Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce: Not your grandpa’s chamber
Special to The Union
Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce
Robin Davies, Chief Executive Officer
138 East Main St., Grass Valley
Write or re-write business plans. Brand businesses or create new identities. Increase members’ profits through business development seminars. Design compelling advertisements.
With that “to do” list, it’s clear today’s Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce isn’t your grandpa’s chamber.
“We do so many more things these days than hold mixers and ribbon cuttings,” said Robin Davies, Chief Executive Officer of the GGVCC. “We do whatever it takes to help our members build strong, successful businesses.”
Davies assists members with advertising, including re-branding or fine-tuning identities. The chamber hosts monthly business development seminars which are often attended by 50 or more people. Members get assistance creating or updating their companies’ business plans. Members’ products and services are showcased at table top exhibitions. The Chamber communicates via a Facebook page, two weekly E-Blasts, and its website.
Further distinguishing today’s Chamber from those of yesteryear: the old-fashioned, simple business directory with a list of members’ businesses has been replaced by a slick, perfect-bound magazine that is also published online. The new magazine has double the number of pages as the old directory.
“It’s called ‘Postcards from Grass Valley,’” explained Davies. “It’s a photo-journalistic essay. It’s the journey of a couple who arrive in Grass Valley to visit friends. We follow them on their visit as we showcase elements of our community.”
The first “Postcards from Grass Valley” was published last January; the second one will be published next month. Both the hard copy and online editions include members’ advertisements. The online edition contains links to the advertisers’ own web sites.
Davies has started using her marketing background to help members create powerful advertisements.
“Many ads are bland and don’t convey what the company really is or does,” said Davies. “For example, for the Voter Team (Alpine Mortgage), Suzanne submitted a half-page ad. It was a photo of the Voter Team in front of beige file cabinets, and there was a sign on the wall.”
Davies said the ad did nothing to convey the two-fold philosophy of co-owners John and Suzanne Voter, which is to give back to the community and work with clients to get their loans approved.
“I had just 24 hours to re-do the ad to make it more effective and compelling. I envisioned an ad reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, both in the visual and written content. I staged Suzanne and John in a family’s home at a kitchen table helping a couple with loan paperwork. There was a grandmother in the background taking care of the children,” Davies said.
“I absolutely cried when Robin first told me her idea,” recalled Suzanne. “She comes to you with such heart and conviction that you can’t help but be moved. No one has ever taken that kind of time and attention. We’ve struggled forever with getting across our message that we’re not just an average mortgage company, and that we actually care.”
Davies offers extras such as advertising design at no extra charge. She said she’s done similar ad make-overs for more than a dozen Chamber members, with many more to follow.
“That’s part of my philosophy. The Chamber is a family, and you always help family,” she said. “To every new member I say, ‘Welcome to the family.’ We’re more than a business organization. We’re like a cousin committee. Every business in this community is connected.”
Grass Valley’s 151 Union Square is one of several Chamber businesses trying to launch a new identity with Davies’s assistance.
“Robin is helping us re-brand,” said Michelle Milner, who purchased the downtown Grass Valley restaurant and bar with her husband Dana in 2014. “Previously, it was really only known as a wine-tasting room. Now we want people to recognize us as an event center. We have house-made food; nothing out of a box. We offer live music and karaoke. Robin helped put together a page to describe what we are and what we do, and she did it by telling a story using only photographs.”
While helping members improve their advertising efforts is relatively new, the Chamber has been hosting business development seminars in collaboration with contractors and realtors for the past three years. The sessions are open to all members for a fee of just $15. The monthly seminars are led by Machen MacDonald, a life and business coach who also writes a regular column for The Union.
“During the workshops, business owners get to block the world away for 90 minutes to two hours to work on their business rather than in their business,” explained MacDonald, who is also Chair of the Chamber’s Executive Board of Directors. “Typically we are helping them formulate business plans, marketing plans, working on time management, and building leadership skills. People got into a certain business because they were good at something. But maybe now they’ve got employees, and perhaps they never really learned to lead people or manage staff.”
The Chamber itself employs Davies as an independent contractor, and she has one staff member. She also contracts out some work as needed.
The Chamber receives inquiries from up to 12,000 visitors each year. Inside the Chamber’s downtown office, 10 large-screen televisions run continuously, each broadcasting video footage supplied by community stake-holders such as the Center for the Arts, Empire Mine Association, Music in the Mountains, InConcert Sierra, the Nevada County Contractors’ Association and Friends of the Chamber. The latter is a group of elite Chamber members who have made an initial $2,500 endowment to the Chamber and pay $500 each year in dues. Most businesses pay annual dues of $230 to $500, depending on their number of employees. Non-profit organizations pay $125.
The Chamber has 555 members, and one of Davies’s many missions is to recruit more.
“In the Grass Valley city limits alone, we have more than 2,000 businesses. At least that’s how many business licenses the city has issued. Some are home-based, some are bricks and mortar,” said Davies, who has been Chamber CEO for nearly four years.
Davies said her position is not a typical 9 to 5 job.
“I’m always working. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and go to the computer to write stories or postcards for the magazine. I have my phone next to the bed and I text or email reminders to myself,” she said.
Such is the work ethic of a woman who has more on her mind than mixers and ribbon cuttings.
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a local business to be featured in The Union’s “Money Monday” section, contact Lorraine at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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