The Mill Creek Chamber of Commerce Gears Up for the Next Level
By Jody Bossert – (Co-owner of Elle Marie Hair Studio and Chamber member ** This article appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Mill Creek Living magazine and has been revised to reflect the latest information)
Small business owners who have considered networking groups in the Mill Creek area may want to take another look at the Mill Creek Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has made great strides recently to improve the value of the organization for its members. With a vision statement of “Growth and Prosperity for Business and Community”, the Chamber does more than simply offer business networking at their monthly city hall luncheon and may be most noted for the always entertaining Mill Creek Festival. The festival has exploded in the past few years and recently welcomed upwards of 20,000 visitors to the Mill Creek Town Center in mid-July. In addition, the Chamber awarded three $2000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors in 2009. At its core, however, the Chamber is a business networking organization and is quickly evolving into one of the more beneficial ones in the area.
The Chamber’s first meeting was held in June of 1997 with a full election of officers. Local seafood importer/processor, Charlie Gibbons, was honored as the first President and soon headed to Olympia to register the Chamber as a non-profit. The early years saw limited numbers and a small membership fee of only $50 per year. The festival eventually took shape in the Albertson’s parking lot and expanded the following year to include locations at QFC, Frontier Bank, and Chef Chan’s as well. The events of 9/11 hampered the success of the 2001 event, but the Chamber stayed the course and partnered with the Run of the Mill the following year for added exposure and the annual event soon found itself set for growth. A couple years later the Mill Creek Town Center was built and a natural partnership presented itself opening the door to a full weekend event with an impressive number of entertainment acts, commercial, craft and food booths, and more!
Over the next decade, the Chamber and the festival continued to grow right along with the city and in 2009 it became apparent that there was a definite need to focus on taking the organization to the next level. The commitment to do so was made, ultimately resulting in improvements in all areas of the organization, from festival management to networking opportunities to how members interact with each other and obtain information.
The entirely volunteer-driven Festival Committee doubled the size of its staff by implementing a co-director strategy for each of its various areas (kids area, food booths, vendor booths, etc.).
The Networking Committee found that the strategy of sitting around a table and offering an elevator speech prior to each monthly luncheon had gotten somewhat stale and now offers an exciting new networking strategy each month. Recent networking formats have included everything from a mini-tradeshow strategy where select businesses displayed their promotional items to a speed dating format where individuals rotated from chair to chair discussing their business one-on-one with other members. The committee is also receiving favorable feedback for their new “Road Show” events where, once a month, a party hopping type of event takes place featuring four member businesses. At 6:30pm guests are welcomed at the first location with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The hosts discuss their business and then hand the floor over to a business they teamed up with – one that typically doesn’t have its own location. Then at 7:15pm the entire party is moved to a second location where two more businesses are featured. The entire event is wrapped up by 8pm.
The Speakers Committee ramped up their efforts by making a commitment to secure more professional-level and relevant speakers for the monthly luncheons. Topics that pertain to a much wider audience have included small business marketing and business writing, while speakers have included local celebrity and Sleep Country USA Founder, Sunny Kobe Cook, as well as local State Representative, Mike Hope.
Of particular significance, as it ties the entire organization together around the clock, is the completely revamped Chamber website at https://millcreekchamber.com. Not only does the new web site feature a new categorized business directory, complete with a map of business locations, but Chamber members now have the opportunity to register their own profile. Doing so allows members to openly promote their business with information and photos and list promotions specifically geared towards other member businesses. The homepage of the web site features a latest news section in a blog format where members can post their own articles front and center for the world to see. Articles can include everything from the advertising of special in-store events to the announcement of key industry awards received.
In addition to member news on the homepage, all of the web site information has been laid out in a way that better promotes Chamber member businesses. A link to the business directory is available at the top of every page, while Chamber-specific information such as committee reports and membership information, is located a level down under the “About Us” section. Our hope is that members join the organization with the understanding that they will receive the most value from their membership and best promote their business by approaching their membership with a sense of community – by supporting and patronizing other businesses within the organization. To encourage this, members now have the opportunity to bypass Google and perform a search on on the Chamber website to find a service provider, for example, that offers a members-only discount.
In today’s economy it’s more important than ever to support local, community businesses as well as be proactive about marketing your own business. To that end, nothing beats face-to-face networking and membership in the Chamber is one of the wisest places to put your marketing dollars. Not only will the membership dues quickly pay for themselves, but the personal satisfaction gained from meeting other local business owners and getting involved in your community is where the real value lies.