04/25/04 — Chamber seeks ways to gain members

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Chamber seeks ways to gain members

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on April 25, 2004 2:06 AM

Wayne County Chamber officials gained some new ideas Friday about how to retain and expand the current membership.

Chambers nation-wide have seen a drop in their membership over the past couple of years, said G. Daniel Hearn, president of the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce. Businesses have closed and some members have had trouble paying their dues as a result of the struggling economy.

Hearn has instituted several new ideas at the Statesville Chamber and passed those on to other Chamber presidents and membership managers.

He emphasized the importance of using surveys to find out what issues are important to members. He found that after doing the surveys, several of the things he thought were important were not listed.

He discussed membership retention techniques and ways of personalizing Chambers to its members. He said members need to know that it is their Chamber and its purpose is to foster economic development and help make their businesses successful.

"The success of what we do has enormous ramifications for the community," he said. If the Chamber does its job, the community will grow and prosper and more jobs will be created, resulting in more customers for members, he added.

Hearn facilitated a discussion amongst 20 members of the Chambers of Commerce of North Carolina's Eastern Region, which was formed in 2002.

It is composed of representatives from the 13-county region: Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Onslow, Pamlico, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson. The group meets a couple of times per year and Friday's meeting was at the Wayne County Chamber.

Steve Hicks, Wayne County Chamber president, said he came up with a lot of ideas during the meeting and is going to put greater emphasis on finding out what its members really want by using surveys, e-mails, phone calls and focus groups.

The Chamber currently has 770 members, which includes small and large businesses.

One of Hearn's ideas was having a breakfast club, which is a networking event held every other month where business representatives have 30 seconds each to tell others about what they offer. It is similar to Business After Hours, but in a roundtable discussion format.

Hicks said the next meeting should be in the fall and attendees will have a chance to give feedback on how any new membership retention programs have worked.