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Correspondent

GROTON — The North Middlesex Business Exchange, a chapter of Business Network International (BNI), is an example of networking that works.

At weekly meetings, members exchange referrals and report on how past referrals worked out. Bringing the system full circle, those who previously initiated business connections for other members share their feedback from customers.

The local group has been growing for five years and the parent organization a lot longer. Established in 1985, BNI is the world’s largest referral organization, with over 2,400 chapters and 68,000 members worldwide.

BNI’s philosophy of “givers gain” has a proven track record and its mission is to help members grow their businesses through a structured, supportive, “word-of-mouth” marketing system.

Membership is non-competitive by design. Only one member from each trade or profession is accepted into each chapter with, for example, only one plumber, one electrician and one lawyer per group. There may be some flexibility allowed for specialization, but if an applicant’s job description matches that of a current member, he or she cannot join. That applicant may be referred to another chapter, however.

At a recent meeting, potential new members were introduced to the Groton-based group. One of them was Mike Cloukey of Pepperell, a former high-tech employee who recently launched his own business of designing and installing customized home theater systems.

Other hopefuls include two home improvement businesses in Townsend: Paul Silver of Handyman Heroes Inc. and Matthew Fournier of Elite Construction and Design. Both men said they were interested in joining BNI.

The Groton BNI group meets at 7 on Thursday mornings at the Groton Country Club. Meetings last 90 minutes and include a continental breakfast and an agenda based on BNI standards such as 60-second “commercials” highlighting each member’s business.

Member-sponsored applicants, if accepted, pay registration and other fees to join BNI. Members say they get that money back in added business and then some.

Business cards are key to the exchange process; the networking even more so. Each referral is personal, backed by ongoing relationships. In short, BNI members get to know each other and can vouch for each other’s character and the quality of their work.

When a member says, “I know a good plumber,” they mean Robert Holohan of Top Notch Plumbing & Heating in Townsend. Need a travel agent? Call Maureen Denig at Travel Now Inc., in Townsend. Looking for insurance? The guru in this group is Glenn Gould of Nicoploulos Insurance Agency in Harvard. Donna Boisvert of Pepperell helps customers create new kitchens and baths at her Ashby-based firm, Inspire & Design.

John Comeau of Townsend drives his Computer Van right to a home or business and works wonders for his customers, BNI members say.

The group also includes an accountant, a financial adviser, an acupuncturist, a message therapist and a chiropractor. Huberte “Beth” Cormier of Harvard promotes natural health and wellness products called Melaleuca that received rave reviews from other members. For entrepreneurs looking for new marketing tools, Bobbie Tolman’s Creative Promotional Ideas may be able to help. Trouble sleeping? The solution could be as close as Townsend’s Harbor Village Mall, where Victoria Bender said she has the right mattress for just about everyone. For family portraits with a special touch, call Patricia Axford Photography in Groton. And so on.

With 32 members, the Groton BNI group is a resource in itself. Members exchange business cards, share resources and spread the word around. Links to other BNI branches extend its reach. An array of perks include lending libraries and speakers — both members and guests — who offer knowledge and expertise.

It all adds up to a wealth of information and ideas aimed at the same goal — helping members grow their businesses.

For more information, contact chapter President Bill Denison at (978) 692-6226.

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