First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alex Melen: Thankfully, we’re all doing fine. Our headquarters are in Paramus, NJ – next door to NYC, which was hit really bad in the first round of COVID. I’m happy to report that we’re all doing fine, though, and everyone is staying safe & healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SmartSites.
Alex Melen: I started the company with my brother Michael almost 10 years ago. The idea was to create an agency that can bring enterprise-level solutions and ROI-driven marketing to SMB clients, helping them embrace digital and succeed online.
How does SmartSites innovate?
Alex Melen: SmartSites, as a company, innovates on an ongoing basis, making sure our clients are getting results and succeeding with their digital presence. This ranges from designing cutting-edge and ROI-driven websites, following Google’s best practices and private betas for SEM, and generating constant growth in organic search traffic through link building and content writing.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Alex Melen: With the majority of our clients being SMB’s – and almost half from the NYC-metro (which was hit very hard by Covid) – we were impacted pretty heavily. However, we committed as a company to not lay off any of our 150+ employees and continue to invest in the company, our employees, and our clients. While that meant losing money for the first time since our founding as a company, we needed to make sure we were there to support both our employees and our clients in these difficult times.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Alex Melen: Yes – perhaps the most difficult was the decision to allow the company to lose money for several months to retain our employees and continue helping our clients, sometimes at a very big loss. I still believe that was the correct decision, and we’re now more prepared than ever to continue growing the company and helping our clients.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and SmartSites in the future?
Alex Melen: As a company – we are committed to our continued growth strategy. If there is any silver lining to COVID is that it made the importance of digital clearer than ever. We’re not out of the woods just yet – but the long-term outlook is bright, and with our entire team in-tact, we are more prepared than most of our competitors to continue succeeding in the digital space.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Alex Melen: The digital media space is full of competitors ranging from 1-person-companies to enterprise-level agencies like Publicis (for whom I worked for 3 years). As before, we plan to continue our focus on our employees and our clients. Ultimately, as we continue helping our clients succeed online, we will continue our growth trajectory and plan to grow from the current 150 employees to 500 in the next few years.
Your final thoughts?
Alex Melen: While many of our SMB clients are going through a hard time right now, I think the future is bright. I think the importance of digital and investing in your online presence (both in terms of making a website and digital marketing) will be more important than ever. Stores that got by with just a physical mall presence now understand the importance of diversifying. Local restaurants that might have been fine with just a Yelp page before now understand that they need to have a website and invest in diversification (i.e., deliveries, online order, etc..). Even places like a local butcher now understand the power of building a website and taking orders from all over the country instead of being limited to a single town. Again, if there is any silver lining to COVID is that it helped speed up the digital revolution by at least 5 years. And while not everyone agrees with my view, many are starting to coming around:
“Clearly COVID has dramatically accelerated digital adoption,” Gass says. “I mean, some would say, five-plus years what it typically would have taken across all demographics.” – CEO of Kohls 11/5/2020.