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VOL. 119 | NO. 61 | Tuesday, April 5, 2005

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By Andy Meek

Small Business Chamber Takes Off

Budding group gets set for first conference and expo


The Daily News

Robert Staub can identify with small business owners facing big obstacles.

The Memphis real estate investors first foray into entrepreneurship was at age 9. Like other small business owners, Staub has tackled the issues of medical costs, marketing and sales strategies all of which can be demanding.

A helping hand. Now, Staub divides his time between his company, memphisinvestor.com, and a new group he formed to support other small business owners. Staub is chairman of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce, which he founded in Memphis about 10 months ago for a simple reason: to build partnerships among business owners and offer a helping hand.

That philosophy will be a highlight of the groups Small Business Conference and Expo scheduled for next month at Agricenter International.

Were about two main things, Staub said. Were about education how do we help the small business owner run his business better? Thats the bottom line. The second thing is networking. Once we help them do that, we ask how we get them into an environment thats conducive to bringing in more business for them, doing it in a cost-effective way.

The great thing about this organization is when you come to one of our events, youre in a room with anywhere from 75 to 150 people. And when you look out, 90 to 95 percent of those folks are the owners of a business, which means theyre the decision-makers.

Energetic support. The Small Business Chamber has a small but growing set of members. The group has regular networking activities and a monthly meeting at the Agricenter, the site of the May 19 conference and expo. Staub said the group is spending about $75,000 to market the event, and FedEx has signed on as one of its major corporate sponsors.

Mark White, co-owner of Grand Events & Party Rentals, joined the Small Business Chamber last fall to tap into the groups energetic support of business owners. It was already familiar territory for him White is chairman of the Memphis Area Action Council, an arm of the National Federation of Independent Business, which is the countrys largest small business lobbying group.

Theyre really proactive, and things were just clicking, White said. They were really making something happen. And its been a real good fit for us.

Learning from others. Kenny Crenshaw, president of Herbi-Systems, is one of the Small Business Chambers newer members. Already a member of the NFIB, he joined the chamber because of its focus on education and networking.

Ive been to one meeting so far, Crenshaw said. It was a very good meeting and there was a lot of excitement. You know, Ive been a business owner now for 21 years, and I still kind of get excited by guys just starting out. I remember what it was like when I started out on my own.

I was very naive, he laughed. But I struggled along and made it. So Ive got a lot of sympathy for those guys and a lot of admiration for anybody that would stick their neck out and try that.

And more people having been giving small business ownership a try lately. Staub said the Small Business Chamber can claim about 160 members, with about half of those coming on board in the past two months.

Its just exploding, he said.

Area partnerships. The group has given an added boost to business owners in a region that already has several groups tailored to their needs, including the Service Corps of Retired Executives, the NFIB and the Memphis Area Action Council.

The Small Business Chamber has formed partnerships with each of those groups, and Randy Horn, Memphis-area territory manager for the NFIB, said the groups work well together.

We keep the chamber members updated on legislative issues were working on, and Mark White and I are helping to bring in members to both groups, he said.

The Small Business Chambers regular events include a monthly membership meeting that alternates between breakfast and lunch. It hosts a monthly open house at the Agricenter at no cost. And last week, the chamber hosted a speed networking meeting at Owen Brennans. Staub said the concept is similar to speed dating, which lets people meet each other in a rapid-fire succession. About 20 people attended the event.

And the benefit for them was that within an hour, you know 20 people you didnt know before, Staub said. So its those kinds of events that we do on a monthly basis.

Building relationships. He said one of the chambers biggest benefits is that it puts business owners in a room together to learn from each other.

The key thing here is return on investment, Staub said. Were small business owners, and there are only so many hours in a day. Thats why we want to build relationships and build partnerships because you cant do it alone.


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