Ask Peter Connelly, owner of Connelly Press & Copy, why he has remained in the Business Associates of Baton Rouge for 16 years, rising in time to attend roughly 800 7:30 a.m. Thursday meetings, and he doesn’t even mention business. But he will reel off any number of stories about how members help one another.
Take Penny McGee, owner of Broadmoor Village Florist. Association members are required, from time to time, to make a brief presentation about themselves and their businesses. When McGee’s turn came, she refused. She just couldn’t do it. Finally Tommy Chenevert, the member responsible for that part of the meeting program, came up with a solution.
“He said, ‘How about you stand at the podium and I’ll ask you a few questions about yourself?’ She agreed to that, and it was a big success. It really helped her,” Connelly said. “And I thought, ‘That’s pretty neat. He understood her situation and helped her.’ ”
That, in a nutshell, is what the business association is all about. Relationships. Working together. Helping.
McGee joined the group seven years ago, hoping to make a few connections and increase sales. But the friends she’s made are the real reward. Getting over a paralysis-inducing fear of public speaking was just a side benefit.
“It’s friendships, and people that will help you out if you’re in a bind or something,” McGee said. “If my car broke down, any one of them would come and help me. … I could call any of them, and they’d run. It’s the same for me. It’s not just business.”
The association has been around 35 years. Its membership is limited to one representative of each industry or line of business: one printer, one banker, one florist, etc. The association has about 60 members now, but that number has ranged from the low 40s to 70. Attending meetings is mandatory. Missing three meetings in a row, five in a quarter or 10 in a year means automatic dismissal.
Jerry Watts, owner of Watts Didier Architects LLC, has been a member for 27 years. He said most members are referred by other members.
Membership levels may vary, but the group remains the same: people who can be trusted, people who do good work, people who do what they’re supposed to do.
Al Maag, executive director of the Business Marketing Association, said networking groups are important in a time when lots of socializing takes place digitally, which doesn’t always help.
“I think associations, especially in the business-to-business world, are very important. I think people need to get away from their computers, put down their smartphones and go out and meet people,” Maag said.
Groups like the Business Marketing Association, which has focused on B2B for 92 years, give members a chance to meet with their peers, learn from them and call on them for help, if needed. Those are real, physical contacts, the sorts of face-to-face meetings that build trust, Maag said.
Connelly is one of the longer-term members of BABR and may be the only one who’s served in every board position: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, past-president and at-large member.
He found the more he put into the group, the more he got out of it, and the club’s opportunities have been more about growing as a person than in business.
“When you’re in a position where there’s 60 people kind of looking for some leadership and guidance, you’re going to have some conflicts. You gotta work through those,” he said. “You kind of learn you’re not going to get your way all the time. You’re not going to be able to make everything perfect for everybody. You learn how to make the best of situations, and I think that growth is very valuable.”
Members have a few moments every meeting to talk about the business they’ve done with other members and the referrals they’ve made. Two weeks ago, Connelly used his time to offer some sage business advice: “There’s no situation that’s so bad that it can’t possibly get any worse.”
Some people join the association thinking they will immediately get tons of business. A few use their first opportunity to talk to the group as a sales pitch. One guy even brought samples.
“That’s kind of a turnoff,” Connelly said. “People are thinking, ‘We don’t know anything about you yet.’ ”
A member has to build relationships first. But those relationships are their own reward.
Take the time Connelly’s brother called and needed some help.
A hurricane was brewing in the Gulf and Connelly’s brothers needed to move his camper in Leeville, but his truck was in the shop.
Could Connelly help? Connelly was sitting next to Gary Alford and slipped him a note. Alford glanced down and said, “Oh, it’s done.”
Alford drove to Leeville, picked up the trailer and brought it back.
That’s the kind of thing that forms a bond.
Those bonds are why Watts remains in the association.
“I’ve stayed in because I have great friendships here. People that I really trust and have gotten to know well. It’s a family,” Watts said.
Ten years ago, Watts’ son, who lived in Ohio, had a traumatic brain injury. Watts had to take a six-month leave of absence. BABR members organized a jambalaya fundraiser and gave the proceeds to the family. The fundraiser also helped another member, whose daughter needed a kidney transplant.
You can’t put a price on that, Watts said.