, Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, a popular Chinese-American spot, and Rim’s Fine Jewelry, a Korean-American jewelry shop and manufacturer.
“Some of these businesses are doing very well,” Choe said. “But we want to bump up and boost their prominence and promotions.”
Ikhwan Rim, the owner of Rim’s Fine Jewelry on Union Street, said the e-commerce part of his business requires high-quality photos. But he didn’t have much knowledge about professional photography until he participated in the program.
The team behind Sixty First Productions also set up the shop’s social media accounts, including an Instagram, to showcase his products.
“They train you how to do it and set it up too,” Rim said.
The third-generation jeweler added that small business owners are typically busy everyday, and don’t have time to think about social media. But his shop has already seen the effects of better online marketing.
“It did boost my sales,” he said.
Councilman Peter Koo, who owned a chain of pharmacies, said doing business is becoming more difficult in the technology age. He said small businesses are already saddled with many requirements, like the minimum wage increase and paid holidays.
Most traditional business owners see advertising as just newspapers or other types of print media, he added.
“We have to let owners know about the new way of doing business with social media,” Koo said.
Daniel Nalladurai, who along with partner Helena Kincaid-Nalladurai, run Sixty First Productions. He said his company will provide “focused, unique assistance” tailored to each business.
The goal is to then make it a “turnkey operation,” giving the participating businesses the tools and knowledge to continue the marketing themselves.
“We can set up social media accounts,” Kincaid-Nalladurai said. “But they need something to put on those accounts.
“You can create a website, but if the content on your website is not attractive or appealing or unified in a brand image, folks are not going to connect to it,” Kincaid-Nalladurai added.
The Sixty First Productions team plans to focus on one business per month. They will work closely with the business owners to “help them tell their story.”
“That’s what good marketing is at the end of the day,” Nalladurai said, “telling someone’s story.”
The program will run until June, according to Choe. The Greater Flushing Chamber has one year left in its contract with the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), which is funding this effort.
“We’re seeing if there’s interest or demand for it,” he said. “If there’s a lot of demand for it, we want to continue doing it in the next fiscal year.”
Choe said it “took a lot of effort” just to get the three pilot businesses on board with the program. He said many small businesses are skeptical of programs that often promise help, but often don’t provide a service that helps their bottom line.
He wants Flushing businesses to know that social media and digital marketing are a necessity in today’s age, where Amazon is dominating local retail because of their online reach.
“It’s the future, if you’re not part of it you’re going to be left behind,” Choe said. “If you want to survive, you have to find a way to use technology.”