Is your business percolating?
Eight times a year business owners in Charlotte gather for what might be characterized as a large coffee klatsch, part pep rally and part business meeting, providing a wake up call to networking new business opportunities. The Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America produces the event for its business members to invite their customers, employees and guests to network with other invitees, while having breakfast and being entertained by an educational or motivational speaker. The point? Have fun, and develop new business leads, relationships and business resources.
“Breakfast Club America is the best marketing/networking event we’ve ever been involved with,” says William Braddy of First Citizens Bank. “Everyone there expects to talk about doing business with you.”
David L. (Chuck) Hood Jr., president of Hood, Hargett & Associates, Inc., has participated in Breakfast Club America since it originated in Charlotte in 1995. As a matter of fact, Hood Hargett has been the title sponsor for the past five years. So when Breakfast Club America decided to franchise its Charlotte business this summer, Hood bought it.
“A lot of people thought we owned it already,” says Hood. “It has provided us with excellent name recognition, as well as providing a successful venue to bring our customers to and to build new relationships.”
Changing the pot
Chuck Hood, now 57, grew up in Charlotte in the Chantilly neighborhood, subsequently moving to Cotswold at a time when Cotswald was so far out of the city that Hood says they moved “to the country.” After graduating from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Phi Beta Kappa key and an economics degree, Hood returned to Charlotte to work with First Union Bank, then with a local insurance agency, and, in 1975, joined Dan Hargett in an independent insurance agency. In 1988, Hargett retired, leaving Hood as president of Hood, Hargett & Associates. The company presently employs 21 people in its brick office building at the corner of North McDowell and Fifth Street.
Hood, an outgoing and articulate speaker himself, enjoys his personal participation in Breakfast Club America events. He recalls Dawn Staley, the former Sting basketball player, that brought him to tears when she spoke, inspiring him to sponsor her summer camps. He jokes about making one very tall high school athlete stand two stairs beneath him when he presented him with the Athlete of the Month award. Hood likes the occasional sports connection of the breakfast club, highlighting Pat Williams, general manager of the Orlando Magic, and Lee Corso of ESPN Sports as speakers he has particularly enjoyed.
But, above all else, Hood recognizes the value of bringing top business owners together, providing them with food, good presentations, the opportunity to play a great golf course, and encouraging them to do business with each other. As the new owner of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America, he plans to initiate some changes in the club.
“We don’t want to be a Chamber of Commerce-type event where everyone comes and exchanges business cards,” says Hood. “We want to produce an event where business leaders have the opportunity to meet a targeted audience.”
Instead of sales and marketing people, Hood is aiming Breakfast Club America events at business owners and decision makers. The speaker list for 2006 has been carefully selected to appeal to business leaders. And, sponsorships are exclusive – only one bank, one lawyer, one car dealer, etc. are accepted.
Marty Conte, president of Diamond Springs Water, is looking forward to the changes Hood has planned. While Diamond Springs has been a member for three years and Conte has found that membership useful, he believes there is room for improvement.
“I’m looking forward to better monthly programs, better speakers and, particularly, a higher level of membership,” says Conte. “Everybody is going to be equal and there will be more members that help out other members.”
Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America events are not open to the general public. To attend, you must be invited as a guest of a Breakfast Club America member. These members include such businesses as the Charlotte Bobcats, Charlotte Copy Data, Diamond Springs Water, First Citizens Bank, Greater Charlotte Biz, Sprint, Queen City Audio Video & Appliance, and Scott Jaguar.
Brewing new leadership
Currently, the Club holds eight breakfast events a year, attended by approximately 250 to 300 people. The meetings are held at Carmel Country Club and they begin with a business expo of displays from member businesses. A high-profile celebrity speaker is featured at every event. After breakfast and the program, attendees may choose to play a round of golf.
An important part of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America is the Student Athlete Program. This is a merit program that awards area high school seniors with a scholarship to the college of their choice. At each breakfast, Hood presents the recipient with a $1,000 scholarship and a plaque commemorating his or her selection. At the end of the year, one of the monthly award recipients is selected as “The Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America Student Athlete of the Year” and he or she receives an additional $5,000 in scholarship money.
“This is not a ‘jock’ scholarship,” clarifies Hood. “The criteria include being a member of a varsity team, but stress grade point average, leadership activities in school, and community activities. We’re looking for good students, with leadership potential, who happen to play a sport.”
Cody William Elder III, who won the 2004 Student Athlete of the Year award, used his scholarship to attend Davidson College where he plays football and does 28 hours a week of community service, in addition to his academic activities. At Harding University High School, he served as senior class president. His mother, Sydney Elder, appreciates both the financial award and the recognition Cody received.“I truly do thank Breakfast Club America at least once a week for what they did for Cody,” she says. “This kind of recognition for student athletes is rare.”
The 2005 Student Athlete of the Year winner, Jessica Dare Brown, is on a fast track to graduate from Gardner Webb University in three years. She is majoring in American Sign Language and minoring in Spanish and wants to use the combination to interpret for Spanish speaking deaf people in local churches and schools. In high school, she was on West Mecklenburg’s swimming team, as well as cross country and track teams. She also participated in a long list of school activities.
“We were just thrilled that Breakfast Club America rewarded Jessica affirming her hard work in high school,” says her mother, Sherri Brown.
When Chuck Hood bought the Breakfast Club America Charlotte franchise, one of the first things he did was to hire Jennifer Snyder to manage the new Hood Hargett club. Snyder had worked for the previous owner and is experienced at soliciting members and organizing club events. She is helping Hood give the club a “face lift” with the rewriting of club materials and the planning for the 2006 season.
“All of our corporate sponsorships are categorically exclusive,” she says. “We are definitely gearing this group towards business owners and decision makers.”
Snyder and Hood are reviewing the sponsorship levels, as well. The cost of membership for 2006 begins at the same dollar amount for all members. Members get a designated number of seats for each club event, although they can also purchase additional seats for any single event. While the majority of the Breakfast Club America members are men, women make up a good 30 percent of those attending.
In addition to the Breakfast Club America breakfasts, members are invited to a reception the evening before the event where they have the opportunity to personally chat with the celebrity speaker. The Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America also hosts two roundtable luncheons each month. These smaller events offer businesses the opportunity to host an event at their own location.
“The Roundtables are an opportunity for business owners to talk to a captive audience,” says Jim Scott of Scott Jaguar. “It’s a smaller network of people.”
Scott, who has been a Breakfast Club America member for two years, likes the direction Hood and Snyder are taking.
“They are really charging it up,” he says. “The list of speakers for 2006 is just incredible. They’re getting away from just sports figures and including some speakers who can really talk to business owners.”
The schedule of speakers does include some eminent business doers and thinkers. One of the most celebrated figures in the hospitality industry, Horst Schulze, former president and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, will kick off the year’s events at the Breakfast Club America breakfast event in January.
Schulze will be followed in February by Dr. William C. Freund, chief economist emeritus of The New York Stock Exchange and a respected global economic forecaster, currently professor of economics and director of the William C. Freund Center for the Study of Securities Markets at Pace University.
ESPN NFL Analyst and former Washington Redskins star quarterback Joe Theismann will offer his personal game plan for success at the March Breakfast Club America event.
In May, Kyle Maynard, author of “No Excuses,” will demonstrate that given the right attitude you can succeed no matter what the circumstances. Born with a congenital defect that robbed him of his arms above the elbow and his legs above the knee, Maynard has transformed himself into a winning high school wrestler, weightlifter and gifted student.
In September Breakfast Club America members will hear from Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine. Colvin is renowned as a foremost thinker on leadership and management. He will speak on thriving in a globalizing world, creating wealth, and other urgent business issues.
William Shipman, the foremost expert on social security and retirement, will finish out the 2006 season in November by explaining how the often-ignored realities of Social Security create the greatest social and financial challenge the world will face over the next three decades. Shipman is chairman of CarriageOaks Partners LLC, a consulting firm specializing in retirement finance.
“All of the speakers in the past were sports related figures,” says Snyder. “This year we’re planning on a more diverse group of speakers. Each of them brings something different to the table.”
As Hood and Snyder plan the future direction of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club America, their target audience is foremost in their minds. They are working to bring business leaders and owners together in a stimulating environment where they can do business with one another. They want to create a unique event, with which business owners can impress their customers, while at the same time, encouraging those owners to build relationships with each other.
“Whatever the business, whether it’s selling cars or holding mortgages, business owners are engaged with developing new business contacts. Every decision we make is based on whether the business owner will see value in the result,” avers Hood.