Thirty women browsing a high-end shoe store, getting their nails painted with cruelty-free nail polish and noshing on chicken salad may sound more like an episode of "Sex and the City" than a networking event, but such is the state of affairs among L.A. women entrepreneurs.
Marley Majcher, who owns Pasadena-based Party Goddess Inc., a catering and party-planning business, recently decided to hold monthly get-togethers instead of sitting in her office making cold call after mind-numbing cold call.
"If you want to stay on top of your market and grow your business, you have to network in creative ways," she said. "This luncheon works because it's all about the customer."
It's working for her, too. Majcher's first event, at a Pasadena nail salon, eventually yielded a contract for a $270,000 party. Her second party, at the newly opened Il Primo Passo for Shoe Addicts in Santa Monica last week, brought her a $60,000 corporate party from an invitee who couldn't make it. She said more deals could come through, because it usually takes a couple of weeks.
The good news for participants is that they can bring their own agenda. Majcher makes a point of inviting ladies who aren't her clients and could benefit professionally from meeting some of the other invitees.
Beth Whiffen, a former Cosmopolitan editor, who owns Il Primo Passo, sold $2,000 worth of shoes and handbags to one customer at the luncheon, among other purchases.
"The party was fantastic for us," Whiffen said. "Marley really did everything and we kind of reaped the benefits. She was able to network, we were able to bring customers to the store who didn't know about it or hadn't had a chance to come in."
To make it work, Majcher selects a location where she'd like to establish a presence, or wants to thank loyal clients, and then selects an independently owned salon or boutique. She selects food that's easy to eat from a plastic container, like chicken salad and fruit, and sets a schedule, so she can get all of her guests in and out in 90 minutes or less.
Guests are greeted at the door, given something to drink and offered some sort of spa service, like a manicure. That way, when they sit down, they're usually next to someone they don't know, and a conversation begins.
Majcher also makes sure the ladies have time to check out the location before her program starts. It's important to keep it to 15 minutes. Majcher structures the program like Oprah Winfrey's "Favorite Things" with each guest who has donated an item to her gift bag getting a chance to pitch new business. She starts off by welcoming everyone and offering them $100 off a party.
"Then everyone who donates to the swag bag gets to give a plug about their company," she said. "We don't pre-fill them so each thing actually gets talked about before it goes in your bag."
Last, and most important, Majcher said, "You can't be chintzy."
She brings extra boxed lunches and gift bags on purpose, so her guests go back to the office, share the bounty and talk about her some more.
Intensely working the ranks of L.A.'s female entrepreneurs may not be a business with a long-term future at some point the outgoing movers will have met most of the network-conscious shakers but it's hard to argue with the initial returns. Majcher and her three employees grew the business 20 percent to $1.2 million last year.
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