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Small Businesses Explore Social Media In White Plains

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - People just don't go antiquing as much as they used to, said small-business owner Paul Vandekar. So he was gathering tips on how to harness social media to market his White Plains business at an event held at the White Plains Library on Wednesday afternoon.

Vandekar, of White Plains, said he was one of the first antiques dealers that he knew of to launch a website, back in 2002. Now he is looking to see how to better utilize social media like Facebook, on which he created a page for his business - Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc. - last March.

The key is engagement marketing, according to speaker Ellen DiPasquale of Constant Contact Inc., who spoke to Vandekar and a roomful of other small-business owners.

"I was an entrepreneur for 20 years, and I never considered myself a salesperson," DiPasquale said. "You're not selling them something, you're asking, 'Can I give you more information?'"

After establishing a contact, you must give them a way to keep in touch, then keep them engaged, she said. That could be by adding them to your newsletter - which Constant Contact provides templates for - or telling them to find you on Facebook or by some other method. The next key, she said, is maintaining fresh and engaging content on sites like Facebook, and responding to comments and other activity on your business's page.

"When you're trying to run a lean business, technology plays a large role in that, and that's what this is about," said Vandekar, who started his business 35 years ago.

Back in the 1970s, people went antiquing all the time, he said. But that has changed, and Vandekar said he has had to change with the times. With less foot traffic, he decided to close his Manhattan location and relies more on antiques shows and online sales.

Constant Contact Inc. helps small businesses, associations, and nonprofits connect with their customers, clients, and members. DiPasquale often gives presentations to small businesses in Westchester.

"I use Constant Contact to promote my shows," Vandekar said. "I'm hoping to find out how to do that better, and any alternatives."

In addition to posting on Facebook, the antiques dealer says he uses LinkedIn, Twitter and TumblR to get the word out about upcoming shows he particpates in. Additionally, Constant Contact helps him produce a newsletter, which he said goes out to 3,500 contacts.

"I couldn't write to 3,500 people," he said.

Wednesday's presentation also included a panel of small-business owners who Constant Contact has credited as "local experts" - like marketing strategist Nancy Shenker.

"I'm proof positive that small businesses can use these tools to generate actual revenue," said Shenker, who added that she can trace six figures of revenue to connections and customers she made using social media. "Although this is no substitute for in-person networking, it can act as social lubricant," she said.

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