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NETWORKING : Sales Tales : Scores of groups look upon these meetings as a valuable way to draw customers and clients.

November 29, 1990|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | Times Staff Writer

You must remember this: poise, patter and business cards.

Especially the business cards. You wedge them into your wallet until you feel like you're sitting on a phone book. Then you straighten your tie and venture into the heart of commerce: your first Professional Network Seminar.

You have evidently dozed through the arrival of this trend. For years now, scores of groups around Southern California, and a few in Ventura County, have looked upon networking as an activity too valuable to be left to chance or informality. For them, networking can be a sole cause for congregation. And on this particular Tuesday in Ventura, it is cause for breakfast at Marie Callender's.

"It's pretty broad, but most people are professional business people and service-oriented," Denise Kulha Picard, acting president of Professional Network Seminar, had explained on the phone. "It runs the gamut from an attorney to an auto mechanic."

And of course there's the hypno-numero-therapist--more about him later. The structure of the meetings is the same each week. Each networker offers a 30-second "commercial" for his or her business. They catch up on leads that could enhance colleagues' businesses. And each week, two members speak at greater length. Most meetings last about an hour, leaving networkers plenty of time to reach the office by 9 a.m.

It's 7:20 a.m. now. Picard, who sells gifts for Anne McGilvray & Co. and sells Mary Kay cosmetics on the side, is at the head of a long table. You're off to the side, across from Ron Cameron, one of group's co-founders three years ago. You could say Cameron spends most of his time looking for fights; he is director of the Dispute Resolution Center on East Main Street in Ventura.

"The public doesn't really know that there are opportunities for resolution other than court," says Cameron. "So I take every opportunity to speak before clubs and organizations about concepts in mediation."

On your left is Pete Baptiste, stockbroker.

"In the business I'm in, I just cast a real wide net," Baptiste says, and reeled off a list of involvements from Rotary to Sunday churchgoing. "Pretty soon you start seeing the same people at different things, and you start building your identity in the community."

And what about your identity? You are a newspaper reporter--that is, a bearer of bad tidings, a depositor of ink on people's fingers, a killer of trees. For purposes of salesmanship, you resolve to stress the value of your colleagues Dear Abby and Ann Landers, to point out the vigor of your recycling efforts. Maybe you'll even throw in that the district attorney says nice things about you.

"At this time," says Picard at the head of the table, "we might as well start with our 30-second commercials."

Around the table, poise and patter. The business cards are already taken care of--filed alphabetically in a circulating recipe box. The network gives every member an exclusive in his or her field--one attorney, one chiropractor, one mechanic, and so on. The five-member board reviews candidates for membership, and those chosen pay $30 to start and then $25 monthly.

You hear commercials from: Linda Chenot, owner of Creations Unlimited in Ventura, who is offering tiny Christmas trees to customers at her furniture and design store on East Main Street; Bill Harrel, a desktop publisher and free-lance writer; Edward T. Buckle, attorney at law; and Laurie M. Beisel, travel consultant for Club Tours & Travel.

"United is having a special until the end of November," Beisel notes. "So if you need any help getting to see loved ones Thanksgiving week, please give me a call."

Then more commercials. Ed Boughton of Don L. Carlton Realtors reports that business in Ventura is up in the last week. Bill Shorts, whose insurance agency is part of the Farmers group, takes his turn, as does clothing consultant Marcena Randall Brook. And then it's you.

You confuse Ann Landers with Erma Bombeck, but no one notices. You forget recycling entirely. You remember the district attorney, but from the glassy eyes around the table, it seems clear that his endorsement doesn't pack much punch around here.

The commercial ball keeps rolling. Picard shows off a new gift novelty item--a bright green snap-on bracelet that retails for 75 cents. "If you know anyone who's in the business of selling to 8- to 12-year-olds," she says, "please let me know."

She is followed by Ed Brough, a slight man in a gray cardigan, who has come in late.

"Ed Brough, hypno-numero-therapist," he says. "The day has proved itself already, and I don't like it. . . . You look at my car and you'll see why I'm late." Brough, based in Ojai, offers advice based on numerology, either one-on-one or as entertainment at parties.

After Fran Jacobs makes his pitch for Lord Moving and Storage--"for a moving experience, give me a call"--Ed Buckle steps over to chat privately with Brough for a moment. Later, Brough will make plans for car repairs with mechanic Brad Minkhoff, another networker.

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