HOUSTON - During this time of economic slowdown, a lot of business owners may be struggling to keep their doors open. However, one group with roots around the world says it is doing better than ever.
Imagine a whole group of businesses, who go out of their way to make sure every one of them gets noticed.
Kristina Skok doesn't have to imagine.
At a time when nail salons have been challenged to survive, Skok just opened her third salon in the Katy area.
When she arrived in the area, six years ago, she didn't have any business connections until, she says, she joined the networking organization BNI.
"How do you hire 40 marketers?" asks Skok, "You wouldn't be able to afford it. This is your marketing team on a very deep level."
BNI stands for Business Networking International, which boasts more than a quarter-million members in 70 countries. About 1,100 of those dues-paying small businesses are in the Houston area, representing all kinds of industries. All of them are vetted to ensure they are who they say they are, and can do what they say they can do.
A weekly radio show is part of the group's mission, to give members a chance to talk about their business. At the core, though, is the marketing and referrals they are required to do for each other that takes word-of-mouth recommendations to a higher level.
"When we have clients that are having issues or need a particular service that we don't provide, then we have somebody that we can trust and we know that they're going to have a great experience with that person," says BNI member Alberto Tudela.
The approach appears to work.
Since the beginning of the year, BNI says its referrals among members have generated nearly $9 billion worth of sales, offering growth where others have struggled. It is business that helps keep members closer to the black than some of their competitors.
"People now know the world has changed, and so the way of doing business has also changed," says BNI member Rick Gutierrez.
The cost of membership is about $500 a year. Members argue that it's a worthwhile expense if they're able to make more than that from the referrals they receive.