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Networking Group Ends Successful Run
from a Fort Myers News-Press Story dated April 10, 2012

Networking group will be no more after next month

Rebecca Scheffler Morris, owner of rsm design inc.; Cheryl Lewandowski, of JMC Distributors; Trish Leonard, owner of TLC Marketing & Creative Services; and Cristin Madden, of BB&T, network at the Commercial Sales Industry Professionals event on April 3rd at Trianon Hotel in Bonita Springs. The networking group will end operations after more than seven years in operation at its final meeting on May 1st. / Yvonne McClellan/

After more than seven years of networking and friendship, the Commercial Sales Industry Professionals networking group in Southwest Florida will close after its final meeting in May.

In recent months, members of the CSIP group - ranging from architects and land planning attorneys to engineers - are smiling more often, and are busy with new projects and clients, said Trish Leonard, who spearheaded the group and has been at the helm since its inception.

Despite the increased business, many of the members are sad to see the group end, she said.

"The need is still here: As a matter of fact, they are very upset," Leonard said about the members. "It's really for me. It's a personal decision."

Leonard, who hasn't worked in the commercial industry for some time, still plans all the meetings and coordinates the group, but also works and is involved in many other committees and organizations in the community, she said.

She splits her time working as director of marketing for the Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University and runs her own company, TLC Marketing & Creative Services. She's the president of the European American Network and is the chair for the leadership alumni class for the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce and was also recently named to the board of the Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs.

When she launched the group, a headhunter had recruited Leonard to work for Odle McGuire Shook, an architectural and engineering firm that had opened an office in Naples, she said.

"The goal was to try to meet other likeminded people in that industry because I knew nothing about the trade industry at all," she said.

Leonard launched the group with about 20 professionals and met once a month at the Neon Bar & Grill in Bonita Springs.

About 15 of the roughly 40 members who attended the April meeting on Tuesday at Trianon Hotel in Bonita Springs were original to the group, she said.

Apart from networking, the members were big on volunteering and fundraising. CSIP would assist The Salvation Army with food drives, help distribute blankets to the homeless and more.

While that's remained a constant, the group evolved in many ways through the downturn.

For many years CSIP was free. Leonard often coordinated with restaurants to donate food for the meetings, but as the economy shifted, she would purchase the food and prizes herself. About a year ago they implemented a $5 per person fee at the meetings.

At the same time some members were laid off and opened their own businesses or moved into a different industry altogether.

Rebecca Scheffler Morris was an original CSIP member who was laid off, but a few years ago she opened her own landscape architecture firm, rsm design inc. in Fort Myers. The group helped her grow her business, she said.

"It definitely gave me a platform to jump off of," Scheffler Morris said.

When she came to the meetings and announced that she had launched her own company, those 30 members became contacts for her business because of the relationships she had built in CSIP, Scheffler Morris said.

In the past, the group had been strict about only inviting people from the commercial trades to join, but the members on a whole decided to adapt and allow people to continue to build relationships in the network, Leonard said.

The members weren't alone.

"I found myself waking up one day laid off from my job, so I could feel the pain," Leonard said. "… I knew what everyone was going through because I was one of them."

And many of the members gravitated toward CSIP because of Leonard.

Many knew her when she worked in membership services in the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, and followed her because of her knack and ease at helping people make useful business connections, said Keith Ruebeling, president of Larue Pest Management.

"When I joined my dad back in '91, I grew the business down in Bonita and Naples," he said. "…She was instrumental in introducing me to a lot of different people down here and growing that business."

While he's developed many friendships and business relationships through CSIP, Ruebeling will miss it.

"It's a shame, but we've had a really good run," he said. "And a lot of us still network in other groups in the area."

The SBDC at Florida Gulf Coast University is a member of the Florida SBDC Network, a statewide service network funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the US Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.