A group effort

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

SMITHFIELD—The Isle of Wight Business Development Group formed in 2001 to create a local group dedicated to promoting each other’s businesses, to network, encourage referrals and develop their businesses.

On Tuesday morning, 13 of the 17 members gathered at the Smithfield Gourmet Bakery and Caf/ for their weekly session.

The group was formed because business leaders in Isle of Wight did not feel like they were getting support from the local Business Network International chapter, said Isle of Wight Development Group member Bruce Fischer, owner of De Lint A Vent, a cleaning company. The BNI is an organization designed to facilitate networking and referrals.

The Isle of Wight Business Development Group also functions as a networking group, and members use referrals to encourage business among the partners, which former president Tim Churchwell of GSH Real Estate said has “absolutely” happened.

The group is comprised of only one business from each industry so that businesses are not “revealing weaknesses to competitors,” Churchwell said.

Businesses are not, however, limited only to Isle of Wight County. The group includes three businesses from the Franklin area: Harvest Enterprise, Pascucci’s Studio of Fine Photography and Travel Dreams Inc.

“It’s really benefited a whole lot,” Andy Vaughan of Harvest Enterprise said. “It’s been a big factor in my business.”

Likewise, Joseph Pascucci, owner of Pascucci’s Studio of Fine Photography, said that he has seen an increase in business since he joined the Isle of Wight group some 18 months ago.

“It’s getting the name out. It’s getting the reputation out,” he said.

Cindy Ferguson, owner of Travel Dreams Inc., said that the contacts of the group were even “more valuable” than the referrals and that the group had “definitely opened some doors and opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise.” She has been a member of the group since December.

“Right now everyone is doing everything they can,” she said.

Businesses located in Isle of Wight have also benefited from joining the group. Dale Steffenmeier of New Age Land & Homes and president of the Isle of Wight Business Development Group said that members usually bring in between 13 and 15 referrals each week.

A portion of each meeting is devoted to recognizing those referrals and to sharing success stories. Each member has 60 seconds to introduce themselves and pitch the services their business provides.

Churchwell also said that the 90-minute meetings at 8 a.m. each Tuesday are designed to help members feel “more comfortable” about sending referrals to each other and to “hold each other accountable.”

“That’s how we do business,” Fischer said. “We hold each other to a higher standard.”

The group has developed a Web site, www.iowbdg.com, and uses funds from dues—$100 per year and $10 per month—to support the efforts of the group, including the rental fee for the space where the group meets, brochures and cards.

The group, along with the South of the James Business Network, also supports Business After Hours, which serves primarily in a networking capacity.

“It’s a pretty big time commitment,” Churchwell said, “but it really enhances and pays off.”

The business partners of the Isle of Wight Business Development Group are Coastal Technology, Inc.; Colonial Exterminating; De Lint A Vent; F.F. Walls Agency, Inc.; GSH Real Estate; G & L Printing Co.; Harvest Enterprise; Met Life; New Age Land & Homes; New York Life; Pascucci’s Studio of Fine Photography; Pomoco of Smithfield; Southern States Tidewater Petroleum; Travel Dreams, Inc.; Webmaster; West Star Mortgage, Inc.; and WSI, We Simplify the Internet.

More information about joining the group and about group members, including contact information, can be found at the Isle of Wight Business Development Group’s Web site.