Rosa Kasperovich studied to become a funeral director after becoming disenchanted with  nursing studies, and she talks about building Rose's Funeral Home in Bay Shore and the importance of community connections. Credit: Newsday / John Conrad Williams Jr./John Conrad Williams Jr.

Small businesses have always had to be nimble to survive, but the last two years have put even the most resourceful to the test.

In the quarter-century before the COVID-19 pandemic, only one-third of them made it to their 10th anniversary. In recent years, that meant that about 600,000 shuttered annually. Since the pandemic, that number has risen to 800,000, according to a U.S. Federal Reserve study in April 2021.

Survival rates 

While some businesses endure for decades, others are less lucky. From 1994 to 2019, the survival rates of new companies with employees:

2+ years: 67.6%

5 years: 48.9%

10 years: 33.6% 

15 years: 25.7%

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration

Longtime businesses that have beaten the odds usually have a willingness to try new products, services and marketing strategies. Some also had a healthy dose of luck.

Enduring companies "have built brand loyalty and cultivated strong relationships with customers and their entire supply chain," said Doug Betensky, owner of Upside Business Consultants in Hauppauge. "Most importantly, they have maintained a strong cash position that allows them to retain employees and provide their services and products without decreasing quality."

Here is some of the accumulated wisdom of five longtime Long Island businesses, their stories of endurance and advice to others about staying the course.

Stay positive and keep learning

Eve Bipram, owner of Derick's Auto Center, passed the exam to become a...

Eve Bipram, owner of Derick's Auto Center, passed the exam to become a certified New York State Vehicle Inspector after her husband, Derick, died. More study and certifications followed.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Eve Bipram

Owner/President

Derick’s Auto Center, Floral Park

2021 revenue: 17% increase over 2020

When her husband died after a heart attack in 2017, Eve Bipram took over Derick’s Auto Center, the business that bears his name.

But challenges abounded, including Bipram’s bouts with COVID in 2020 and early 2021, a mechanic moving away three years ago and the gas attendant dying six months later.

Although Bipram retained the master mechanic, the firm lost 25% of its customers. Some of the company's remaining customers told Bipram that the others were no longer patronizing the business due to their concerns that a woman-owned shop lacked the know-how to service vehicles.

"Everyone loved Derick and trusted him completely to work on their cars personally," Bipram said.

Yet, Bipram believed that her limited role as the bookkeeper during Derick’s lifetime gave her a jump-start in knowing the firm’s suppliers and their phone numbers. While the mechanic told her what to buy, she quickly grasped that ordering items on vendors’ e-commerce sites – instead of by phone – saved time.

"I just stepped into Derick’s shoes," said Bipram, 50, "and I learned everything."

And by "hitting the books and going under cars with the mechanic," she passed the exam to become the shop’s certified New York State Vehicle Inspector in 2019, a post that her husband had held.

Two years ago, online courses, independent study, on-the-job training and additional exams led to Bipram’s certification in air-conditioning and brake repair by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. She has also advanced to Level B mechanic, an industry designation that allows her to diagnose a problem and, with assistance, resolve it, she said. Her hands-on repair work is generally limited to joining with the mechanic to fix engine and transmission problems that require two people to do the work. A month ago, Bipram hired a gas attendant for a total of two employees.

Since Bipram took over, the company has increased its customer base by about 35%, the majority of them women. Most of her female customers, Bipram said, have recommended other women to her shop, and they have told her that "they feel more comfortable dealing with a woman than a man and that I'm easy to talk to."

As a result, since 2019, the company has sustained double-digit revenue gains.

Key advice: "Stay positive, keep learning and stay up-to-date with industry products and technology."

Set expectations for employees

A&C Pest Management owner Jim Skinner is assisted by his...

A&C Pest Management owner Jim Skinner is assisted by his dog Chip, the firm's bedbug-sniffing canine. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Jim Skinner, CEO

A&C Pest Management, East Meadow

2021 revenue: 15% increase over 2020

Back in 1969, when Neil O’Connor reached out to his friend and fellow firefighter Walter Skinner to become his business partner in a new exterminating firm, Skinner chose the security of a civil service job.

But two years later, Skinner changed his mind and joined O’Connor. Around 1975, Skinner assumed sole ownership of the company, said his son Jim Skinner, 55.

In 1994, after working in the business for a decade, Jim took the helm of the growing company and his father, now 83, retired.

But the company's growth proved a mixed blessing. Customer service was becoming uneven, profits were eroding, and the firm's relationship with employees was disintegrating, with workers beginning to steal from the business.

Along with instituting background checks on all new hires, Skinner introduced a handbook, which now appears on an employee-only website and documents standard operating procedures, as well as what the company expects of employees.

It encompasses accepted work attire; a script for a consistently accurate response to customers’ questions, including the number of treatments each type of infestation generally requires; a review of insect biology; and training materials.

The site also keeps workers in the loop about the business and their job performance, with everything from a comparative analysis of the company’s annual success rate in selling its services over the phone to the results of a firm-wide game that organizes workers into teams. Depending on such factors as their job-completion rate, teams can lose or earn points, which can lead to bonuses.

"The company culture is amazing," Skinner said.

As a result, the 16-employee firm continues to log in with sales gains.

Key advice: "Let employees know what’s expected of them and how they’re doing."

'Be intelligently aggressive'

Hicks Nurseries is 169 years old, and it has made many changes...

Hicks Nurseries is 169 years old, and it has made many changes since it catered to the owners of Gold Coast mansions, says CEO Stephen Hicks, who owns the business with his two sisters.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Stephen Hicks

President/CEO

Hicks Nurseries, Westbury

2021 revenue: Approximately $45 million

The Great Depression was nearly the end of Hicks Nurseries.

Sales of plants and trees to its customers – large Gold Coast mansions –plummeted 50% from its average annual revenues in the 1920s, said Stephen Hicks, 49, who shares ownership of the 169-year-old company with his two sisters.

But the garden company got a lifeline when it sold off some property in the 1930s for the Northern State Parkway’s development, according to Hicks.

Years later, in the 1950s and 1960s, the business sold other parcels, including land south of the parkway and west of the current nursery to Ellison Avenue, as well as a Dix Hills nursery.

With the business still struggling as Long Island was transitioning from a rural area to a suburban community, Hicks’ father, Fred, whose tenure lasted from the early 1960s until his death in 2004, rescued the company; he built it into its modern form as a retail garden center catering to the suburban market. He also boosted off-peak sales with fall and holiday items.

At the firm, which averages 200 employees over the course of the year, Stephen Hicks, 49, has spearheaded other changes, including launching the commercial sales division to target the wholesale trade; adding in-store permanent garden displays to assist customers in their shopping; and creating a landscape design-build department that provides everything from small flower beds to master plans with pools, patios, plantings and outdoor kitchens.

Key advice: "To stay relevant in a changing market, you need to continually innovate and be intelligently aggressive in trying new products and services."

Care about people

Rose's Funeral Home has benefited from long relationships with local...

Rose's Funeral Home has benefited from long relationships with local families and their referrals, said owner Rosa Kasperovich. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Rosa Kasperovich, founder, owner and president

Rose's Funeral Home Inc., Bay Shore

2021 revenues: $1 million-plus

After enrolling in college as a nursing student, Rosa Kasperovich became discouraged. She felt powerless to change the course of ailing patients’ lives. She wanted to help people, so she shifted her goals and earned an associate degree in funeral directing.

"You can comfort families," said Kasperovich, 73, who also holds a certificate in business management and retailing from Long Island University and has studied grief psychology.

In 1988, after gaining work experience, she opened the Rosa L. Kasperovich Funeral Service. A dozen years later, Kasperovich relocated her business from a 750-square-foot space to her current 7,000-square-foot funeral home. Kasperovich also changed her company name to Rose's Funeral Home.

Despite competition in the area, the five-employee Rose's has benefited from long relationships with local families and their referrals, she said.

Kasperovich’s visibility in the community has also helped. In pre-Covid days, she and an insurance agent held seminars at churches on funeral planning, and she served as a mentor at local schools. Before giving her business cards to students to give to their parents, Kasperovich encouraged the youngsters to take their education seriously to achieve their professional dreams.

Although the pandemic, she said, has "unfortunately" driven up her business, with Rose’s holding as many as 110 funerals a month in early 2020, some families have turned away from the mortuary because of Kasperovich’s COVID-related policies.

Concerned that individuals who died from COVID could still spread the virus and because, as Kasperovich tells families, she wants to keep everyone safe, Rose's will not embalm these bodies or hold their funeral services in its chapels. Instead, it will arrange for their graveside funerals – with closed caskets.

That policy remains in place even as scientists have determined that the virus is spread through exchange of exhaled air. Infectious disease specialist Dr. David Hirschwerk, medical director of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said, "We know at this point — two years into the pandemic — that the way this virus spreads is when an infected individual breathes the virus into the air and another person inhales the virus."

With many of Rose's customers facing budget constraints, Kasperovich said that she shows them how to "dignify their loved ones for less money," as in choosing cemeteries that allow for the burial of two bodies, one on top of the other, and less expensive caskets.

"My service is not all about the money," Kasperovich said.

Key advice: "Be people-oriented. Show that you care and want to provide a service that meets their needs while sticking to your own principles."

Collaborate with suppliers

Knitwear maker Two One Two New York had to lay...

Knitwear maker Two One Two New York had to lay off about 70 workers during the COVID shutdown but now employs about 100, says co-owner Marisa Fumei-South. Credit: Barry Sloan

Marisa Fumei-South, president, co-founder and co-owner

Two One Two New York Inc., Edgewood

2021 Revenues: 8% increase over 2020

In 2014, decades after its competitors sailed overseas for inexpensive labor and materials, Two One Two New York Inc., committed to remaining a domestic knit apparel manufacturer, navigated from a 60,000-square-foot space in Glendale, Queens, to its current 85,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Edgewood.

Armed with increased capability and capacity to incorporate style trends quickly into its line and deliver orders within eight weeks, the "Made in America" firm enjoyed the advantage of knowing what's selling "closer to delivery, rather than projecting eight months in advance," said Marisa Fumei-South, president, co-founder and co-owner of the 25-year-old company.

But the pandemic’s onset hit the firm hard. Retailers canceled orders and withheld payment, driving Two One Two, then considered a nonessential business, to furlough its approximately 70 employees.

But within about 10 days, it pivoted to PPE production and became an essential business and brought back about 50 of its furloughed workers. Cold-calling led to mask sales to various customers, including grocery stores, utilities and school districts. The firm also expanded into other PPE, including isolation gowns, booties and bouffant hair coverings for nursing home, health care and food-service workers and morticians.

And in an otherwise fragmented industry, the business teamed with suppliers and other producers in a FEMA mask program in 2020 and a mask initiative under the federal Warp Speed campaign last year, Fumei-South said. As a subcontractor, the company produced more than 7 million face coverings for each program.

Starting in late 2020, Two One Two also returned to sweater production, with major retailers and chains buying its sweaters and other knit apparel.

As a result, it ended last year in the black and with about 100 employees.

Key advice: "Pull together with your supply chain and resources and collaborate."

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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