by Eugene Scott - Mar. 3, 2010 12:05 PM The Arizona Republic
Ralph Holmstrom opened the first C&R Tire near Tatum Boulevard and Bell Road nearly 15 years ago.
He had worked in the tire industry for Firestone for 30 years and joined an association of tire dealers shortly after starting his own small business.
"I picked up things listening (to people at the association), but I wouldn't say anybody went out of their way to assist me," Holmstrom said. "Most small businesses really don't have anywhere they can turn to for guidance."
Since then, he's opened locations in Scottsdale and Anthem.
About a year ago after semi-retiring, Holmstrom joined the North Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. He had more time on his hands and wanted to connect with other small business owners, particularly those just starting up. Through the chamber, he met Lyle Clark, who was taking his first leap into owning a small business with Honest-1 Auto Care, near Cactus Road and Paradise Village Parkway West. A mentorship was born.
"If you met someone on the street or in a bar while having a beer, and you found out they were in your same business, there probably wouldn't be as much willingness for exchange," Holmstrom said. "But when you're a member of an organization like the chamber, you're all kind of part of the same team."
The North Phoenix Chamber is encouraging its veteran business owners to mentor new small businesses in this tough economic time. The chamber has more than 200 members, and 12 percent of them are businesses that have been operating for less than five years.
Executive Director Jean Lukens said she is seeing more small businesses seeking advice now more than ever.
A study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that more than 40 percent of small businesses fail within the first two years. Nearly 70 percent fail within the first four.
Gary Naumann, director of the Spirit of Enterprise Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said a lack of wise counsel from more experienced professionals is partially to blame. He said new business owners need to be proactive if they want to beat the odds.
"The best thing to do is to just ask around to your circle of friends for somebody who knows somebody," he said.
Lukens said the group's networking events are some of the prime places where longtime business owners and those just getting started connect.
"We have a number of networking events and when a new person comes to me at a mixer, I will introduce the new person to other members in their industry," she said. "People realize that they need help right now, and this (connecting with a chamber) is the best way of doing it."
The chamber does not have a formalized mentoring program, but Lukens said after connecting small business owners to one another, the relationships often naturally happen. More now than in past years, Lukens said young entrepreneurs are aware of the need for help.
"There are some businesses that have gone out of business because of the economy, but the chambers are increasing in numbers because people realize that they cannot get their name out by themselves anymore," she said.
Clark's desire to be more involved in northeast Phoenix's business community led him to contact the chamber. He said he met Holmstrom at the first event he attended.
"At first he kind of checked me out and then as he heard me talking and what I wanted to do, it really fit the same way he does his business. We both had some things in common," Clark said.
The two men talked often at chamber events and other times leading up to the December opening of Clark's store.
"It's been valuable," Clark said of his discussions with Holmstrom. "I've been able to use a lot of what he has to say. He talks about the importance of being out there in front of everybody. (He says:) 'Promote, promote, promote.' "
While their meetings have decreased since Clark's opening, Holmstrom's wisdom from previous sessions continues to help him.