Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Small Business Spotlight


Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Small Business Spotlight

In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we celebrate the uniqueness of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures and work toward creating stronger connections within our communities. We recognize the entrepreneurial spirit of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the impact their businesses have on our communities. Read on for stories and advice from three Asian-owned small businesses.

Mika Coletto is the founder of Mitaka NY Flowers, a recently launched floral boutique in the Upper East Side, NYC. Creativity is the key of Mika’s life: she has always been very successful at improvising music as well as flowers, from her “here and now” point of view, to produce precious and unique results. She produced flower arrangements for celebrities such as Madonna and Kelly Ripa, and corporate luxury companies like Oscar De La Renta and Brioni. At her new boutique, she focuses on luxury flower arrangements, mixing New York style with a touch of Japanese “wabi-sabi” philosophy. 

On Mitaka NY Flowers
I opened my shop a handful of days before Valentine’s day in 2019 and it was a miracle as I found this space only a few months earlier.  My landlord and co-broker, Kara, worked miracles to make it possible for me to finalize my contract in a mere four days!

My shop is primarily devoted to flowers and plants, with a focus is on seasonal representations.  I’m very intrigued by unusual flowers and plants and love working with them.  I also prepare arrangements for small parties, events, weddings, and funerals.

My artistry has been well-received by such societal luminaries as Martha Stewart and companies such as Harry Winston.

I believe flowers and plants have the natural power to help people be happy.  I like to think I see their happiness in my customers’ smiles (even when they’re wearing their masks) and their friendly comments towards me.

On starting a business
Get ready to work harder than you've ever worked before, as it's not easy to start a business.  Despite the challenges, I derive a great degree of pleasure and satisfaction from my work as I love the expressive capability of flower arrangements.  The majority of my arrangements are custom designed mainly in response to my customers’ requests for bespoke designs using seasonal flowers.

While advertising, social media, or connections are important for starting your business, your uniqueness, or “one of a kind” mentality, is very important. It serves as a competitive springboard as customers will quickly notice your philosophy towards your business.

On the Asian Community
There’s a symbiotic relationship between myself and my Asian customers whether they’re individuals, restaurants, or companies, as I have an innate understanding of their needs.

Outside of my work, I’m a member of the Japanese-American Lion Club and I volunteer throughout New York City in a variety of capacities.

On growing and expanding your business
In today’s climate, all we can do is work extremely hard to stay in business.  Any plans for growth and expansion must be delayed until the repercussions of the pandemic are lessened.  Fortunately, my small footprint is helping to make survival a reality.

My flower shop is about 600 square feet, but since the pandemic started, I'm using about half the space in the front. While this means I have fewer plants and flowers on display, it also means I have fewer leftover flowers.  In fact, the average flower shop experiences a 30% loss on leftover flowers.  My shop, however, is less than 3%!

On technology during the Covid-19 pandemic
My website traffic has increased since the pandemic began, as people are reaching out to family members by sending flower arrangements for special occasions.  We’re hearing from people from many states other than New York. Instagram, Facebook, and texting are also useful tools to communicate with customers.

On helpful entrepreneurial tools, tips, and tricks 
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve taken the initiative to learn how to navigate the Small Business Administration to acquire resources and gather information.  My ability to do this is thanks to my customers’ help in gathering the appropriate information. Nominal support from the government during the pandemic. Also, my friends and retail neighbors have shared information with me about the process. This support system, or community, has made it possible for me to feel less anxious and, as a result, focus more on my business.

In addition to the challenges posed by gathering the information in such a complicated system, the government documents can present the material in very sophisticated terms.  As a non-native English speaker, this created more hurdles which I had to overcome. However, if you have someone who can explain the process in simple English, it was easier to understand.  Always looking to strengthen my community, I was happy to help my fellow Japanese business owners with translations, if necessary. 

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - Quote from Ken Suwat

Ken Suwat, the owner of Nu Trend Cleaners in White Plains, NY, is originally from Thailand. Nu Trend does eco-friendly dry cleaning, shirt laundering, alteration and repair, wash and fold, wedding gown preservation, leather and suede cleaning and repair, and area rug cleaning. They serve the local White Plains community and nearby cities.

On Nu Trend Cleaners
I started my business in 2005 by accident. My ex-wife’s aunt and her partner owned the business before. Then, the partner passed away and my aunt in law did not want to run the business anymore. Therefore, she gave the business to us to run. The business didn’t do well back then. Me and my ex-wife took over and made it profitable.

On the Asian Community
I am from Thailand and it is well-known for hospitality and land of smile. I use this benefit to serve the customers and community as well as training my colleagues to have these service mind.  

On funding and overhead
Always go to your bank that you have an account with first for funding since you already have a relationship with them, and they know your cash flow. It will be easier to get financing. Try to keep your overhead low when it is low season for your business. 

On helpful entrepreneurial tools, tips, and tricks 
Try to be on top of everything. You cannot avoid the problem. It always comes, so deal with it. Always smile and greet the customer even you are having a really bad day.

Chef Sohal opened Punjabi Junction UES in New York City during the height of the pandemic. Punjabi Junction offers fresh Indian groceries, and specializes in healthy and authentic Indian snacks, meals, and spices. 

On the Asian Community
We have a goal of being a part of each family on the Upper East Side area and not be known as just a store. The community plays a tremendous role in passing on the message to their friends and families and we have great appreciation for them.

On technology during the Covid-19 pandemic
We opened a week before Covid shut everything down, and technology helped my business adapt throughout the pandemic. Things like online ordering and social media marketing on the right platforms helped us a lot.

On helpful entrepreneurial tools, tips, and tricks 
Just good customer care! We believe in creating personal one to one relationship with our clients and customers.

On entrepreneurial roadblocks and overcoming them 
After exploring our current location for a good six months, we decided to open up a variety store as there were no other businesses like ours in about 30 streets up or 30 streets down. That is when we made up our mind to do a proper Asian grocery and food store. However, we experienced the shock of our life when we realized that the city would shut down the same week as our opening. We are extremely thankful to all our valued clients who showed so much support and love throughout this tough journey. We are very glad to make it through. Again, the key is "customer care."

This AAPI Heritage Month, we support small-business with stories and advice from three Asian-owned small businesses, and are providing tools for future success with digital business resources through the Optimum Business Digital Toolkit. Explore the toolkit for more expert advice and solutions to meet your growing business needs.