Los Robles Bank next week is expected to launch its Small Business Development Group, an informational and networking collective for small businesses in Ventura County and the Conejo Valley.
The group is intended to serve as a peer support group for entrepreneurs and a way to help small business owners weave their way through the business loan process.
"Initially we are going to try to cover how to get a loan and how to develop a relationship with a bank," said Robert Hamilton, president and chief executive of Thousand Oaks-based Los Robles Bank. "Eventually the goal is for the businesses to network."
Hamilton said 40 to 80 people are expected to attend the group's first meeting next Tuesday. Members pay $25 a month to join the club, which allows them to attend the group's quarterly meetings, start a checking account and have access to other banking services.
The typical member, Hamilton said, will be the owner of a business with sales ranging from $100,000 to $1 million annually.
Hamilton said the idea for the Small Business Development Group was based largely on his observation that many small business owners were in need of financing but weren't sure how to get it.
"We're trying to target people who don't deal with banks, who borrow family money instead. They think banks don't care about them," he said.
"It runs the whole gamut. Some businesses have been turned down for loans, some haven't asked for what they really need because they feel they wouldn't get it anyway," he said. "There are a lot of people who have a checking account at a bank and that's it."
Hamilton credits businessman Michael Perrault, a Thousand Oaks resident, with helping to clarify the role of the business collective.
Perrault, a Los Robles Bank customer and a member of the small business group, owns Advanced Teamware Inc., an Agoura Hills software publishing company with annual sales under $1 million and a staff of five.
"I spent a lot of time talking to [Hamilton] about various issues that concerned me," Perrault said.
"I said there really ought to be some kind of collegial type of environment for small business owners, a place of reassurance, a place of comfort. Even when you walk into the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, there are businesses there that dwarf us."
Advanced Teamware writes, produces and markets human resource development software. The business is typical of the type Hamilton is seeking.
"We are a very small business, we don't have a full-time chief financial officer and I don't have a background in finances," Perrault said. "This group can serve as a counsel for me and make suggestions to me. It's a good place to bounce ideas for people who don't have a big staff."
Hamilton anticipates that the group will be useful for quite some time.
"The need has always been there, and it's growing," he said. "We have a lot of people working out of their homes and these people are pretty much isolated from funding sources unless it's their own families."
As the group assists local businesses, it also is likely to help Los Robles Bank. About 80% of the bank's loans are made to small businesses.
"Right now most of the [business group] members are customers of the bank. One of our ultimate goals is to build the business," Hamilton said.
Los Robles Bank, which in addition to its Thousand Oaks office has branches in Westlake Village and Camarillo, has assets of about $84 million.