Friday, February 26, 2010

Mixing Pleasure with Business

Networkers relax at event held at Allegria lounge

By Joseph Kellard

Guests sipped wine more than they handed out business cards and engaged in personal conversations more than they talked shop. This relaxed atmosphere was what hosts of a business networking event were aiming for at the Allegria Hotel last week.

While a fireplace roared and a pianist played dinner tunes on a white Steinway in a lounge, hosts Janet Slavin and Alice Leybengrub, two local businesswomen who sponsored the evening event, mingled and schmoozed with dozens of businesspeople from Long Beach and neighboring towns.

“It’s about getting people to come in, have a good time, have some drinks, meet each other without the pressure of these networking groups,” said Leybengrub, who owns an accounting firm in Long Beach.

The mix of enterprising men and, mostly, women rubbed elbows on white sofas in the candle-lit room with a sky-blue carpet and an octagonal skylight that looked out onto the Long Beach night sky. The elegant setting was a far different from the first meeting Slavin and Leybengrub hosted at the narrow, seatless Evers Place art gallery in the West End last fall, when some 30 people stopped by.

After declaring it a success, the duo wanted to try something more spacious and upscale. For some, the allure of the second meeting wasn’t just the luxury hotel.

“I went to the last networking event they had and I just fell for Alice, because she’s such a mover and a shaker,” said Dr. Jo Eisman, whose chiropractic office is on East Park Avenue. “She’s young and energetic and she’s a doer. So anything Alice does I want to go to. She’s like a magnet.”

Eisman, a member of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, is a regular at the networking events. But networking for her now is as much about socializing as it is about business. “I’m at a point in my career where I don’t really need to do anything,” Eisman said about promoting her business. “It’s fun to come to the hotel and I love to meet new and interesting people. There are a lot of interesting people here tonight — I can hardly get past the door.”

Both Leybengrub and Slavin cited building relationships as the purpose of their gatherings. “It’s to get business owners more acquainted with each other, because I guess we feel that the Chamber of Commerce is all well and good, but it doesn’t really suit everybody’s needs in the community,” said Slavin, an attorney with offices in Long Beach and Manhattan.

A hypnotist who opened an office on West Park Avenue two years ago, Bernadette Martin met a man at the get- together who owns a solar panel company, and they chatted about possible ways their businesses could mesh.

“Coming here is really about getting your message out, and talking to people and letting them know where you are and what you’re doing and how you might work together,” said Martin, who is involved with Long Beach’s newly formed environmental committee.

Alisa Bracksmayer, a Long Beach resident who works with a mortgage company in Rockville Centre, had attended a networking event hosted by the Rockville Centre Chamber of Commerce the night before. Living down the block from the Allegria, she decided to take up the e-mailed invitation to the Jan. 13 meeting at the hotel.

Bracksmayer said that networking helps her get referrals and lets her know what’s going on in other businesses. Admittedly frightened by the still gloomy economy, she said that when she drives around town these days, she doesn’t notice what stores are in business, but rather those that are vacant and for rent. “I see it in the mortgage business, I see it in people calling up who want help but can’t get help,” Bracksmayer said. “It’s sad, so why wouldn’t you want to help promote business within the community where you live?”

Slavin and Leybengrub quieted the din to speak to the crowd for a few minutes, explaining and promoting their businesses and speaking briefly about the reasons behind their meetings.

When asked about their next steps, the duo said they weren’t necessarily forming a networking group or business organization.

“We’re trying to get local business owners to really get to know and build relationships with one another, in any economy but especially now,” Leybengrub said. “I think these are the type of events that are going to help bring more business to Long Beach ... I think people are tired of going to all these structured events with long speeches.”

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