A business dedicated to its customer base and just as dedicated to downtown is the fuel of the economic engine in Camas.
Brendan Ford and Shawn Parker created Fuel Medical Group more than a decade ago, building a business advisory company serving ear, nose and throat doctors, otologists, audiology practices, and universities.
Brendan said Fuel chose to invest and locate in Downtown Camas because for them, this is home. “Our kids go to school here. Downtown Camas is attractive to employees. It was a no-brainer,” he said. “After about four years in business, with our offices in Vancouver, we were ready to expand. There was an opportunity to revitalize the existing Westlie Ford auto shop on the corner of 3rd and Birch, to turn it into a place that would serve the needs of our growing business. But we also saw the opportunity to become part of something that allowed us to partner with other local businesses to help build something special.”
Shawn said the impetus behind Fuel’s business is the fact that physicians are great at medicine, “but like many folks with great skills or ideas, they don’t always have the time, education or interest to be experts at everything involved with their passion. We are passionate about small business and saw an unfulfilled opportunity to support a specific segment of the medical sector; ENT and Audiology practices.”
Of course there are challenges when building a business from the ground up. As a start up, they found perseverance is key. Even though you may have personal experience and maybe even capital, you are still untested and unproven to the audience you are trying to serve, which is particularly challenging when you are new to a market unfamiliar with your services like they were. They overcame the many obstacles they faced by always holding to four areas of focus. They call them their ‘Pillars: Strategic, Trustworthy, Collaborative and Deliberate.’
Sarah Laughlin, Director of Human Resources for Fuel, said the business retains more than 650 clients, spanning the entire country. But here at home, Fuel staff are the ones going into the Camas shops, trading locally, interacting in the downtown community. “What we consistently hear from our team is how friendly and supportive the downtown shop and restaurant owners are to us and our desire to be part of the Camas business community … Café Piccolo, Cedar Street Bagels and Birch Street Uptown Lounge are but a few of our particular favorites.”
Fuel builds its rapport with clients by asking questions. In order to be effective at their jobs, they must know the individual business needs, the pain points, growth goals, personal challenges of the business owner or board of directors, and their employees. From there, Fuel builds customized plans to address those needs. If you can think of a business service … they do it for the businesses with whom they work; strategic plans, marketing, creative design, digital services, recruiting, human resources, software development, and all that entails. Sarah says, “It isn’t all that different from our fellow DCA business partners. We are looking to surprise and delight our customers to build a relationship that makes them want to do repeat business with us.”
Shawn said they know people are curious about what is going on at Fuel behind the glass windows. “When we have our garage doors open, we often have people peek in and ask what we do back there. As an example, are we a bar that’s going to open up soon for the big game? That engagement is an opportunity for us to celebrate the diversity of small businesses that exist in our downtown core. We aren’t a bar or a restaurant or a shop selling a product, but when people ask, we can tell them who we are and then recommend multiple options for a drink, a snack or a unique shopping experience, all while helping create a community that helps to create a network.”
That attitude of community, the founders both said is where Fuel has benefited from a strong and vibrant downtown. “Interesting shops and restaurants, and for most of our staff (prior to Covid) a reverse commute from Vancouver or Portland, has been a positive for recruiting and retention of the top talent that we have on our team,” Sarah said. “We are a favorite destination to visit for our many business partners from across the country, and even the globe. We constantly hear how beautiful our small town is.”