For 90 minutes every Wednesday morning, some three dozen local business owners gather at the Ahwatukee Event Center to talk shop.
But it’s not just any talk that draws the men and women together.
It’s measured, disciplined and inclusive – which may explain why 37 members of the BNI Foothills Referral Partners collectively generated over $1 million in closed deals among themselves last year, and another $169,000 last month alone.
Not bad for a group that has been around for only two years.
It is the largest of three BNI chapters in Ahwatukee and part of a global organization whose acronym stands for Business Network International – the largest franchised networking organization in the world, boasting 227,000 members in 8,211 local chapters across six continents.
The whole idea behind BNI’s 32-year-old operation is to get businesses in the same community together to make business.
They do this either among themselves or by referring fellow members to their own clients who need a particular service. They also mentor each other and exchange information that might benefit the entire group or a substantial part of it.
The key to the referral part is that to belong, the business must be like none other in the group.
In other words, there is only one Realtor – in BNI Foothills’ case, it’s Christie Ellis of Ahwatukee; one home inspection company – BNI Foothills vice president Liz O’Neall, who with her husband Tim own AZ Property Inspections, Inc., in Ahwatukee; one printing, shipping and design service, Janine Moeller of Postnet on Chandler Boulevard near 46th Street.
And so on.
If a business seeks membership and there’s already a member who owns one like it, the group will refer the owner to another BNI chapter.
The Foothills BNI chapter is still on the hunt for a variety of businesses and has scheduled an open house with a continental breakfast at 7:30 a.m. next Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Event Center, 4700 E. Warner Road, part of the Ahwatukee Swim and Tennis Center complex.
Membership isn’t automatic even if a business fills a hole in the organization. A committee of members vets each applicant to make sure they’re legit and comply with any state bonding or licensing requirements.
The meeting’s atmosphere is friendly but businesslike, following a format that ensures everyone gets face time with the group and that also keeps track of deals members have closed as the result of referrals.
It opens with a word of inspiration, then proceeds to a segment in which everyone in attendance gets a minute or two to explain something about their business and what would constitute a good referral for them.
For example, Don Kaczmarek of TSC Air, handed out a sheet that discussed a survey showing Americans were working less and sleeping more.
This means that home air filtration systems are becoming more important, he explained, adding, “So a good referral for me would be someone who is concerned about dust particles in the air in their home.”
After each owner gives a two-minute or so presentation, the entire group shouts out that business’ slogan.
“Mine is ‘At AZ Property Inspections…we see it all,” O’Neall noted. “I say the first part and the group finishes it together. It’s a repetitive way for us all to remember each other’s business and tag line each week.”
Another high point of each session is a 10-minute presentation by one member that rotates weekly among the group.
“The nice thing about this is that twice a year I get to present my business in more depth,” said Raphael Isaac, who provides video services through his company, South Mountain Films.
Last week, O’Neall discussed her home inspection business, regaling the members with a video that not only showed what her inspectors do, but included some of the unusual home-improvement bloopers they’ve come across – such as a home with a roof that was made of ceramic floor tiles.
The group also tracks the value of business deals each member has closed each week as a result of referrals through fellow members.
“It builds in accountability,” said Isaac, who also stressed that this is not a group for casual participation.
“The only time we don’t meet is if a holiday falls on a Wednesday,” he explained, noting that while attendance is not exactly mandatory, “you have to be here if you expect your membership to produce results.”
Expectations of members like this is what sets BNI apart from other referral groups – even those run by organizations like chambers of commerce.
Ellis, who is a member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce and has been long active in many of that organization’s activities and subgroups, said BNI’s success “comes from the structure of the meetings, the expectations that each member is educated to perform and its basis in the ‘Givers Gain’ mentality.”
“Chambers actually make good partners and members in these groups but, unlike the chamber, your membership in this group is determined by performance. Each member is expected be in attendance or have a substitute. They are expected to pass business along to other members in the group. They are expected to invite people to come check the group out. They are expected to have one to one meetings every week and they are expected to execute on chapter education every week.”
That’s why every member is evaluated by the BNI chapter’s membership committee at the end of their membership year.
“We coach and help anyone whose numbers are in need of help and those who don’t want the help aren’t renewed,” Ellis said. “The group is very focused on how we can help the other person in the group build their business. We know that if we focus on our other group members in turn our own business grows.”
“No one says, ‘I only do this to help my business grow,’” she added. “Everyone gets so excited to refer among the membership.”
Ellis could point to a recent deal she closed to illustrate BNI’s power.
At a recent meeting, she mentioned a house she was going to list.
“The property manager in the group had an investor looking and that investor ended up buying the house,” she said. “The painter in the group painted it. The floor guy cleaned the carpets and then Liz’s company did the inspection.
“Lots of business passed in that particular deal.”
Business owners who plan to attend the visitors day activities next Wednesday should RSVP to: Liz O’Neall at 480-616-3218 or Rafi Isaac at 480-482-1945. Visitors should bring 70 business cards.
Information about the group: bniarizona.com.