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ON THE SCENE: Starting a Keene chamber of commerce

April 1, 2011
“I have been criticized for 1.6 million cars that travel through Keene heading to Placid each year,” said Jim McKenna, director of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. “No question that 75 percent or more of the traffic to Lake Placid goes through here. What is it that you want?”

McKenna was addressing about a dozen local business owners brought together at the Keene Community Center under the auspices of the Town of Keene, represented by Town supervisor Bill Ferebee, to discuss the possibility of starting a Keene Chamber of Commerce.

“We want some of them to stop here,” said Ferebee.

“What I have learned about marketing is that the most important thing is to have a good product,” said McKenna. “Some people leave before they spend money — spend all the money they are willing to spend — because they don’t feel that we have the facilities where they wish to spend their money. It seems what you guys have done to improve your assets is pretty significant. If you look back just 15 years, you can see that you have had significant growth over those years. Look at the many new businesses.”

“I have learned that the first thing you need to do is to decide where you want to go, where you want to be,” he continued. “The people who go to Lake Placid may not be your customers. Looking at the recreational assets that you have, they are different, for the most part, than Lake Placid’s. You have to focus on the assets you have so you can generate your own tourism base. We have learned that the number one ingredient in helping develop your own customer base is having your own lodging. The recreational assets may be why they want to come, but where are they going to stay? Let’s start by counting the number of beds.”

“Snow Goose Lodge has 8 beds,” said one, “Keene Valley Lodge has 24,” said another, continuing with Rock & River, the Ausable Inn, Dartbrook, Trail’s End, Mountain House, Rooster Comb Inn amongst others.

“One hundred and eighty,” said McKeena. “That’s very good. I think that is more than E-town, Westport or Essex. You also need places where people can walk around, and you have that in both hamlets.”

“People are back packing less and day hiking more into the high peaks,” said Tom Both.

“We are setting up and email system so that when anyone of us are full, we email that out to the other lodging facilities so we know who to send our overflow to,” said Marie McMahon from the Rooster Comb Inn. “My feeling is that we have all the ingredients, we just haven’t capitalized on it all.”

“We are hearing that our farmer’s market is the largest in the area,” said Both.

“Speaking for myself and as a businessman,” said Mark Wescott, the North Country representative for Congressman Chris Gibson, “I think this is a great meeting. I like this idea of everyone working together. Remember word of mouth is very important, is very powerful. Speak about and promote other local businesses. Capture the names and emails of all your customers — everybody should collect names and pool them together. Ask if you can have their permission to send them updates. Send out an e newsletter. It doesn’t have to be slick like it came from some care salesman. Keep it simple. Let it reflect the character of your community, your values. Give them a bag of coupons to entice your guests to come back, it could be for something simple like a donut at the Noonmark or a chapstick from the Mountaineer.”

“I think we have a lot of great events right now,” said Both. “We just aren’t getting everyone behind them. We have a great kite festival, a great antique auto car show, and our rutabaga festival that attracted over 1,000 people last year. Why not a maple festival at this time of year? If we all pull together we will all do better.”

“The rutabaga festival is an excellent opportunity to capture names and then promote the other events to them,” said Mark. “Promote winter events to those who come in the summer, and summer events to those who come in the winter.”

“You have to decide if you want to band together and to take advantage of the social media,” said McKeena.

“We generated a lot of media and attendees to the John Brown anniversary events using social media,” I said. “Carol Joanette, Exec. VP of ROOTS, identified the blog sites of history buffs, civil war buffs, people interested in slavery, and we sent our press releases to them. It helped us target our audience and attract an overflow capacity in early December. The media pays attention to blog sites.”

“I have seen a lot of chamber of commerces fail because people really haven’t worked together,” said McKenna. “When you say you want a chamber, what do you mean by that? Are you thinking of a staffed organization, a business association?

“Let’s figure out how it can be a simple thing that can fit into our life and not be overwhelming,” said Heather Coffin.

“You may first want to start with a business association,” said McKenna. “You have only 180 beds to fill in town.”

“We have a town web site already established, maybe we can update and promote that,” said Mike Carr of the Nature Conservancy. Another suggested linking or combining it with the web site

“You will need a coordinator, a driver,” said Westcott.

The ideas starting flying thick and fast including using the hiking bus to promote local events, asking the coordinator of the E Town Chamber to come over and discuss how they got organized, and other communication strategies. A second meeting was agreed on, which will be held Wednesday, April 27 at 5:30 pm at the Nature Conservancy to discuss structure and programs.

“I thought the meeting was full of enthusiasm, interest and attended by some high energy new business owners,” said McMahon. “I am excited. I think we will have an even better turnout next time.”


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