I have heard it many times. “Due to budgetary reasons, we have decided that we must discontinue our chamber membership.” When I hear this excuse, I shake my head. I can understand the need to cut certain expenses to balance the budget, but I have yet to understand why cutting a chamber membership is always the first thing to go.
In my immediate area, there are two local chambers that serve our community, the West Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce. Both of these organizations are fantastic and do great things for their chamber members. While our company is a member of both chambers, we have found that our active focus tends to be on one over the other, due to the small, intimate feel.
Traditionally, automotive service businesses tend to get looked down upon by other business professionals. This image can make being an active member of a chamber of commerce seem daunting. Personally, I am determined to make this negative image disappear. How do I do this? I get myself outside of the four walls of my office and promote my business at chamber activities. By doing this, I have the ability of showing other business professionals just how highly trained and professional we are in the automotive industry.
There are usually many different ways that you can get involved in your chamber. This is what it looked like for me:
Our business has been an active part of our chambers for many years, going to events when we had the time. While running a business makes a person tired and worn down, especially after a long day, one of the approaches our leadership team took over the past few years was to be intentional in our involvement in the chamber groups. I was tasked to take on the Mechanicsburg Chamber.
In 2015, I applied for and gained a board of directors’ position at the Mechanicsburg Chamber. Once I practiced my intention at the chamber, I began to see the benefits it was bringing to our business: referrals were walking in my door; my professionalism was growing; I had a new avenue to promote my events; and I was able to talk with other business professionals to help me through business and personnel issues.
In 2018, I was given the opportunity to become the president of the board. It was a year never to forget.
If you are anything like me, you enjoy being involved in your community. To me, community has so many different meanings. When I think community, I think awareness, shopping local small businesses, pride, events, involvement, knowing one another. All great things for any business. The Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce is known for always taking care of the community. Whether it be through e vents, sponsorships or donations, they are an organization that you can count on, especially as a member.
One of the neatest events that our chamber puts on is Jubilee Day — the largest one-day street fair hosted on the East Coast. With events like Jubilee Day, there is an immense need for volunteers to help make them a success. Every year, I like to carve out time in my schedule to partake in the event for a few hours as a volunteer. When you attend Jubilee Day, you realize that there is so much truth behind the saying “small but mighty.” In comparison to other chambers in my area, this chamber is small but by the large impact it has on the community and its members, you would think that it is much larger than what it is.
When it comes to community pride, one of the things the Mechanicsburg Chamber does is donate money to a local charity every year. In my presidential year on the board, I was given the opportunity to pick a charity to be the beneficiary of proceeds procured during events hosted that year. I chose the American Trauma Society – PA Division’s South Central PA Highway Safety. This partnership gave the charity a chance to promote itself at events and through articles written for the chamber newsletter. The chamber was able to raise $1,310 for my charity in 2018 — money will be put toward child car seats, safe driving courses for the elderly, and their annual teen safe driving competition. This kind of community involvement is the stuff that makes my heart swell.
How is your current advertising/marketing working? How are people really finding you? The reason I ask these questions is because I am an extremely visual person. One thing I found when attending chamber events is that people like doing business with people they know. When I go to an event, I have the chance to provide a 30-second commercial promoting my business. While the folks I am giving this commercial to might not need my services today, tomorrow or next month, I am Ok with that. What happens when they suddenly have a vehicle issue and don’t know where to go? Or, when they have a falling out with the shop they are using? Who do they think of first? I want to be the first person they think of and the face they see in their mind.
I understand that not every chamber of commerce is the same and I even understand the need to stay at your business to keep things running. Some of you reading this might be thinking to yourself, “well it is easy for her to encourage me to get involved when she isn’t in my shoes.” You would be very right. There are many business owners who run shops that are much smaller than mine, but I want you to think about all the amazing opportunities your business might be missing.
You might still be thinking that a chamber membership isn’t worth it. If you do, that is Ok, but I challenge you to do your research. Don’t automatically say no because of budgetary reasons. I really encourage you to take that leap of faith and jump in with both feet. Join the chamber, attend and/or sponsor events, get involved. I promise you that you will not regret it.
Jacquie Walter Hower is the Director of Operations and 3rd generation at her family’s business, Zimmerman’s Automotive, in Mechanicsburg, Pa. As director of operations, she handles customer service, service auditing, daily accounting, training, and community involvement/events. She attended the Aftermarket Management program at Northwood University and graduated in 2018.