New small business coalition in the works

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The coalition would not include the Chamber of Commerce. A “buy local” campaign is also being discussed.

By Jimy Tallal / Special to The Malibu Times

A new coalition of Malibu small businesses appears to be in the works, after a nonprofit organization hired by the city suggested that small businesses need a separate organization outside of the City of Malibu and the Chamber of Commerce at a seminar Saturday at City Hall. New city councilmember and small business owner Skylar Peak was nominated to head a temporary group to get the ball rolling on a small business alliance in Malibu. Peak planned to hold the first meeting May 16, and will be joined by representatives from the city, the small business community, the small business advocacy group Preserve Malibu and the Chamber.

The seminar was conducted by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), a nonprofit organization based out of Bozeman, Mont. that helps communities develop independent business alliances (IBM), “buy local” campaigns and other initiatives aimed at supporting local entrepreneurs. IBMs are coalitions formed by independent, locally owned stores to compete against chains and online competitors. AMIBA came by request of the City of Malibu. The half-day event was attended by a diverse group of about 50 people, including small business owners, city officials, business organizations, commercial property owners and Pepperdine University.

AMIBA’s presentation, called “Strength in Numbers,” explained the economic, civil and environmental benefits of keeping small and independent businesses in the city’s retail mix, as well as the hidden costs of chain proliferation and absentee business owners; and gave examples of successful “buy local” campaigns.

Jeff Milchen of AMIBA stressed the need for Malibu’s small businesses to form their own local organization separate from the city and Chamber of Commerce. “Independent entrepreneurs need a strong, unified voice,” Milchen said. “It shouldn’t be a part of the city, because it looks too self-serving.”

Chamber Chairman Don Schmitz said he agreed with Milchen that an independent business alliance could not be part of the Chamber because they “must be careful not to promote one type of business to the detriment of another.”

The prospect of a new business alliance in Malibu could, in theory, be seen as competition for the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, which raises much of its funding from membership fees. But Schmitz said on Monday that the two could co-exist and that the Chamber still had much to offer small businesses.

“If small businesses don’t understand the many attributes the Chamber brings [for them], I can see how some would see it that way,” Schmitz said. “[But] it doesn’t need to be a competition. If it’s formed on the stated intent to promote business we’re all for it.” In addition to Peak, other representatives expected to be at the first meeting to discuss an independent alliance include resident David Kramer, Malibu Mayor Pro tem Lou La Monte, small business owners Michael Osterman (PC Greens) and Shawn Tavakol (Beauty Collection), J. Flora-Katz of Preserve Malibu, Marissa Coughlan, developer/retailer, and Schmitz.

One of the most difficult first tasks facing the temporary group will be to define who can join the new alliance. “We suggest defining members as at least 50 percent locally owned; but you then have to define local,” Milchen said. “Is local within a 50-mile radius?”

In addition, the group will have to decide whether to treat locally owned national franchises like Subway the same as a locally owned business. In the future, the alliance may also wrestle with questions like how Malibu can preserve its identity, how to help existing businesses, how small businesses can better serve the community, traffic problems, discount and incentive programs, how to serve home-based businesses with no storefront, and the possibility of establishing architectural guidelines.

“I’m 100 percent on board [with the business alliance],” Peak said. “There’s energy behind this. It’s a positive thing. The city will have to jump start this.”

AMIBA said that educating the residents of Malibu with a “buy local” campaign would be key. This includes debunking the myth that the best deals are always online or at big box stores, emphasizing that small businesses often have higher-quality products or more experienced salespeople, and that shopping locally means running into friends and neighbors and feeling like part of the community.

Milchen said small businesses can have a greater impact than larger ones on their local economy because they don’t have corporate offices and tend to use local banks, attorneys, suppliers, etc.

Once a small business alliance is formed, its members can “build a powerful, collective, brand that stands for something positive” Milchen said. This usually involves a logo campaign, promotional materials and media alliances with local newspapers. It could also include projects to make information more accessible to consumers with online databases and mobile phone applications, using group purchasing power for supplies, running annual campaigns like “Independents Week,” and getting anchor institutions like Pepperdine University to think and buy local. Businesses can also help each other with services.