Changes Pay Rewards for Chamber, Members
The Moore County Chamber of Commerce changed its business model in the spring of 2011 after an audit of 2010 showed a five-digit loss.
“It was pretty clear that we had to do something differently,” says Patrick Coughlin, the Chamber’s president and CEO. “Generally speaking, 2010 was the worst year for our members and for us.”
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.
“We evaluated everything and the decision was made to keep only the programs that were profitable and mission-driven,” Coughlin says. “In the end, we decided to eliminate some, consolidate others and partner on others.”
For example, the Culinary Showcase was moved to Pinehurst Resort and added as the final event of the resort’s annual Food and Wine Festival.
“The partnership allows us to leverage the resort’s resources to assist with the logistics planning and execution of the event,” Coughlin says. “In turn, the Chamber team was able to focus on public relations and recruiting chefs to participate in the event.”
Attendance in 2011 topped 600 people, an increase of more than 250 from the previous year.
“The risk of combining the event was well worth the outcome,” Coughlin says.
The Chamber also took a hard look at how it recruits members by conducting a thorough analysis that created detailed reports. The data was then overlaid with the results of a targeted membership survey, which led to the formation of three ideal member profiles.
“The process gave us hard data that enabled us to take calculated risks rather then shooting in the dark,” Coughlin says.
The result was a “recruiting for retention” campaign that was rooted in a presentation given by industry consultant Cathi Hight in 2010 at the annual convention of the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
“She talked about mining your database to know your members,” Coughlin says. “I’ve always talked about recruiting for retention, but Cathi was able to give us the tools to do that more effectively. We had to find the businesses that aligned with the Chamber’s mission and values.”
The Chamber’s targeted approach created an interesting by-product: an increase in the number of unrecruited new members.
“This has been going on for a year, so it’s a pattern, not an anomaly. We’re very happy about that, needless to say,” Coughlin says.
Chamber membership, which fell from 734 to 637 in 2010, has rebounded to 662. Retention has improved from 80 percent in 2011 to 96 percent so far this year. And the Chamber finished 2011 in the black.
“That’s a pretty significant swing in one year,” Coughlin says. “It’s reinforced that we’re on the right track.”
The Chamber is also one of five finalists for Outstanding Chamber of the Year. The winner will be announced next week.
“If we hadn’t made these changes, we wouldn’t be a finalist. I have no doubt about that,” Coughlin says.
Wayne Matthews, owner of Matthews Insurance, says he joined the Chamber about six months after moving his business from Vass to Southern Pines in November 2010.
“I needed more exposure and interaction with businesses that are thriving,” Matthews says. “I felt isolated in Vass, especially after the U.S. 1 bypass was finished in 2005. On a good day, 1,000 cars a day passed through Vass.”
Now that Matthews Insurance is located at the corner of Pinehurst Avenue and U.S. 15-501, more than 40,000 vehicles a day pass his business.
“We’ve been keeping our head above water for the past four years, but not without a lot of treading,” Matthews says. “Now, the Chamber has really reached out to me. They’ve been really good and really helpful. I just need to get more involved.”
Rick Young, co-owner of Aberdeen Physical Therapy & Wellness, says start-up costs prevented his business from joining when it opened in December 2010.
“We just joined a couple of months ago,” Young says. ”I knew about what the Chamber had to offer as far as exposure to customers and just getting our name out there and being part of the community. We joined because we’re trying to do different things to get involved in Aberdeen and Moore County.”
Coughlin says the Chamber is relying on Matthews Insurance, Aberdeen Physical Therapy & Wellness and unrecruited members for future stability.
“We need to be recruiting members that fit the profiles. But having that broader base is important as well,” he says. “The challenge is to adjust new member orientation for the unrecruited businesses so that we engage them from the get-go. We want them in the Chamber, and we’re learning how best we can serve them.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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