How the New Jersey Small Business Development Center Helps Owners in All Stages Achieve Success

Vincent Vicari knows what it’s like to sleep on the floor of his shop.

As regional director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center, based at Ramapo College, Vicari uses his decades of experience in retail management, sales, food service, higher education and consulting to help small business owners and entrepreneurs thrive.

“There may be business hours, but there’s never an off-switch for small business responsibilities,” the Bergen County native said. “Do you mind doing it at 12 at night? It has to be a passion.”

Vicari recalled nights he slept on a back-room floor at the deli/convenience store he operated years ago to save commuting time in order to have his business spotless when the first customers arrived at 6 a.m.                                                    

“I wanted them to buy food from the cleanest place in town,” he said, citing weekly sales that doubled during that time. “It’s not rocket science. It’s perseverance.”                                                                                                                                 

Small Staff Serves Large Scope 

The Small Business Development Center traces its history to Jimmy Carter’s presidential administration, which launched the program nationwide in the 1970s to provide small business counseling.                                                                                                                                   

With just three consultants and two full-time employees – Vicari and Regional Program Assistant/Outreach Coordinator Kathleen Cronin – the center’s widespread impact belies the size of its small crew.

The center serves 400-700 business owners annually, with nearly 6,000 on the rolls Vicari has kept since starting as assistant director in 2008 and regional director in 2014.

Multiply that by the employees at each business and the numbers compound.                                                                                                                                           

Center Prepares Owners For Success 

But it’s individual success stories that Vicari likes to highlight, such as Tania Torres, founder of the mobile luxury wax studio GlamTruck Warriors, and an “America’s Real Deal” contestant.                                                

The Small Business Development Center helped Torres prepare a business plan and reviewed her show contract, among other assistance, and she is already looking to expand her business, Vicari said.                                                                                                                                                                            

A collaboration with Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus has been another success story. With about 20 million shoppers annually, the mall is among the busiest retail destinations nationwide.

The Plaza’s initiative with the Small Business Development Center provides small businesses –  including minority- and women-owned businesses – with special terms for a move-in ready storefront or kiosk.                                                                               

A three-month lease, for example, can offer “mom and pop” stores an opportunity to test-run their enterprise without the investment and commitment of 10- to 15-year leases typical of larger stores. Vicari teaches participants about merchandising, aesthetics and other components of retail.                                                                                                            

The Plaza benefits, he said, by bringing a diverse community into the mall, along with the goal of businesses reaching a point to sign longer leases as their profitability grows.    

“If sales support it, they’ll continue,” Vicari said. “If not, we all come together as friends and if we have to leave the party, we leave as friends. Nobody gets hurt.”

The program is a pilot for mall owner Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, who could expand it to its 25 other malls nationwide.                                                          

Another collaborative program within the Plaza, the USAfrica Retail Space, provides a retail incubation program to sell African-made products from places such as Nigeria and Kenya.

“Their products otherwise wouldn’t be seen in the U.S. market,” Vicari said, noting the program is not only for imports, but for exports. “If we build a relationship, we can find and build opportunities for bilateral trade.”                                            

Pandemic Program Benefits Businesses, Students

Vicari also was instrumental in starting a program during the pandemic, which has benefited both businesses and college students.

The center received the Governor’s Jefferson Award for public service for its Economic Recovery Task Force Initiative, in which Ramapo students shadow the organization’s consultants and assist clients.                                                                                                                        

Interns from every discipline across campus provide free assistance to businesses in accounting, digital marketing, computer services and more. Students, in turn, gain real-world experience that can provide job search advantages.

At 66, Vicari, also an adjunct professor at William Paterson University, has no plans to slow down, with “another 30 years” to go, he said, citing collaborations as key to the Small Business Development Center’s success.

He pointed to Meadowlands Chamber President and CEO Jim Kirkos as a positive force.

“He’s driven the growth of that chamber,” Vicari said. “I look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce for years to come.”