Laury Hammel is the President and CEO of The Longfellow Clubs of Massachusetts, which encompasses health and sports clubs, holistic health centers, children’s centers, and camps that serve 15,000 members. Honored by the Boston Globe as one of the top places to work in Massachusetts, Longfellow is a recognized industry leader in innovative business practices, environmental responsibility, and community service.
Laury has helped dozens of Independent Business Alliances and other local business coalitions get started. Additionally, he founded the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN) in 1988, Business for Social Responsibility in 1991 and, in 2001, co-founded the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Laury directs the 1000+ member SBN and has developed innovative programs like the Boston Local Food Festival, the Sustainable Business Leader Program and the Sustainability Leadership Summit. Laury also joined AMIBA’s board of directors in 2016 (serving a three-year term) and is part of AMIBA’s speakers bureau.
You clearly have self-interest as a business owner competing against many fitness chains, but what led you into investing so much time to help communities outside of your own to organize local business coalitions?
I founded my business in 1972 with the express mission of making the world a better and more livable place for all people. In 1980 we founded The Longfellow Clubs and created a mission statement that talked about creating a world where all people’s basic needs are met. When you own a mission-driven company you very quickly look for allies and friends who share your values and want to change the world. In 1988 I founded what became the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts and the energy and impact gained from this association of local business leaders inspired me to encourage others in New England and around the nation to start and grow similar coalitions.
You wrote a book, “Growing Local Value: How to Build Business Partnerships that Strengthen Your Community.” What kind of partnerships have helped your business thrive? What will business owners gain from your insights?
Writing this book had a profound impact on my life because it laid out the basic philosophy of why and how we have grown our business to become the third largest health club business headquartered in New England with over 15,000 members. Successful entrepreneurs have learned that strong business partnerships are essential to achieving your mission and being profitable. When an entrepreneur views relationships with key stakeholders as business partnerships everyone prospers. It just makes sense to nurture and develop robust partnerships with customers, staff, investors, vendors, and the community — long-term relationships are essential when building a successful and vibrant business.
Looking at the local Alliances you’ve worked with over the years. Do you have any observations about common characteristics among highly successful groups? Any frequent mistakes among those that have struggles or failed?
There are a few key ingredients for success that have emerged over the years:
- Leadership — Number one on the list of these ingredients for success is local business leadership. One or more strong and respected local entrepreneurs not only provide the inspiration for the alliance, but the connections, the credibility, the access to funds, and the glue and entrepreneurial tenacity. Similarly, for an alliance to succeed, an entrepreneurial staff member needs to facilitate and guide meaningful and consistent activities and programs. These business organizations are wonderful but very challenging to grow, and a paid staff is key to long-term success.
- Critical Mass of Local Businesses — There have been cases where there are one or two dynamic leaders in a community, but they are an island in a sea of chain stores and malls. Local alliances need to have a community of local and independent businesses who love local connections and see the potential of getting together with each other to market and promote their businesses and strengthen the local economy and community.
- Sources of Funding — Each network needs a consistent source of revenue in order to do the work that needs to be done to grow an emerging nonprofit. Building a significant membership base provides the first source of funds, and putting together a business directory and seeking sponsorships are not far behind. This is the biggest challenge that alliances face.
- Learn from the Leaders — Even though every local alliance is different, these networks have significantly more in common than they have differences. Take the time to benefit from the years of experience that the AMIBA leaders have accumulated so you don’t make the same mistakes and work to re-invent the wheel.
You had the opportunity to sell your business many times and walk away from the responsibilities with a large profit – why have you chosen to remain independent and keep running your business?
When my partner, Myke Farricker and I founded the business many years ago, we wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of people in our community because that is what gets us juiced! There is nothing more inspiring and energizing than making a difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors. On top of this, we had worked in places that weren’t that nurturing and supportive and we wanted to build a different type of business — one that partners with all stakeholders to achieve something that is profoundly meaningful and sustainable. We feel we have succeeded in creating a business that is, indeed, a model for how a business can succeed and do it in a way that is sustainable and fair, and we want to continue this legacy for many decades to come. We make a good living, and our business community is our home and nurtures our spirits. We’re inspired by our staff and customers every day!
You’ve been a leader in the Localization Movement since its beginnings. What do you see as the major challenges and most important next steps in order to continue momentum for communities and reverse corporatization?
The most important thing we can do to create a strong local economy that is green and fair is to support the growth and development of local and independent businesses that value and serve all stakeholders. When there are tens of thousands of local business leaders who are successfully serving the needs of the community in a conscious and intentional way, the local economy movement will take off and the results will be profound. Building a strong local business is not easy, but it is possible to do, and by working together we can help other emerging local entrepreneurs to succeed and thrive! When we grow local businesses we change the economy and when we change the economy we change the world!
Light a Spark in Your Community! Learn more about bringing Laury or other AMIBA speakers to your community to help catalyze or accelerate pro-local business organizing. We also provide memorable keynotes and workshops for your conference, college, trade show and other forums (see some previous hosts). Contact us to learn more about the best person for your needs.
AMIBA’s profile of SBN Mass Changing Local Economies: One Cup of Clam Chowder at a Time