John Thomas is a man about town.
More specifically, he’s a man about town during the lunch hour.
You can see the owner of Mr. JST Technology Consulting wining and dining – more dining than wining, really – clients and prospective clients at various Northfield restaurants during the week.
You might say Thomas has perfected the art of the business lunch.
He says everybody has to eat lunch, so why not conduct business while taking care of this basic need? With that in mind, Mr. JST averages about 10 business lunches a month, which equates to more than 100 a year.
“There are social aspects to a business lunch and business aspects to a social lunch,” Thomas said. “We’re Minnesotans. We do everything with or over food. It’s really about getting somebody in a great environment and getting 30 minutes to talk about business. ”
But more important than closing deals or signing on new clients is the relationship-building aspect of business lunches, the Northfield business owner said. In his opinion, once that partnership is formed, the rest will take care of itself.
Thomas has taken that aspect of the casual occasion to new heights as vice president of the Northfield Money Makers Chapter of Business Networking International, a business networking organization based on referrals being passed between its members. He said many of his business lunches have stemmed from being a member of the organization.
“I tend to do my lunches with my business referrals because you need to gain their trust and get to know them,” said Thomas, who has been in business for three years. “We’re all busy and have a lot to do during the course of the day, so why not do this over lunch? It’s a more casual atmosphere that is definitely less stressful. A business lunch is non-threatening.”
Northfield business owner Brett Reese agrees. He says the art of the business lunch is “alive and well.” The owner of Rebound Enterprises, among other interests in Northfield, says he does quite a few transactions and holds many lunch meetings during the course of a year. Big on his list of reasons: networking and forming partnerships.
“I love doing deals on the back of a napkin,” he said. “You’d be surprised what comes out of a business luncheon. Personally, there have been some sizable transactions. For Rebound, [the business lunch] is an integral part of our business.”
A growing network
Business lunches aren’t new. They’ve existed for as long as there has been commerce and trade. In Northfield, real estate agents, business owners, financial advisors and a whole slew of other business types rely on business lunches to sometimes close deals, but for the most part to network and to build relationships.
Brian Trebelhorn, a licensed professional real estate agent for RE/MAX in Northfield for 12 years, says the noon business lunch is a regular occurrence in his line of work. He mostly meets with home buyers, but also is on the other side of the table occasionally when he is being wooed by loan officers, inspectors and title companies that want his business.
Trebelhorn believes in neutral ground when it comes to picking a place. He says people are more apt to talk freely when not in an office setting.
“You look for anything you might have in common with the person or couple and the conversation takes off from there,” said Trebelhorn, who guessed he has a business lunch two to three times a month depending on the market. “I remember sitting down with a guy who loves chicken wings and the conversation turned to that because I absolutely love chicken wings, too. It was an ice-breaker, and from there we got to know each other and we decided it was a good fit.”
I scratch your back
While Thomas and the other business people in this article have their favorite restaurants to conduct business over lunch, they each try to spread the wealth. It’s all about being equitable, Thomas said.
“Being a downtown business, I try to walk to the lunches,” he said. “But that limits it only to downtown businesses. I try to hit them all and try to be impartial. Again, in Northfield it’s about the partnerships. You give and they give back.”
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield