The newly formed Whidbey Island Small Business Association is the brain child of two Oak Harbor business owners, Selene Muldowney and Mallory Panchelli.
“We started this venture because people kept asking for ideas on how to grow their business,” said Panchelli, owner of Created on 86th, which specializes in vinyl signs, T-shirts and apparel.
“They were asking for assistance with marketing and how best to get their name out there,” said Pink Martini Design owner Selene Muldowney, whose business specializes in graphics, web design, writing and marketing.
“We really felt there was a big need unfulfilled for small and micro businesses and felt we could benefit from working together,” said Muldowney. “The organizations that already exist are very beneficial, but many small businesses just don’t have the money to join them.”
Muldowney and Panchelli describe the Whidbey Small Business Association as a grassroots effort at building community and giving small business owners a voice. They said they excel at marketing, understand the rules of engagement on social media, through email marketing, online through website engagement and in person.
“Small and micro businesses are the foundation of a healthy community,” said Muldowney. “When a small business owner gets paid, they add to and boost sales for large business since they buy more product to support their small business.”
In Island County, which includes Whidbey and Camano Islands, there are more than 2,000 businesses with 10 or fewer employees, according to Database USA. Ron Nelson, director of the Island County Economic Development Center in Coupeville, said the whole point of joining organizations is for marketing assistance and networking.
“That partnering is where it all happens,” said Nelson.
The membership structure for WISBA is simple. Business owners can choose between a $50 or $100 membership. Both plans offer a free ad on the Association’s website, a free car decal advertising their business and discounts and first priority for vendor events. All businesses of any size are welcome to join, although businesses with more than 10 employees are asked to join at the $100 level. Other business services are offered to members at deep discounts.
And WISBA is an Island-wide organization, already boasting members in Oak Harbor, Langley and Greenbank.
“We are running it like a union,” said Muldowney. “Every member counts. Low buy-in covers hard costs. We offer our members our expertise without the incredible cost.”
And they intend to include members in ongoing education.
“We plan to take a very different approach to our workshops,” she said. “We’re working with other members to help create a network for them that they can use to learn from. It’s quite amazing how talented our business owners are.”
Both Muldowney and Panchelli said they have been overwhelmed by the rapid growth they’ve seen with the WISBA since the beginning of the month. Right now it’s a two-person operation and they’ve been able to handle their own businesses as well as this new venture.
“We set aside time because this is important,” said Panchelli. “So far we’re able to share the workload.”
The two hope WISBA can become a resource as a referral for micro and small businesses, so those business owners can get a good start in the community. As part of that, they have reached out to the military community.
“Many of these small business owners are military spouses and the population is constantly rotating,” said Panchelli, a military spouse herself. “But if they’re going to be here for three years, being connected right away can make a huge difference.”
“It makes them feel invested in the community,” agreed Muldowney. “And that’s what we want for all our small and micro businesses. We want them to feel empowered so they feel like they have a voice.”