On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Tina Poiroux. Tina is the executive director of the SouthWest Mobile County Chamber of Commerce, as well as the owner of Grand Catering of Mobile. Listen to this week's podcast and find out more about how Tina and the chamber are helping business owners by addressing the community's needs as well as giving them workshops and networking events.
Produced by Blue Fish in Mobile, Alabama
Tina Poiroux: I'm Tina Poiroux with SouthWest Mobile County Chamber of Commerce. I'm the Executive Director there, for seven years.
Marcus Neto: Yay Tina. It's great to have you on the podcast today. I'm really excited to talk to you.
Tina Poiroux: It's fantastic to be here. It's exciting.
Marcus Neto: Well, to get started, why don't you tell us the story of Tina? Where are you from? Where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? I'm assuming you probably did. Married, kids, backstory. Just tell us a little bit about you.
Tina Poiroux: Okay. Well, I'm not sure how exciting that is, but I'm Tina Poiroux, and I did go to high school. Went to Faith Academy most of my life, and enjoyed small environment of that school and Christian education. I later went on to go to Auburn University to study architecture.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Tina Poiroux: I was there for three years, and came home and met the love of my life and got married. Did not finish school. Decided I would start having children pretty quick into the marriage. And, we have three wonderful children, 22, 21 and 20. So, they keep me busy. Decided I needed to get on the road, the same schedule that they had, and become a school teacher. So, I did that for 15 years. I think architecture background helped me learn to, I guess, construct the lives of children. I think it's an empire to be able to do that. But, that's where I've been most of my life and decided to make a career change, and the chamber sought me out. And, it's been a good career path so far. Been there seven years and enjoying every minute of it.
Marcus Neto: Very cool. Well, does-
Tina Poiroux: It's fantastic.
Marcus Neto: We'll get into that a little bit more here in a minute. But, architecture, what drove that?
Tina Poiroux: As a child, I think, I was constantly tearing things apart and rebuilding. Just the love of being able to rebuild and reconstruct and make things more beautiful. I don't know. Changing the purpose of things, I think, is what I love the most.
Marcus Neto: I was giving you the nickel tour of the building that we're in, and we were kind of talking about some of the different architectural features here. But, go back to your first job, and this is your first crap job, like flipping burgers, scrubbing toilets, mopping floors. Were there any lessons that you still remember from it? What was it, and what were those lessons?
Tina Poiroux: Well, it was not a very glamorous job for sure.
Marcus Neto: They never are.
Tina Poiroux: The first job was I worked for Old Mills being a phone sales. Made $3.80 an hour, which I had to drive 40 miles to that job. So, it was not a get rich kind of job, and I knew I never wanted to be in sales ever again. It was a good lesson. I think I learned the concept of what meanness was because the company made us continually call the same people over and over. And, it just was a battering type situation. I hated it. So, I knew that was not my career path, to be in sales. But, I did learn from that. Learned about myself, and certainly how to treat people.
Marcus Neto: No, that was great.
Tina Poiroux: But, $3.80 was not much.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, I was going to say. I mean, if that was in today's dollars, I mean, it would probably be $8 an hour or-
Tina Poiroux: Maybe. Maybe.
Marcus Neto: ... something like that. I think my first job was $4 an hour.
Tina Poiroux: Boy, that was ... you got rich.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, I was making bank. Now you said earlier that the chamber sought you out. Now how did that whole thing happen of getting into Executive Director, as a role?
Tina Poiroux: They did. I was making a career change, and I've been a successful business owner for many years, but I wanted something-
Marcus Neto: Well, pause. You didn't mention that.
Tina Poiroux: I know, I didn't.
Marcus Neto: What was your business?
Tina Poiroux: I own a catering business.
Marcus Neto: Come on, Tina.
Tina Poiroux: I do.
Marcus Neto: It was what?
Tina Poiroux: I own a catering business, for 21 years.
Marcus Neto: You still own the catering-
Tina Poiroux: I still own that. Have 14 employees. Yes. So, I do that and my chamber job.
Marcus Neto: How the heck do I not know this about her?
Tina Poiroux: I don't know you didn't know that. That's the love of my life. Chamber just pays the bills.
Marcus Neto: So, what's the name of the catering business?
Tina Poiroux: It's Grand Catering in Mobile. And, we have-
Marcus Neto: Well, tell us a little bit-
Tina Poiroux: Let me tell you.
Marcus Neto: ... about the catering business.
Tina Poiroux: I started catering-
Marcus Neto: I'm having to drag this out of her, folks. Come on.
Tina Poiroux: Catering is, yes, definitely the love of my life. I think that's the enjoyable job that I do. Makes me happy. Just this past weekend we cooked for about 700, and it's easy. It's fun.
Marcus Neto: Easy.
Tina Poiroux: It's easy.
Marcus Neto: I cook dinner for seven guests and I'm pulling my hair out. You're talking about 700 people and it's easy.
Tina Poiroux: Yeah, it's easy.
Marcus Neto: But, I guess once you get it down, it's-
Tina Poiroux: Yeah, it's just a formula your work out.
Marcus Neto: There you go.
Tina Poiroux: Just numbers.
Marcus Neto: So, they obviously saw the success that you were having as a business owner, and was that what brought them in-
Tina Poiroux: I think so. They tried for three years to bring me on, and we were originally Tillman's Corner Chamber of Commerce, and not a glamorous place to be.
Marcus Neto: Right.
Tina Poiroux: But, I listened-
Marcus Neto: The bustling metropolis of Tillman's Corner.
Tina Poiroux: Yes. I wasn't sure that's where I wanted to make my landing. But, it's certainly ... I said, okay. After three years, and telling me that it would be great, it'd be a great pairing up, I thought, well, let's give it a try. I'll try anything once. And, it's something that I've really fallen in love with. And, with the architectural background, I love helping businesses be successful. And, through that, the Chamber's has been a great part of my life, and I think it's something that we've had a good relationship with the community and helping others.
Marcus Neto: Well, I've had a little bit of experience with the SouthWest Mobile Chamber. So, you invited me to come out and speak-
Tina Poiroux: I did.
Marcus Neto: ... in a luncheon. And, we were talking about ... and that just so happened to coincide with a day that we were moving into this building. We were talking about that before we started recording. But, I was very impressed because sometimes when you go to chamber functions, your concern as a speaker is that there's going to be three people in the room. Right?
Tina Poiroux: It's a fear.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, if there's three people, man, you're going to give them the best three person speech that you possibly can. But, I was very impressed. I mean, you were able to get quite a number of people into the room that day. So, it just shows me that, even though SouthWest Mobile Chamber, it's not Mobile Chamber-
Tina Poiroux: Right. Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: ... and I hope you don't take that the wrong way. But, you're working with a smaller group of businesses in that area that you're obviously providing enough value as an organization that people feel like they want to be a part of it. Because there were a ton of people there that day.
Tina Poiroux: There were. And, we're very good in what we do in our own lane. We're not the Mobile Chamber. We don't try to compete, but we just do well at staying in our line. And, we've had a lot of growth. Everybody says, well, when did the change happen? Yeah, I've been there almost seven years, and I think it was a momentum change. We did change the name. We had a new branding four or five years ago, and that helped us. And, we became relevant in the community. So, we're making some strides of growth and seeing a lot of growth with new industry. It's just been a good experience.
Marcus Neto: So, tell us a little bit about what your experiences have been in getting that turned around. Because I was on the executive board and was the chairperson responsible for finding the new president on the Eastern Shore Chamber. And, I love what Casey, and I don't know if you know Casey. Okay. So, I love what Casey is doing over there, and I'm seeing that momentum change. It's amazing how putting good leadership in place can bring an organization back. And, I'm not slighting the people before her, but it's just there was a real focus on the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival, and I think her focus has been more about making it about the businesses and providing opportunities for them to kind of get together and network and stuff like that. And so, what's your focus as the Executive Director of the SouthWest Mobile Chamber, and what have you seen as far as that momentum change?
Tina Poiroux: Well, chambers and, for instance, the Better Business Bureau, they used to be very relevant to businesses. I mean, business owners wanted to be involved with both of those organizations. And, there's so much competition now with networking events, with other nonprofits, different things in the area that chambers have got to create a relevance for businesses. What's the importance of a chamber. And, as SouthWest Mobile County Chamber, we've found the relevance of being important to the community and helping businesses, whether it be with workshops like you came out in and did for us, or training, or just helping businesses find other people to invest in their company and ideas. So, finding that relevance and, of course, I think the change for us was the new leadership, but also the rebranding.
Tina Poiroux: We changed the name from Tillman's Corner to SouthWest, and it just opened and broadened our boundaries a little bit and our reach. Chambers sometimes get confused and tend to be more community based. They get really out there, and I think we have to draw back sometimes and say, okay, we're here for business. We're here to help growth and see in the community. We are a smaller chamber and we don't have the financial base to be an economic developer for the community of Mobile. But, we certainly have a place at the table where we have some influence.
Marcus Neto: I think Mobile does that well enough.
Tina Poiroux: They do, and we don't need to get in their lane.
Marcus Neto: Exactly. But, I seen the value of Eastern Shore, I know Central Baldwin, and then obviously the beach probably has a little bit more economic development impact, than, the Eastern Shore and Central Baldwin and SouthWest Mobile. But, I see the value of what those bring to business owners and just how they ... business owners have a need to get together and understand each other's businesses-
Tina Poiroux: They do.
Marcus Neto: ... and just network.
Tina Poiroux: Each businesses have different needs they can learn from other experiences, of other businesses. So, I agree. I think networking is good, but also being able to have round tables to discuss things that they've gone through to help other businesses. So, community needs are important. And that that is a big part of what we do. But, businesses and keeping businesses successful I think is the goal. And, equipping them to have all the information they need.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Now if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Tina Poiroux: Are they sure? Ask them are they sure.
Marcus Neto: That is a really wise comment.
Tina Poiroux: Are you sure you want to do this? No, we have a lot of great people that help mentor people that are thinking of starting a business. And, there's a lot of great things. You're a great resource for that as well. But, marketing, making sure you have the finances, the resources available. There is a lot to think about and discuss. It's just not, hey, I've got a great idea.
Marcus Neto: So, you're acting as a sounding board for those folks?
Tina Poiroux: We are. We do. We do a lot of, I guess, phone consulting. People ask us, what do you think, this is a great idea? Well, I'm not here to tell you if it's a great idea. I'm here to help you and equip you to make it efficient, make it easy.
Marcus Neto: What are you all currently working on, as a chamber?
Tina Poiroux: Currently working on. Well we've-
Marcus Neto: Any big pushes, or anything?
Tina Poiroux: We're really pushing for new growth. We're wanting to hit the mark of 200 members this year. And so, we're changing some things, but we're also changing the way we value our members. They're very important to us, and if we didn't have them, we couldn't do what we do for the community. And, definitely our outreach wouldn't be as effective. We do have an event coming up. It's for first responders, so that's in two weeks. So, we usually have a little street party for all the first responders within the state and city. We invite them from all over and we just have a street party. The community comes out and supports that. The schools, local businesses, we have some big industry, are going to be there represented. So, it's a great opportunity to show our support for the other men and women here in the community.
Marcus Neto: That's awesome.
Tina Poiroux: They're working tirelessly for us.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, it's awesome.
Tina Poiroux: Yeah, that's a great feel good kind of event, but it is also one of our favorite prideful event that we look forward to every year. We usually have 150 responders show up.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Tina Poiroux: So, it's great. But, our membership base, that's where we're making a huge push.
Marcus Neto: How many members-
Tina Poiroux: Currently, we're about 160.
Marcus Neto: Okay. So, I mean it's not an unreasonable-
Tina Poiroux: When I took over we had 45.
Marcus Neto: Oh, gosh.
Tina Poiroux: So, we have grown tremendously in just a few years. And, we want to just continue.
Marcus Neto: So, here's what I would say. If you're out there listening to this and you are kind of in that area, or even just in Mobile and you want additional-
Tina Poiroux: In general.
Marcus Neto: ... networking opportunities. I oftentimes get questions about how new business owners can get started, and what are some of the first steps that they should take? And, I will tell you that we are fervent believers in the chamber, and there there's no replacement for being able to get in front of somebody on a regular basis and build a friendship-
Tina Poiroux: That's right.
Marcus Neto: ... and kind of educate them over a period of time on what it is that you do. And, just networking. Your business depends solely-
Tina Poiroux: Solely.
Marcus Neto: ... on your network.
Tina Poiroux: It does. Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: It's all about who you know.
Tina Poiroux: Connections.
Marcus Neto: It doesn't matter how good you are because if they don't know that ... again, our tagline is we help small and medium sized businesses overcome obscurity and connect with their audience because our comment is that if they don't know that you exist, then they can't possibly buy from you.
Tina Poiroux: Right.
Marcus Neto: Right?
Tina Poiroux: Right.
Marcus Neto: And so, we do that through advertising on social media and traditional media and stuff like that. But, the truth is getting a chance to go to a luncheon or a business after hours or some sort of, like I did the workshop for you, and just there was some networking that happened at that. And so, those opportunities are not something that should be looked over. So, if you're so bent and you're a business owner and you're looking for additional opportunities, join the Chamber. But, don't just join the Chamber. Join the Chamber and go.
Tina Poiroux: Right, and be active.
Marcus Neto: You can't just pay the couple of hundred bucks. I don't know what you charge for individual-
Tina Poiroux: Our membership is 175.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. And, don't hold her to that because, if she decides to go up in the future, but I mean-
Tina Poiroux: Currently.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. And, so-
Tina Poiroux: No, I agree. Because people will throw their money out there, and I'm like, you have-
Marcus Neto: Lot of involvement.
Tina Poiroux: It is about engagement. You've got to be engaged. You don't get anything out of it for just throwing your money at us. And, we'll take it, but, of course, we want to-
Marcus Neto: Not one to turn it down.
Tina Poiroux: ... give you something in return. But, just like tonight, we have a networking social event and some business after hours. And, currently we have 75 on the list for RSVP.
Marcus Neto: That's amazing.
Tina Poiroux: We finally have sold to our members, hey, get engaged, show up, come to the events. And yeah, they are. And, they're actually listening and it's paying off.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Tina Poiroux: And, our business lunches once a month.
Marcus Neto: So, full disclosure, we're not a member of the Southwest Mobile Chamber of Commerce-
Tina Poiroux: Not yet.
Marcus Neto: ... but she'll be getting a check today for our membership.
Tina Poiroux: Not yet. Fantastic.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. So, who's one person from the business world that motivates you, and it doesn't have to be local. I'm saying, you walk into a grocery store, you see somebody's face on a magazine, you're picking up that magazine and wanting to read the article. It's a hard question.
Tina Poiroux: That is a hard question.
Marcus Neto: (singing).
Tina Poiroux: It is a hard question. I think, there's been one person in my life that I've learned a lot, that's been successful. And, her name is Bonnie Tully. She was the plant manager at Evonik. She's been a great mentor in my life. She has been local. She's just now been transferred, but she definitely has mentored my career at the Chamber, and I'm truly blessed to have known her and seeing how inspiring she is, been successful. And, the only woman in North America, I think to manage a major plant like Evonik. So, kudos to her for being such a strong woman, and learning so much from her.
Marcus Neto: That's not an easy position to be in either, as a woman.
Tina Poiroux: It's not.
Marcus Neto: Right?
Tina Poiroux: It's not. And a superintelligent, quite very intelligent woman, but has been successful as a mother and for them as well.
Marcus Neto: That's cool. Now are there any-
Tina Poiroux: I don't even know if she knows that, but-
Marcus Neto: She does now.
Tina Poiroux: But, now she does.
Marcus Neto: Or, somebody's bound to tell her. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?
Tina Poiroux: You know, I think being a part of the Chamber, people want to give me credit for the growth there, but it's definitely a team, SouthWest Mobile County Chamber has supported me, and through that, we've been a great team and seen success, and I'm grateful for the opportunity.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Tina Poiroux: And, I'm not sure how long they'll keep me there, but, hey, as long as we're happy and working together and seeing growth, I think it's a good marriage.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Now, what is the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Tina Poiroux: Running a business is difficult. It's challenging. With my experience with catering over the years, people ask me, why don't you just do that full time? And I could, I think, but I love it the way I do it now, and I don't know if I love it full time. And, it's been a great addition to my family financially. As a school teacher over the years, did not make much money. But, it was a great career to do dually. And, we get so much business from word of mouth that I don't have to go out and beat the streets for business.
Marcus Neto: So, I guess, you would be what, as classified as a lifestyle business, right?
Tina Poiroux: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. And so, I think one of the things that we've been trying to hammer home on this podcast is that it doesn't matter what your upbringing was, where you grew up. It doesn't matter if you're from Mobile or not from Mobile. It doesn't matter if you graduated from high school, or didn't graduate from college, or graduated with a PhD, that there's something that drives individuals to kind of take that risk. And, I know there are books written about hustle and grit and all these buzz words that we use, but really it's just somebody putting their neck on the line and saying, I feel so strongly about this that I want to go out and do it. But so, being a lifestyle business, I think it's important to kind of point out, it doesn't have to be a full time. You've structured your life in such a way that is enjoyable to you-
Tina Poiroux: It is.
Marcus Neto: ... and you're happy with that.
Tina Poiroux: I can pick and choose the events I want to do, to cater. And, it's so much, I think catering is a lot like the chamber. It's building events, and making people happy, and seeing successful things pulled off. And then, the gratification of, oh, this is fabulous when people try it out. But, referrals is the key to my business, and it's the key to-
Marcus Neto: Most businesses.
Tina Poiroux: ... success for the Chamber.
Marcus Neto: Most businesses is referrals.
Tina Poiroux: So, it's been a good experience, and 20 years have flown by, for sure. And, certainly years down the road I might breakout that avenue and go full blast. But, yeah, I think my dream one day would be to have my own restaurant.
Marcus Neto: I don't know, man. That sounds like torture to me. I love to eat, but running a restaurant. I know enough restaurateurs that I'm just like-
Tina Poiroux: It's tough.
Marcus Neto: ... ah, I don't know if I want to go down that path.
Tina Poiroux: So, not sure. But, with children, that's something that I'm a wait my kids till get out of college, and all three of them in college, and it's a fulltime world right now for us.
Marcus Neto: I hear that.
Tina Poiroux: How do you like to unwind?
Marcus Neto: How do I like to unwind? Cooking.
Marcus Neto: Really?
Tina Poiroux: Yes.
Marcus Neto: So, even with all that, so-
Tina Poiroux: I do, yes.
Marcus Neto: ... you go home, and what do you cook? What's one of your favorite dishes to cook for the family?
Tina Poiroux: Usually, I cook too many at one time. I can't just do one dish when I go home. It's lots of-
Marcus Neto: What's your favorite then-
Tina Poiroux: ... fabulous-
Marcus Neto: You got to give me one.
Tina Poiroux: My favorite?
Marcus Neto: Come on. I'm pressing her, folks. She's trying to squirm out of answering this question but-
Tina Poiroux: I have lots of favorites. I don't know. Winding down, drinking a cup of coffee, staying in the kitchen all night is a wind down for me. I do enjoy going to the beach and smelling the salt air, but I think cooking is definitely the relaxing moment in the evening-
Marcus Neto: I enjoy it, too.
Tina Poiroux: ... after a stressful day at Chamber.
Marcus Neto: I usually consider myself pretty adept at cooking. I'm breaking my arm, patting myself on the back. But, the other night I had a doubt in my mind because I got this box from HelloFresh, and I was trying to make two different recipes that I had never made before, at the same time. And, I ended up burning something.
Tina Poiroux: Oh no.
Marcus Neto: It was just the panko that was supposed to go on the pasta that I was making, which I thought was really kind of an odd ... I wish I had been able to try it, but I burned it so bad that it was not even usable. And, I think-
Tina Poiroux: Uh oh.
Marcus Neto: ... that actually burned it bad enough to where the pan that I was cooking it in is keeping completely destroyed.
Tina Poiroux: Oh no.
Marcus Neto: I needed to get back in the kitchen and make something else to get my confidence back because that was brutal. It was just like-
Tina Poiroux: That's brutal.
Marcus Neto: ...why?
Tina Poiroux: Well, I think as a young ... my mom never let me cook at home, so I didn't have that cooking experience. So, as a young married woman, I think I started memorizing cook books. That was my past time.
Marcus Neto: Interesting.
Tina Poiroux: We were so poor, we didn't have anything. But, over the years, I don't now have to even use a recipe. So, it's fun.
Marcus Neto: That's cool.
Tina Poiroux: It's fun.
Marcus Neto: After a while, I think as you get more comfortable, you just know what's going to go together and you just throw it into a ... yeah, yeah.
Tina Poiroux: My kids, they just say every night, can we just have spaghetti? Like, no.
Marcus Neto: Mom doesn't just do spaghetti. Well, tell people where they can find out more information about the Chamber.
Tina Poiroux: Yes, we're located at 5055 Carol Plantation Road. And, you can go to our website or email us anytime. We can forward you information to that. We're available seven days a week. We have networking events, four or five times a month. So, come join us.
Marcus Neto: And, what's the website address?
Tina Poiroux: It's www.swmcchamber.com.
Marcus Neto: Very good. And, you said you guys are on Facebook as well?
Tina Poiroux: Yes. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Marcus Neto: So, if they just look for SouthWest Chamber, or is it SW Chamber?
Tina Poiroux: SWMC.
Marcus Neto: Okay. Very good. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast to wrap up-
Tina Poiroux: Thank you for having me.
Marcus Neto: Any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Tina Poiroux: No, we appreciate the opportunity. But, we're here for Mobile. We want to see Mobile continue to grow. And, that's our interest in ... we are looking for success, and looking for the success in others.
Marcus Neto: Very good. Well Tina, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a executive director and an entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Tina Poiroux: Great talking with you.