By Ryan Ennis
AS AN AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEER WHO HAS WORKED IN BOTH THE COMMERCIAL AND NONPROFIT SECTORS, OSCAR RENUATT RECOGNIZES THE VALUE OF ENTREPRENEURS COMING TOGETHER AND SHARING THEIR TALENTS. THESE INTERACTIONS OFTEN LEAD TO IMPROVEMENTS IN THEIR PRODUCTS, PROFITS, AND SERVICES.
When the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce went dormant at the start of the pandemic, he witnessed the void that it left in assisting small business owners make meaningful connections within their own community. This year, he decided the time was right to put strategies into place that would fill the need.
“When we lost our chamber, it was a personal loss for me,” says Carol Jackson, former interim director for the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce. She missed working with the friends she had made during the ten years she served on its board. When Renuatt approached her with some ideas for a new venture to publicize local retail, Jackson says she was excited to join him so that she could put “her boots back on the ground” and participate in “old- fashioned networking to the benefit of all.”
As Renuatt got the word out, many other commerce-minded individuals with professional ties to Ferndale were enthusiastic about teaming with him. Referring to themselves as ambassadors and advisors of the Ferndale Business Association (FBA), the other founders are Toly Ashkenazi, Dan Martin, Julia Music, Mia Peroni, Kate Reynolds, Jennifer Seiler, Juli Sigkris-Seymour, and Dale Vigliarolo.
According to Renuatt, he and the others have all been busy this Spring “rolling up their sleeves, as there is work to do and bridges to build.” One such task occupying them is determining how the association will be structured and operated, which includes forming an official board. They plan to have the board in place by the fall so that “there will be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities,” he says.
MOST RECENTLY, THE GROUP HAS ALSO BEEN MAKING FRIENDS AND CONTACTS in Ferndale’s business community who have expressed the need for a local networking business league. And their efforts have been paying off. “Approximately two dozen local businesses have already contacted us about the membership and a handful of others are interested in learning more,” Renuatt reports.
In smaller cities, many league-based organizations from the past struggled to stay afloat because their membership dues barely covered the overhead costs. “A modern organization should keep the operational costs reasonable but the availability and quality of resources and benefits for its members high,” he adds. Following that notion, he hopes, will ensure the FBA’s longevity.
During their preparation periods, the FBA founders have also been determining what their goals and
guiding principles should be. They intend to build up revenue through memberships and sponsorships. The funds will enable them to present grant programs for local businesses in need. To their members, they will be transparent about their financial status, which includes the issuing of frequent financial reports. To preserve the environment, they are committed to paperless forms of communication, reusing and recycling their materials, and utilizing sustainable vendors when possible.
ANOTHER PRECEPT OF THE FBA FOUNDERS IS UPHOLDING DIVERSITY. “Our team believes that celebrating diversity, championing equity, and cultivating inclusion are key to creating an effective and vibrant association,” Renuatt emphasizes. “We support an environment that fosters and represents the talents, expertise, and knowledge of all backgrounds and perspectives.”
As part of getting to know the diverse merchants and establishments comprising the city’s business district, the FBA founders are eager to listen to the issues that impact the owners’ enterprises. Since growing a business can be overwhelming, owners often welcome help with “exposure, spotlighting, promotions, and traffic,” Renuatt says. In these instances, the FBA can step in and create net- working events for the community, “thus providing businesses with promotional opportunities.” At these same events, business owners who are feel- ing challenged by inflation and other matters can hear about where they can receive additional help and how they can access essential resources.
Since consistency is often linked with success, the FBA members intend to hold 24 base events annually. “One monthly event in the morning or lunchtime,” explains Renuatt, “and one monthly event in the evening. Our team also hopes to hold an annual gala to present grants and awards. We will choose new venues for our evening events, thereby providing needed traffic and exposure for our hosts.”
To give a taste of what the FBA has to offer, the founders invited local businesses, residents, along with city and community leaders to attend a launch party at 215 West Ferndale on May 18. At the event, the founders conducted a short program introducing their business model and operational plans, spotlighting how they can accommodate promoting merchants through a variety of economical means. The attendees also had an opportunity at the space to share their contact information with potential clients and offer referrals.
Jackson was pleased by the community’s warm reception to the FBA at the launch party: “Ferndale is a community that welcomes everyone and helps our neighbors, our local businesses, and government stayed attached and positive. It was great to see so many familiar and new faces.”
Renuatt was equally delighted by the large number of attendees: “We had over 100 guests and received very positive feedback from them.”
ONE OF THE GUESTS WHO REACTED POSITIVELY TO THE PRESENTATION that evening was Jessica York, co-founder of the Ferndale Wellness Fair and owner of Breathe: Bodywork & Beautification. “Ferndale has always been attractive for entrepreneurs,” she says, “but I see the FBA securing that desire for years to come.”
On the group’s Facebook Page, Renuatt later thanked 215 West for hosting the event as well as the Star of India restaurant and Western Market for helping to sponsor the evening. Another networking event will take place sometime in June.
To entice retailers and other business owners to join the FBA, the founders are guaranteeing no member- ship fees in 2023 “as we are establishing ourselves and continuing to grow,” Renuatt says. A modest membership fee of $200 will be put into effect next year, with the members receiving their invoices in early 2024 simultaneously. “All newcomers will be billed on a prorated basis to keep our accounting simple, and non-profit organizations will enjoy free membership in our organization,” he further explains.
Asked about the qualifications for becoming a member, Renuatt says: “We welcome all local businesses to join our association; there are no limitations.” However, he stresses one requirement: “Please be respectful to others and don’t promote any divisive agenda.”
To learn more about the FBA and upcoming events, visit the website www.ferndaleba.com.