The is hoping to bolster its ranks with the introduction of a new mobile application that will help users quickly get information on local businesses and help business owners target potential customers with promotions.
According to Chamber President and CEO Patricia Ritchie the new MyChamberApp, which will become available in January, will be offered to all Chamber members for free.
The application, which works on most smartphones, gives users access to a directory of Chamber businesses with information on each business. In addition it enables business owners to send promotions to users: For example a local hair salon might be offering 20 percent off all haircuts on a particular day of the week. With this mobile application, the business owner can send an alert to users telling them about the offer and include a link to the salon’s website, where patrons can download the coupon.
Ritchie says the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce will be the first chamber in Fairfield County to offer this type of application. She said it is just one of numerous incentives the Chamber is offering as part of its current membership drive, which aims to bring in 100 new members by Nov. 9.
Just as with other local chambers across the US, the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce has seen its membership reduced as a result of tough economic times. But Ritchie says small businesses that ditch their chamber membership are making a huge mistake — for it is in these tough times that their local chamber can give them a distinct advantage.
To learn more about how the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce is seeking to increase membership, and what incentives it is offering, Patch recently interviewed Ritchie at the chamber’s offices at 1597 Post Road. What follows are excerpts from our interview:
Patch: How many members does the Fairfield Chamber have currently? And how much of a hit have you taken in terms of the recession?
Ritchie: It’s really been during the past year that we’ve taken a hit. The Town of Fairfield has fared very well — and therefore the Chamber has fared very well — up until the last year. We’re probably around 375 members now — down from about 450 last year. So we’ve lost quite a few. We’re hoping to gain 100 members — and members of the board are responsible for five members each. We’re counting on it, to be honest — because it’s going to affect what we’re going to be able to do in the next year. It will affect our programs and it will affect the work we do here.
Patch: How many total businesses are there in Fairfield?
Ritchie: I have no idea — I don’t think anyone has an exact number — and if you call the state Department of Economic Development, I don’t think even they know. The most recent figures that I have are about seven years old and I think they show the town at around 3,300.
Patch: How many larger, regional or national businesses are currently represented on the Fairfield Chamber?
Ritchie: We don’t have a lot of big businesses here — our two biggest members are Fairfield University and Sacred Heart.
We sometimes have people calling us from their corporate jobs asking for just a single, individual membership, saying ‘but I’m the only one who is going to be involved in the Chamber.’ We have to tell them that it’s a business association — we don’t have individual memberships. We know Merrell Lynch has offices all over the US — we just need to know how many people there are in your office, in Fairfield, and that’s how we’re going to base your membership. If you’re over 30 employees, and you’re an out-of-town corporation, it’s a flat fee of $600 — that’s how we structure it. Banks we charge separately — we charge by the number of dollars on deposit, as per the FDIC. But we get a lot of people coming from large corporations thinking they can buy just a single membership, and it doesn’t work that way.
Patch: Tell me about your current membership drive. Specifically what are you doing this year to drive membership?
Ritchie: We have quite a few incentives that we are offering — including this new MyChamberApp, which I think is really exciting — and then there’s the standard listing in the Chamber directory, which is distributed throughout town. These are both free if you join. In the Directory, businesses are listed three ways, by contact name, by business name and by category. In addition, if you’re retailer — a restaurant, a spa, a liquor store — we’re going to give you one year free on our Chamber Bucks program, which is a gift certificate program that we promote through the K-5 schools. In our best year, we sold $175,000 worth [of gift certificates] — and it’s great because it keeps the money here in Fairfield. We’re going to give that away to all new members for the first year. After that it’s only $60. In addition we promote the directory by way of a banner that we hang up in downtown.
We’re also offering two free tickets to a Sound Tigers game to all new members. We’re also going to have a free new member breakfast at Chips. We’re also going to offer free admission to one of our Business After Hours networking events. And we’re also going to feature new members on the home page of the Chamber website, with some information about the company, that links into their website. This free member profile can help businesses establish a stronger presence on the Internet, as it has been designed to get picked-up by the search engines.
We’re also offering 10 percent off the first Street Banner each new member orders. We fly these attractive looking banners in downtown, January through March. There are 80-some positions for banners throughout town. We will place them as close to your business as we can. We have to pay the Town of Fairfield to put them up, so there is some expense involved — but it works out to be about $3 a day, to keep your name out there, which is pretty darn good.
Patch: It seems like there’s more between the Fairfield County chambers lately – is that true? And what is the benefit to members in doing that?
Ritchie: Yes, definitely, we’ve been doing a lot more of those events. For example, we do a show at Norwalk Community College in March with six chambers — including the BRBC, Darien, Norwalk, Stamford and chambers. It’s 100 tables split between six chambers, so it’s not a big money maker, but it’s great because, as a member, you need to see some new faces and gain some new networking opportunities. We have six restaurants supplying the food — so you can eat until your stuffed — and people love it. We try very hard to partner with other chambers.
Patch: Why is local chamber membership important during tough economic times?
Ritchie: There isn’t a chamber in the US that isn’t going through this right now – this loss of members and this drive to get new blood. Because of the economic situation, what do you think a small business will say who needs to cut costs? ‘I’ll get rid if my subscriptions, I’ll get rid of my gym membership, and I’ll get rid of the chamber too, because I don’t see anything that I get directly out of that.’ When I hear that the ‘chamber did nothing for me’ I often find that that person never took advantage of the things we offer — the business after hours, the committees, the programs and events.
The other big advantage is the sharing of timely information: We are a member of the US Chamber of Commerce… although we’re really focused on the local economy, stuff comes up on the federal and state levels that affects small businesses. So we try to keep a handle on all of it, on all those levels. We have a finger on the pulse on everything that might affect your business — all the way up to the federal level. On the state level we have a strong relationship with the CBIA.
Patch: What would you say is the number one reason small business owners should consider local Chamber membership in this down economy? What’s the number one advantage to them?
Ritchie: For us, here, it’s the networking — it’s a way to connect with other business owners and share information, form new partnerships. For example, we have two leads groups that meet on alternating Tuesdays. That’s a great event for our members in the professional arena. They might have a speaker –—it works more like BNI, it’s based on the same criteria — they get to know each other and they pass leads back and forth.
Patch: What community events does the Fairfield Chamber sponsor each year?
Ritchie: We do . That brings about 600 people to the downtown — families, kids. We do a horse and buggy ride around town — we pay for that by putting advertisements on the buggy. We also have a petting zoo – and one of the banks picks up the tab for that. The best thing is that we invite a whole slew of not-for-profit organizations – the , the , the , the , the — we get about 25 non-profits on , we don’t charge them anything, and they may do face painting or they might hold a bake sale. That’s what makes that a really nice event.
We have a with our name on it — but it’s not as big as it used to be. We also have . It’s held from 2 to 5 p.m. on Halloween and the kids and their parents dress up — sometimes it attracts as many as 2,000 people — and they go around to businesses that have signs out, and they can get candy and things. Basically it’s a parade of costumes. We set our tent up on Sherman Green and every politician under the sun has jumped on board. A fire truck parks out front and it’s just a great, feel good event.
We also hold an annual at the Old Town Hall. It’s two days of arts and crafts, plus a farmers’ market — it’s been 45-50 years we’ve been doing this. In addition Kiwanis is present at the event and they do a cookout.
We also do an , involving the local restaurants — which will likely be held in May next year. This year it was at the Burr Mansion. It’s a very nice event.
For more information, visit the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce website.