MT. JULIET -- Cooperation grows business even faster than competition, a Mt. Juliet business group has found.
When Joe and Pat Rice moved to Mt. Juliet about five years ago, they decided not to retire after all. They started working as agents for Keller Williams Realty instead.
But they had some problems. Being new to the area, they felt a need to know more people – especially people who could help them serve their clients.
The couple knew about corporate networking groups and thought the same thing could work locally on a smaller scale, so they started the Wilson County Referral Group.
From an initial start of seven businesses, the group has grown to about 25 members who meet weekly to help each other continue to grow.
Jeweler Curtis Phillips of Elegant Diamonds became a member because he had tried a national group, but found it too large and impersonal. “The national networks charge $400 a year to join,” he explained. “You have to get a lot of referrals just to break even on your investment.”
He defined the group in Mt. Juliet as “businesses helping other businesses do business. This is better – it’s more relaxed.”
The group holds an hour-long organized meeting every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. at the Comfort Inn on Red Ink Drive at the Mt. Juliet Road I-40 exit. Each week, one member does a 10- or 15-minute presentation about his or her business, and then each one does a 30-second “commercial,” according to First Bank’s Scott Zehnder, the group’s current president.
The “short sound bite” part of the meeting gives everyone a chance to tell what’s new with their business and remind everyone what services they offer. Finally, they exchange referrals.
Most of the referrals have already been discussed before the meeting, but the exchange gives people a chance to check and see how things are going, said Pat Rice, the group’s treasurer and referral coordinator.
She also pointed out that meeting every week keeps people accountable for the jobs they get referrals for.
People become members by first being invited to visit the meetings. Joe Rice explained that the group does “vet” visitors before asking them to be members of the group.
He said that if the person’s occupation requires a license, the group checks it and the person’s insurance, as well as running a background check, before the person is offered membership.
The group only has one representative from each occupation, so they want to make sure that person is reliable. In many cases, Pat and Joe or some other member of the group has used the person’s services before the person is invited to visit.
Robert Schlise of Just Paint It painted at the Rices’ home, for example. Most of the group’s members have a presence on the Internet, but Schlise said he has no Web page. “I don’t need it – the group keeps me busy,” Schlise said with a grin.
Larry Jenkins became a member after Chris Wilson, of Melo Insurance Services, saw him mowing yards in his neighborhood.
“I was just mowing a few lawns for some extra money,” said Jenkins, who now owns Jenkins Landscaping and Nursery. “Now I’m in business. I do landscaping, sell shrubs and do yard maintenance. I neversaw this coming when I started three years ago.”
His success story is only one of several in the group. “So far this year, in seven months we’ve made over 500 referrals for over $260,000 worth of business,” Pat Rice said.
The members are all small-business owners, not big corporations, she said. So when a member refers a client to someone in the group, they know the business owner personally.
“If I refer a client to Plumb Crazy, I know Scott Morenzoni is who will go to their house,” Pat explained.
Wilson County Referral Group does more than just meet for coffee and referrals, too. The group believes in community service, so they contribute time and support to organizations like the Mt. Juliet Help Center, the Mt. Juliet Animal Shelter, the backpack feeding program in the schools and Brooks House.
Most recently, they sponsored the Coffee With a Cop session that preceded the ribbon-cutting for the new headquarters of the Mt. Juliet Police Department.
A benefit the Rices mentioned is that because they can refer clients to others in the group to prepare a house for market, the houses they list sell quickly.
The group includes a wide variety. As well as businesses that sell, finance, repair, enhance or renovate a home, there is insurance, jewelry, skin care, printing, accounting, audio/visual and even a dentist in the group.
The connection between some of these services may seem sketchy, but a young couple in love, for instance, might be in the market for both a house and an engagement ring.
“You can’t have a house without a diamond,” Phillips quipped.
People who might be interested in joining Wilson County Referral Group, or just learning more about it, can either visit a meeting or contact Joe Rice at 615-613-3319.
Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.