Biscuits, gravy and a side of business

Laramie Referral Club President Kyllie Negich stops for a portrait Tuesday afternoon inside of First Interstate Bank’s Ivinson Avenue location.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

SHANNON BRODERICK

Blending an exclusive breakfast club atmosphere with a forum for networking, the Laramie Referral Club raises the standard for word-of-mouth advertising, Founder Gary Strohm said.

“I was frustrated about how long it takes to get a business started, and I was looking for the fastest and most inexpensive way to help a new business to grow,” Strohm said. “It’s a low-cost, high-return, great opportunity to meet people and get to know your community.”

Now a Colorado resident and no longer a member, Strohm founded the club in 2009 after moving to Laramie from Sedona, Arizona, where he founded his first referral club.

Club membership is restricted to one or two members of a business category such as floral retail or banking, he said.

“It is first-come, first-serve,” Strohm said. “Once the person has joined and paid their dues, their category is protected. And, that is by design.”

Restricting more than one or two businesses from the same category ensures members will receive the maximum number of referrals from other members, he said.

“We’d want them to be referred 100 percent of the time,” Strohm said.

“But there has to be some flexibility and understanding.”

Because the foundation of the club was set on building relationships between businesses within the community, Strohm said he created the club with the understanding members might have relationships with businesses outside the club and shouldn’t be penalized for that.

“The referral was an opportunity for business, not a guarantee,” he said. “You couldn’t be kicked out for not giving a referral.”

Laramie Chamber Business Alliance Vice President of Membership Josie Molloy said referral clubs are a common occurrence in most cities.

“Lots of times, the referral club is part of the chamber of commerce, but Laramie is a little unique in that they are separate,” Molloy said.

Because of restrictive oversight he experienced in Arizona, Strohm said he decided to keep Laramie’s club separate from a chamber of commerce but still enrolled the club as a member of the LCBA.

“It doesn’t mean the chamber couldn’t start a group — there’s no exclusivity,” he said. “The more the merrier.”

Despite being separate entities, both the LCBA and members of the club said their organizations benefit from each other.

“They benefit the LCBA by referring their businesses to us,” Molloy said. “And we like to help local clubs and businesses be successful.”

Laramie Referral Club President and First Interstate Bank mortgage loan processor Kylie Negich said LCBA membership grants club members LCBA benefits.

“(LCBA membership) gives us a good networking opportunity,” Negich said. “And, it offers us a larger pool of business leaders to recruit from for membership.”

During the club’s monthly breakfast meeting at the Hampton Inn Laramie, members not only inform each other about their businesses but spend time getting to know each other on a personal level.

“They get to spend a little time talking about themselves,” said Laramie Physicians for Women and Children Practice Administrator Amy Shoals, a former president of the referral club. “We don’t just know what Cowboy Moving & Storage does as a business but who Kurt Braisted is as a person.”

Braisted, Cowboy Moving & Storage’s secretary-treasurer, said building relationships with other club members was essential to the group’s success.

“The basis of it all is getting to know the other businesses in the group so we can give good referrals,” Braisted said. “We’ve actually got quite a bit a business from being in the group.”

A club member for about five years, he said it helps members stay connected with the community.

“It’s another way to keep the businesses informed on what’s going on in Laramie,” Briasted said.

SuZen’s Gardens owner and club member for four years, Susan Thomas said she enjoyed the friendship that accompanied membership.

“What they’ve done for me … is make me feel like I’m a valuable of the group,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to know someone has your back.”

As a downtown business, Thomas said she’s received a significant portion of her business from referrals.

“I’ve been in business for four-and-a-half years,” Thomas said. “It’s mostly word-of-mouth advertising downtown.”

She said she was invited to attend one of the club’s meetings shortly after opening shop and liked what the club was trying to achieve.

“I’m a joiner. I’m a doer,” Thomas said. “I like to be a part of things.”

With an eye on local business, Shoals said the club tries to keep Laramie’s money in Laramie.

“It really comes down to being tied into the business community,” Shoals said. “The attempt is to keep business local. You can get a lot of resources here locally without having to leave town.”

Contact the Laramie Referral Club at www.laramiereferalclub.com.

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