Getting a community to work together to accomplish something tangible isn’t easy.  Sure, people can sit around a table and talk, but when it comes to actually doing something…  Well, that is exponentially more difficult.  But, when community members come together to create tangible products from scratch, trust is created, skills are assessed, actual leaders are identified and growth occurs.
The benefits of diverse leaders coming together to cooperate, communicate and accomplish tangible growth is accelerated in a unique type of subgroup: the category specific professional association. Getting perceived competitors to work together is generally much harder than working with the community at large, but the potential benefits of category specific organizations are also much greater.  When destination businesses, a group of restaurants, a group of clothing stores, different real estate firms or any type of like organizations come together to produce something, they have the capacity to accomplish some pretty important goals.
To facilitate these groups working together, you typically have to engineer an organic environment with internal expectations.  In layman’s terms, you have to help a group get coordinated and then get out of their way.  Once an initial formation takes place, group members can then talk, create bylaws, generate a focus and determine future member eligibility.  Criteria for membership generally must exceed “paying dues” in order to create value for members, and goals must be pursued in a unified and shared fashion in order to facilitate good working relationships.
Emporia Main Street has worked with two different groups that we consider independent of Main Street to start the process of formal formation.  Businesses that have participated in Jon Schallert’s Destination Boot Camp have tentatively formed a Destination Business Council.  These businesses will meet quarterly (at a minimum) and create cooperative opportunities to draw more traffic into Emporia (and their businesses) by employing destination marketing techniques and acquiring asset assistance.
The Downtown Emporia Bar Association worked together last fall to generate an event called OK-TO-BIER-FEST.  The bar group is currently working together to create a St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl.  The group is working on their own internal dues structure, bylaws, organizational structure and application process to facilitate growth.  Eventually, they may pursue joint projects among members that promote philanthropy, public safety, cost savings, and targeted marketing to promote additional traffic from beyond the traditional trade area and other assorted goals.
Other potential associated groups can (and we hope, will) form to work collaboratively to meet future challenges.  Smaller, independently owned businesses have a vested interest in working together.  Collaboration leads to increased traffic flow for all businesses in your category and can enhance the ability to attract people from beyond our traditional trade area, thus improving our community pull factor.  The sharing of knowledge, best practices, the ability to purchase some items/services in bulk and the incentive to create unique events to take advantage of opportunities unique to a specific category can enhance business ability to survive.
In short, like it or not, small businesses need each other to survive.  The ability to actually work together cooperatively creates an important community dynamic.  No single entrepreneurial business carries all products and services wanted/needed by the general public.  A lack of cooperation can lead people out of town to find what they are looking for.  Increased cooperation can pull people in town to take advantage of our unique products and services.  But, a cooperative community fabric typically requires some “give and take” and it certainly requires a new way of thinking.
An older way of looking at an organization is through a hierarchal lens.  The organizations of thirty years ago had a definite head, and flowed downwards into a series of subgroups that reported to and were controlled by the head.  That thought process simply doesn’t work for “like category” organizations.  In the professional category group, every member has  equal rights AND responsibilities.  The organization only works when all work for the collective good and pull their own weight.
If you are still reading this, you might be wondering “why would Main Street want to encourage this behavior?”  Category businesses that can work together can sometimes transcend geography and focus on the community at large (there are some exceptions for public safety and other notable areas). Disparate business types have vastly different goals and usually have issues achieving continuity and sustainability in an organic format.  However, “like categories” of businesses can work with Emporia Main Street as a partner to accelerate growth and access to resources as a unified productive voice.  Our goal is your collective success, and when businesses view other like businesses as “cooperators” instead of “competitors” it makes us much more effective in creating our goal of a vibrant, growing and sustainable entrepreneurial community.
So, what’s the next tangible step?  If you consider yourself a destination business, contact Emporia Main Street about attending a Destination Boot Camp.  If you already belong to a “like category” organization, contact Emporia Main Street to determine if there are ways we can be of more assistance.  If you aren’t part of a “like category group”, we may be able to bring parties to the table as you form one.  Again, it’s not our role to tell you what to do in your business (though we do offer advice).  We can, however, help you get the ball rolling to produce something that may help your business in the long term.