(From left) Dave Anderson of Preferred Mortgage, Gordon Morton of CeeJay Auto Body, Carlo Rombolo of Heartland Payment Systems, Carla Smith of Aflac and Janine Shields of BNI MidAmerica.
GRANITE CITY — BNI (Business Network International) is a global network dedicated to the success of local businesses.
With approximately 175,000 members in 60 countries, it makes for a fantastic platform to promote independent business. In the St. Louis metropolitan area alone, there are approximately 75 chapters and nearly 3,500 members and now Granite City has entered that mix.
The PROS (Professionals Referring Outstanding Services) chapter kicked things off on June 17 at the Elks Lodge 1063 in Granite City to resounding results.
Just in its infancy, chapter president Gregg Austin said 40 people attended that initial meeting and the Granite City chapter currently sits at 30 members. They have weekly meetings at 8:30 a.m. Wednesdays at Pizza World, 1535 Johnson Road.
“What I really hope to see this chapter do is become a trusted source within the community,” chapter president Gregg Austin said. “Basically the motto of BNI is ‘givers gain.’ We go in there with the idea that we’re going to help our fellow business owners in the community grow their businesses.”
BNI is a group of local professionals with only one representative per occupation. A membership committee screens applicants and attempts to find the most suitable professionals for that particular chapter.
“Not everyone who applies is accepted, and there may be various reasons why they’re not accepted,” Austin said. “It could be a lack of referrals, it could be poor reputation, or it could be they coincide with other businesses within the chapter because we only allow one business to represent an occupation. For example, I’m a financial adviser with Edward Jones; a competitor of mine would not be allowed to join our chapter, although they would be welcomed to join another chapter somewhere else.”
Austin wanted to bring BNI to Granite City to help local business. As a resident of the city and someone who is about to open an office in the community, it was an ample opportunity for him. He left an existing chapter to build this one.
“I want people to know I’m there and I meet with 29 other people every week that help promote the fact that I’m in town,” Austin said.
Everything is built on personal relationships with BNI. Members are trusted friends who support and promote each other.
“We get to know people,” Austin said. “It’s not someone I picked out of a phonebook and needed a name. It’s somebody I know, I’ve met his family, I know about his businesses, I know what service they provide and what they don’t provide.
“We strongly support our members and what’s working for us in the community.”
The majority of the Granite City chapter is composed of Granite City businesses. Austin said that’s not done by design but just kind of happens organically. They want the best fits possible in the chapter, so they don’t want to limit members just to Granite City.
“Our members are very pro-small business, so those are the people we typically invite because that’s who we are doing business with and that’s who we communicate with on a daily basis,” Austin said. “Without that being a goal of the chapter, it is something that happens on a very regular basis.”
Attendance is required each week, so the logistics of being in Granite City also comes into play with membership.
Austin just wants to find people who are going to be able to excel in his chapter’s environment. That’s the No. 1 goal.
“When we sign members up there is a fee and there are expectations,” Austin said. “The last thing we want is for someone to come in and waste their money. A small business cannot afford to waste money.
“We are not a substitute for the Better Business Bureau, but we do hold our members to a higher standard. We have a membership committee that addresses people that don’t keep up those standards. We’re very big on self-policing.”