Going to bat for the little guys of US business
In the spirit of American free enterprise, Gordon Bizar saw a need--and now he's trying to fill it.Skip to next paragraph
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He decided that despite efforts of federal agencies and local and regional associations, many small business people just don't have the information, or lobbying power with government, that they need. Immersed in the day-to-day details of running an operation, they have little time for the kind of political activism that has earned clout for organized labor, consumer, and big-business groups.
So Mr. Bizar--a former small-business man from Los Angeles who became a millionaire at age 26--decided to tackle the task of politically organizing small businesses.
What he has wound up offering, however, as founder and president of the International Business Network (IBN), a nonprofit organization, is a package of services that small-business owners are willing to pay for--and which in turn provides money for political lobbying.
''We provide small-business men with a problem-solving service,'' explains Mr. Bizar, whose organization now numbers 4,500 members in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston. By the end of 1982, he says, that number will more than triple to 15,000 as IBN expands into Atlanta, Philadelphia , New York, Boston, Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, and Phoenix.
Although the government defines a small business as one with fewer than 500 employees, Bizar's network is aimed especially at very small operations. Most of his members have fewer than 50 employees. It is these business owners, he says, who have the least time for lobbying and for sifting through government red tape.
In essence, IBN acts as an information clearinghouse and educational resource for small-business owners. For $75 a quarter, members receive a variety of services, including a hot line to experts on small-business problems-- experts such as accountants, labor lawyers, and financial lenders who will answer questions for free. These experts, who charge a reduced rate for members whose needs involve detailed professional assistance, donate their ''hot line'' time to IBN. In return, says Bizar, they increase their own business because one of every seven or eight calls per expert yields a client who needs additional help.
''You have at your fingertips exactly what big business has--you just pick up the phone and find out what you need to know,'' says Bizar, who recruits most of his members through free seminars.
''For example,'' he explains, ''let's say you're going to expand your business from a mom-and-pop operation, and you're going to hire your first employee. What governmental agencies do you have to register with? How much do you withhold in taxes on your employee's paycheck? We'll tell you.''
Bizar knows the problems, and joys, of owning a small business. In 1973 he bought a small motorcycle parts company and within six months bought out his largest competitor. Within three years sales had gone from $250,000 to $3 million. But he became frustrated, feeling that he no longer was building his business but dealing with the problems of government regulation. His original 15 employees had become 139 employees and unions were interested in organizing them.
In 1976 he sold the business and went to Hawaii. There he read an article on how small-business owners, although they needed a national lobbying voice, were traditionally impossible to organize because of their independence. He decided to take on the challenge of forming such an organization.
There have been results already. One small-business owner who has turned to IBN for help, Midwest food distributor Jim Mahoney, says that he has increased his net profit more than 30 percent each month through cash-flow analysis techniques he learned at an IBN seminar.
''I'd recommend it to most any small-business owner or anybody thinking of going into a small business,'' says Mr. Mahoney, who joined IBN in May 1981. ''In a nutshell, it's a how-to course on where to get it fast. . . . You'll find things in there you'd spend a whole lifetime looking for.''
Like other IBN members, Mr. Mahoney says he joined to improve his own business skills--not because he was interested in joining a political organization, although lobbying, he says, ''is a tremendous idea.''
Nonetheless, says Bizar, IBN services can be provided so cost effectively that membership fees also help pay for political lobbying - an activity desperately needed for small businesses, he contends.
Bizar is not alone in trying to provide services to small-business owners. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, for example, has an active small-business program with about 3,000 members. Its services include counseling and referral services and the organization sends lobbyists to Sacramento and Washington.
But Bizar counters that groups like the US Chamber of Commerce are more representative of big-business interests than small-business owners.
So far, IBN's lobbying is still a fledgling affair because Bizar concentrates first on setting up a local chapter, and a year later establishing a political lobby. This year, he says, IBN will begin lobbying at the state level in Texas and Illinois, in addition to employing a full-time lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
In California, where Bizar has served as chairman of a state task force on the regulation and taxation of small business, IBN has been active since 1978. Its efforts - some successful and some not - have included lobbying on behalf of bills aimed at reducing the regulatory and tax burden on small business. In addition, IBN launched a lawsuit, which now is before the California State Supreme Court, against three California cities that tried to increase business taxes to raise city revenues that were cut after the passage of tax-slashing Proposition 13.