By: Krisa De La Cruz
Unless you are in business making hand sanitizer or masks, the COVID19 pandemic has likely been economically challenging. The word “pivot” and “adapt” have new meanings for most of us, especially in the Chamber world. However, many businesses look to us to guide the way, and to guide, I believe a strategic approach and plan are necessary. That said, planning for something we have never experienced is… TOUGH!
At the Graham, Texas Chamber of Commerce, we began by putting policies into place for a virtual office, making sure all documents and passwords were on the cloud and accessible, and most importantly, communicating with members. We immediately created a new webpage for COVID-19 information (healthcare information, government information, and financial assistance information). Then, went to work on a plan to get through a challenging month/season/year. Below, you will find the top ten key objectives for our pandemic plan, plus a few of the ways we accomplished the objectives.
1: Identify pain points
Member businesses were scared and confused. I knew that communication (clear communication) was important and needed to be accomplished ASAP.
I created a template for staff and Board members to use to call every. single. member. to let our members know:
- we are here for them
- ask what we can do to help
- offer information and resources
- and just encourage them!
We created a google sheet with member contact information and had a column for who called them, when they were called, and any feedback they offered.
2: Stay organized
With the chaos surrounding the shift to a virtual workspace, Government mandates changing the rules at a fast pace, and the need to begin managing a team remotely, organization was key. I created a Graham Chamber of Commerce “pandemic plan” to use internally. I just used a simple excel spreadsheet and then created and assigned tasks using Trello. This helped me accomplish the following:
- Delegate to team members
- Hold team members accountable while working from home
- Keep the BOD apprised of all we were doing to serve our members
- Stay organized and keep priorities in check (whoa… big one!)
(Btw, we use Trello... and if you do not, you probably should, because it is awesome!)
Fortunately, like most other towns, many of our local businesses were quick to shift to curbside pick-up and/or delivery options. We knew that the community needed a way to conveniently access the information for which businesses were still open and what options they had for serving customers.
We created flipbooks (link in picture below) for the website with information on restaurants and retail businesses (who is offering delivery, who is offering curbside pickup, website information, etc.).
Then we started doing “Chamber Delivers” where the Chamber staff and Board of Directors offers free delivery from a restaurant on a specific day/time. Plus, the Chamber keeps the tips!
4: Information Distribution
Can you say information overload?
Updates from SBA regarding recovery and relief options, the CDC regarding healthcare updates, and Government mandates and shelter in place orders were confusing and changed SO many times. However, this was important information our members needed to know.
We started “Chamber Chats” using Zoom-Facebook live (between 1-4 per week). We invited professionals from various industries to participate in an interview via Zoom that streamed on Facebook live. Our Chamber was able to distribute relevant and important information out to the public, and in doing so, the value of a Chamber membership had never been more tangible.
They have been fun too… and somewhat of an evolutionary process (because what isn’t, right?). We had technical hiccups, we made mistakes and at one point you can hear one of my children banging on the door yelling, “moooommmyyyy!” All of that made the video interviews even better. They were real. People connected. (Even virtually)! Plus, our Facebook and website analytics shot through the roof!
We knew that with businesses being closed and people fearing the unknown, morale of our community was in jeopardy. How does morale of a community drive local commerce? Well, when people are happy and thriving, the economy is impacted (and the reverse is also true).
We did a “chalk the town” event where we invited community members to draw a business logo or write a positive and encouraging message to local businesses and take a pic and send to us or tag us on our FB page.
We also had huge yard letter signs weekly in front of the Chamber office. The first one was “Graham Strong.”
One of the most rewarding morale campaigns we led was “Healthcare Care Packages.” Chamber members donated items (chocolate, wine, coffee, granola bars, etc) and we put together baskets that we delivered to local healthcare organizations.
6: Economy and Shop Local/Eat Local Campaign
We created an online store with custom Graham merchandise. All products were produced by Chamber members and the profit from the sales went into a new Shop Local/Eat Local campaign.
We started with our “Social Distancing” shirt, which was designed by my (apparently creative?) husband. The shirt plays up the fact that Graham is in the middle of nowhere… far from major highways and a solid 60 miles away from any big cities. This is something we have complained about previously… but was working in our favor during the pandemic! Then we added tumblers, shopping totes, and more.
The store has generated about $10,000 in revenue so far!
Then, we created a campaign designed to help retail and restaurant businesses in our community.
For one week, we offered a complimentary Chamber Buck ($10 value) each time someone spent at least $20 at a participating retailer. The Chamber bucks had to be used the following week at a participating restaurant. Graham Economic Development stepped up to sponsor for $3,000, plus the Chamber Board approved matching that $3,000. So, we had a total of $6,000 to put into our local businesses, plus any proceeds we collected from our online store.
We created flyers to promote (ran ads in the local newspaper, radio station, and social media). We created a custom Chamber Buck for this campaign because we did not want to have confusion on which “bucks” were meant for this campaign versus our general Chamber Bucks.
Finally, we did a series of “Facebook Live Flash Sales” and… they worked! We did them back to back over a series of 5 days. It was exhausting… and fun… and successful!!
Plus, we implemented a bonus plan for Chamber employees of $200 in Chamber bucks per quarter. The chamber buck bonus is based on performance and allows employees the opportunity to be SEEN in the community spending dollars locally!
We sent an electronic survey (using SurveyMonkey) to all member businesses and posted online and in the local newspaper to include non-member businesses as well. The survey was for information gathering purposes and to gauge the challenges they were experiencing. We had an excellent number of responses (maybe I had low expectations?) and out of those, we had a few businesses respond to indicate interest in joining the Chamber! Who would have thought?
We launched the Graham Community App.
I was so nervous about this project. The app was a big investment for our small Chamber, and I was concerned we would not cover cost. However, our awesome members came through and saw the value of having their information promoted through a mobile app.
The app was A TON of work… especially for someone like me who had zero prior experience or knowledge regarding app development and design. However, it has continued to pay off and has been instrumental in providing convenient methods of communication.
9: Adapt, Pivot, and Get Creative!
Yes, I am stubborn. I do not want to cancel anything we had planned. It would be easier to cancel, but IF it is possible to host an event/meeting/campaign/workshop/etc. safely and that event/meeting/campaign/workshop/etc. helps to promote commerce, we will find a way. So… we got creative.
- Paint the Park: When we had to cancel our largest CVB events, we found ways to shift the sponsorship dollars to other, new, things rather than offer a refund. We did a “paint the park” initiative where we gave graduating high school seniors the opportunity to submit a design and if selected, paint a picnic table at one of our local parks. This was a great way to offer the students who missed out on senior year activities an opportunity to leave their mark on the town… plus our park got a face lift, and we had sponsors for the initiative!
- Discover Graham with Dorman: We started a new video series featuring interviews with our local historian, Dorman Holub, and community members with a story to share. The premise is that our town is special because of the people who live here. We are telling their story. We have several sponsors for those videos already confirmed and the first was released in October!
- Custom Face Masks: We created custom face masks (again, sponsored) and gave them out to the community for free. We also gave some to local businesses- along with a flyer requesting that people “wear a mask before entering” so the businesses could give them to customers who may not already own a mask. Overall, we distributed about 2,000 face masks (all with a positive message, the Chamber logo, and a sponsor name) in a community of 9,000!
- Graham Wall Calendar and Planner: We created a customized Graham Wall Calendar and a custom Graham planner. We received sponsorships for each month of the calendar and will send those to members with their renewal letters. The calendars have hand painted pictures for each month featuring unique places and things in this town. Plus, we pre-printed Chamber event (and other community event) dates on the calendar!
- We re-vamped our Chalk the Walk Competition to have artists spread out at various locations, instead of all on the square.
- We re-vamped our Teacher Appreciation Breakfast to a Teacher Appreciation Shopping Spree.
- We re-vamped our Hot Chocolicious Competition to a Hot Shopolicious Competition.
- We re-vamped our Trunk or Treat to a Spooky on the Square event with “monster eyes” in storefront windows and free goody bags inside.
- We re-vamped our Quarterly Chamber Luncheons.
I am not going to beat around the bush, advocacy was challenging in the year 2020. I have tried to stay focused on my mission at the Graham Chamber of Commerce and CVB (promoting and cultivating local commerce and driving tourism) and I advocate based on that mission.
Yes, this means even regarding the “wear a mask” campaign. Having employees out for an extended amount of time or risking the health and well-being of their customers are priorities for businesses. Touchy? Yes. Relevant? Yes. Mission focused? Yes.
We also advocate on behalf of the value of a Chamber membership! This self-promotion never ceases, of course, but has become so pertinent over the last few months! This is a graphic we put together to highlight some of the ways the Chamber is working for local business:
Overall, change is hard. We all know this, and yet we also know of the necessity of change. I believe whole heartedly that our role as Chamber professionals is to help spur the change when necessary, guide our members through the change successfully, and offer positive encouragement and support throughout the process.
By staying committed to offering value through the mission of the organization, the Graham Chamber of Commerce has built trust with member businesses. Through that authentic trust, plus a carefully structured plan, the Graham Chamber of Commerce continues to evolve!
Krisa De La Cruz currently serves as CEO for the Graham Chamber of Commerce and CVB. She relocated back to Graham in 2015 after working more than seven years for the local government consulting firm, Strategic Government Resources based in Keller, Texas.
Krisa has a degree from Texas Tech University in Communication Studies with a specialization in Public Affairs and is currently pursuing her MBA through the Texas Tech MBA for Working Professionals program. In addition, Krisa is a member of Graham Rotary Club and of the First United Methodist Church. She is a volunteer for Remembering Wyatt Dale Water Safety and has previously volunteered for many other organizations. Krisa also serves on the North Central Texas College Foundation Board and the United Way Board of Directors.
At home Krisa stays busy with three children, Kennedy, Owen and Ava, husband Daniel De La Cruz and golden retriever, Chief.
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