Chamber Focusing on Members, Less on Activities in New Year
BY TED M. NATT JR.
The Moore County Chamber of Commerce will spend more time in the coming year focusing on members and less on producing major events.
"The most important thing we do is member engagement," says Patrick Coughlin, the Chamber's president and CEO. "We have to be out in public because people will put their time and money where they see value and a return on their investment, whether that's a soccer game or a Chamber event."
The 2013 strategic plan will be unveiled at the annual State of the Chamber next Monday at Penick Village. Among other things, it calls for contracting with others to produce the Culinary Showcase, Chamber Classic golf tournament and Festival of Beers.
"We're still going to host those events, but we're going to hire someone to plan, coordinate and execute them," Coughlin says.
The Chamber sent a Request-for-Proposal to interested members earlier this year.
"We're in the review process right now," Coughlin says.
The strategic plan also calls for the Chamber to put more resources into marketing My Chamber App, which debuted last February and has been downloaded by almost 1,000 people since then.
"As we ramp up to the 2014 U.S. Opens, we want to be driving business to our members," Coughlin says.
The Chamber is also reducing its number of divisions from six to four, and will gradually reduce the number of board members from 32 to no more than 25.
"We're just going to let people graduate off the board, so we'll be down to that maximum number within two years," Coughlin says.
The evolution began in the spring of 2011 when the Chamber changed its business model after an audit of 2010 showed a five-digit loss.
First, the Chamber refinanced its debt. Then it reduced its staff. But perhaps the most important step was a comprehensive review of Chamber programs and events to determine their value to members.
"Our members are already seeing tangible signs that the new approach is working," Coughlin says.
So is the board. The Chamber was projected to incur a small loss in 2011, but ended the year with a four-figure "profit."
"There were very few Chambers nationwide that ended last year with a surplus, that I'm aware of," Coughlin says. "A lot of Chambers were dipping into whatever reserves they had left to balance things out and make them work."
Coughlin adds that he is glad the Moore Chamber is not living year-to-year with no reserve fund like it has in the past.
"We started a new reserve fund last year," he says. "This year, we're on track to hit that four-digit surplus again and will add to the reserve fund. So instead of worrying about keeping the lights on, we're focused on thinking differently and creating value."
Still, Coughlin says some board members think the new strategic plan is too aggressive.
"But I believe we've got momentum and we need to take advantage of it," he says. "Let's not try to shoehorn a new plan into an existing organizational structure because the two might not fit anymore, and they don't."
Jeff Hutchins, CEO of Penick Village and incoming Chamber chair, calls the plan "assertive" and "necessary."
"I think it was really important for the Chamber to plan strategically about the future, considering all the things that are going on in Moore County and the rest of the world," Hutchins says. "There's increased competition, economic uncertainty, new rules and regulations, and environmental and social responsibility, just to name a few things."
Hutchins says he believes "the best time to get stronger is when you're strong."
"The Chamber made some very good decisions in 2010 to strengthen itself and we saw the results in 2011," he says. "The Chamber has a really good team and they really believe in this community, as well as the businesses in the community.
"It's the Chamber's responsibility to ask itself each year how to better serve its mission of advancing commerce and community. Obviously, the answers shouldn't be the same every time."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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