Strength in numbers

Nonprofit association seeks to assist small businesses through group buying power



Three Bellingham women have come together to form a statewide nonprofit online association that would band small businesses together to use their collective buying power to get discounts on small-business necessities.

In March, Cindy Pafummi, Kathleen Kerschner and Laura Vestanen founded, which uses the collective power of its members to secure discounts from businesses

The association is also working on discounted health insurance for its members, which will hopefully come together soon, Vestanen said.

According to an October 2007 report by the state’s Employment Security Department, the Department of Labor & Industries and the Department of Revenue, 93 percent of the businesses that register to pay taxes in Washington employ 20 or fewer workers or are solely operated by the owner.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Vestanen said.

But Vestanen also said small-business owners pay the highest prices for the goods and services they need to operate because they don’t have volume purchasing as a bargaining tool.

“Small-business owners are those who can least afford high prices,” Vestanen said.

Current vendors that provide discounts include: Staples office supplies, Paychex payroll services and goMobileNotary notary supplies.

Vestanen said the site is in negotiation with other businesses to provide discounts on other business necessities such as remanufactured toner cartridges, oil changes, coffee, high-speed Internet service and overnight delivery service.

Because the association is statewide, all members need to be able to access the discounts and services. That means only online and shipping purchases can qualify. A member business in Tacoma would need to have the same access to the deals as a business owner in Spokane.

The site’s founders are also working on affordable healthcare they could offer to their small-business members.

However, insurance agencies need to see a substantial member base before they will give discounted rates.

“We want to have at least 1,000 families,” Vestanen said. “Or else the insurance companies just won’t talk to us.”

David Kimbler of Bellingham’s Kimbler & Thomas has been an insurance and investment adviser for more than 31 years and will work with the new association to find health insurance once it has enough members.

Kimbler said the idea of small businesses banding together to get affordable insurance is not unlike the common practice of restaurant owners joining together with other restaurants to get better insurance.

“Once we get the numbers we need, then I can go out and get those competitive group rates,” Kimbler said.

Kandace Aksnes is a site member who is starting a small notary company. She has helped the site with her knowledge of small businesses.

Aksnes worked as a small-business counselor for eight years and has advised Vestanen and the other founders in their startup efforts.

“(The site) is doing something that other networking groups have not, which is harness the power of its members to get benefits,” Aksnes said.

Aksnes said she has been impressed with Vestanen’s marketing and business savvy.

“They are in start-up mode but I am curious to see what develops down the pipeline for them,” Aksnes said.

Aksnes said she is looking forward to more benefits for her own business as the site grows.

Currently there is no fee to join the online association, but as the site offers more benefits and discounts, members may be asked if they would like to upgrade to an advanced-member level, which would require a dues payment of no more than $9 a month and would offer access to bigger ticket benefits and discounts.

For more information about, visit the site or call 510-6530.

Related Stories