This is an archived blog from when I ran Conscious Public Relations Inc. from 2008-2018. Excuse the potential outdated-ness!
5 Things 10 days in New York City taught me about business
Now that it’s been nine days since I came back from our honeymoon in NYC, I’ve had a chance to reflect on everything I’ve experienced there, and compare it to life in Vancouver. I’ve been to quite a few American cities and even metropolitan Asian cities, but NYC got into my skin in a way that I’ll never forget. Here are five things that NYC taught me about business that I’m going to take with me as a CEO and hopefully in some way, help other businesses & communities implement.
1. Design matters. One of the first things I noticed when driving into Manhattan from the Newark Airport was that storefronts look hot. From the mom & pop shops to high end luxury boutiques, people KNOW how to dress up their businesses. You must do this because when there’s a competitor on the same block or across the street (in a busy area, you can seriously get the same kind of cuisine within a 10-door radius), you gotta stand out to show people who you are. This means different coloured, clearly legible business names on awnings, and dressed windows. The more complex the branding, the better sense I could get of what the business offered, even during closed hours.
Times Square is an exaggerated example of marketing, where storefronts are barely visible and it’s all about the ads. In most other places they are more distinct.
Related to design, there were a good number of businesses that transformed walls into open spaces when the weather was good. Leo and I were fortunate to have coffee one morning on a beautiful day where we could watch people and cars go by – this encourages outreach into the community and more business from passersby.
Almond milk latte point of view from Blue Bottle Cafe in East Village. The cafe across the street did the same thing by opening up the walls.
2. The hustle is real. Gary V doesn’t bullshit. Everyone’s going somewhere, whether it’s to school, work, or the party, and most commuters are either using their phones or wearing headphones and having conversations. This is why there are so many cars (which there are too much of, btw), taxis, and Uber drivers in Manhattan, and everyone loves honking and encouraging people to go faster. Everyone disobeys pedestrian signals and crosses the street if there are no cars.
The price of groceries and meals is about twice what it is here in Vancouver (and I thought we were paying a lot for food). So it makes sense that they take their work seriously. In a place where a 500 square foot or less apartment probably costs the same as what we’re renting our 1500 sq. ft. suite for, if you don’t work, you don’t survive.
The Halal Guys dominate the gyro cart industry in Manhattan. In 60 seconds flat you order, pay, and get change & your meal from an open-cooking cart. No one else I know delivers that fast.
However, New Yorkers also play hard. Getting tables to eat at 12 noon or 6pm was considered early, as most places would only get busy at least an hour after we were dining. On weekend nights, pubs, bars, and clubs are packed to the brim from 8pm onward and stay loud until the wee hours of the morning (or at least until we tapped out and called it a night, which wasn’t very late).
I could tell our Airbnb host was a hustler (in a good way), and she wasn’t even in town when we were. It was obvious that there was someone staying in her place right before us, and we had to check out on time because she’d booked someone to stay the day we left. When I accidentally broke her bedside lamp light bulb, she told me exactly where I could get a replacement. Along with hustle, service is everything.
3. Price is relative. Related to my comment above, you pay what it costs. While NYC is an expensive place compared to Vancouver, it also offers 10x more in value: Cuisine to delight any foodie’s appetite, awe-inspiring architecture and city views, and an endless list of activities to do and things to see, from globally renowned museums to top talent Broadway musicals, even parks and street performers. This makes price relative — and made me wonder why in Vancouver we don’t offer more value rather than lower the rates of everything. One thing that many food businesses do is amp up one dish or product and make their location a destination. For example, we specifically went to Dominique Ansel Bakery for the cronut (which was sold out), Clinton Street Baking Company for pancakes, Russ & Daughters Cafe for smoked salmon bagels, and Momofuku Nishi for the Impossible Burger.
Pancakes with Maine blueberry sauce, voted best in NYC – 1 hour wait for a table
The Impossible Burger (vegetarian) at Momofuku Nishi – less than 5 minute wait, as we got there right at lunch opening hours.
While we’d all love to pay less for things, sometimes less value isn’t good, which relates to the next point:
4. Service is king (or queen). I can’t say we received poor service anywhere we went. Even Dangerfield’s Comedy Club – where admission was $5 a head when tickets were bought in advance – provided great value on a Monday night with 11 stand-up comics ranging in talent level. And all we had to buy was two drinks each. We even got free tequila shots for being rowdy.
We went on Hush Tours‘s Birthplace of Hip Hop tour through Harlem and The Bronx, and that is probably the closest I’ll ever come to spending a couple of hours with a hip hop legend. Grandmaster Caz explained that Hush had been running tours for the last 15 years. Though there weren’t very many picturesque photo opps on the tour, the education and stories of the history were rich, and I could only imagine how much the tour had improved since their humble beginnings, to be able to be running for that long.
The best service I received was when we were leaving to go back to the airport Saturday afternoon. Via absolutely rescued us when we called for a (very early) cab from our lunch restaurant and it failed to arrive after one hour. My first time trying out a driver service with an app, Via promised pick up in eight minutes and was able to tell me who was driving, what vehicle would pick us up, and how much the ride to the airport would cost. It delivered with flying colours, and the 40 minute peaceful ride out in an almost new car was enough to make me nap some of the way. For comparison’s sake, a taxi ride would have cost the same, and Uber would have taken longer and we would have had to share the car. Via is going to get my service again next time we visit, hands down.
5. Who you vote into power affects your business. We were lucky to not have any Trump-related protests get in the way of our stay in a major way, however we did witness the aftermath of the March for Science on the 22nd at Times Square. The march resulted in some closures on main Manhattan streets, which aren’t necessarily bad for foot traffic, though manpower resources have to be allocated whenever that happens.
Our New York friends mentioned that the few months after Trump had been voted President, their businesses (related to art and interior design) were at a complete stand still, as no one wanted to buy or sell real estate. So government always has a role to play in your industry, whether big or small.
Anti-Trump artwork in windows behind Taglialatella Galleries – view from Highline Park in Chelsea
I learned so much more from New York City in terms of city services, how people interact, and how they engage in their communities, and will be forever grateful for the learnings and memories.