The new structure will create different tiers of memberships to fit a business’ specific needs instead of a set annual cost — and the bottom tier membership is absolutely free.
“This idea stems back to several years ago when Mayor Ron DeSimone worked with the chamber on the Moving Maggie Forward plan to bring businesses together,” said Chamber Executive Director Teresa Smith.
Smith said the late mayor’s vision was to have one dues-paying organization to include every business in the valley so the community could move forward cohesively instead of being divided into several different groups and clicks competing for business and advertising dollars.
While the chamber currently has about 180 members inside and outside of Maggie Valley, Smith said she has been trying to think of a way to make business owners feel more included. After all, having a well-informed and cohesive business community is beneficial for everyone. Communication is essential to offering the best hospitality in the quaint tourist town.
The current chamber membership structure ranges from $200 to $500 depending on the size of the business, though most businesses in Maggie Valley fall into the $200 range. The new structure would offer options from free to $1,000 a year.
Having a tiered chamber membership structure is not a new concept — Smith said about 30 percent of chambers nationwide use the tiered approach because not all businesses fall into the “one size fits all” model. She said the new model would be implemented starting in May when chamber members renew their membership fees.
A free membership includes the basics like receiving all correspondence from the chamber including monthly reports, receiving referrals from the chamber, attending chamber events and training, a new member listing on the newsletter, a chamber member decal and more.
The second tier is called a Business Partner membership ($225) and includes mostly everything the chamber’s old membership structure did — listings on the website and in the visitors guide, discounts on business liability insurance, eligibility to vote in chamber board elections and eligibility to serve on a chamber committee or the board of directors.
The third tier is a Premier Partner ($500), which includes all the benefits of the first two tiers plus bold listings on the website, visitors guide and the chamber’s mobile app, a banner ad displayed on the website, a banner displayed at the chamber’s Arts & Crafts shows and two tickets to the chamber’s annual dinner and awards ceremony.
The top tier is an Executive Partner ($1,000) and includes the additional benefits of banner advertising at the chamber’s WNC BBQ Festival and the event website, ability to post your business’ videos on the chamber’s YouTube channel, four tickets to the annual dinner and more.
Smith made the announcement at Tuesday morning’s Rise and Shine event at the Maggie Valley Pavilion. The monthly business-networking event is also a new initiative hosted by the chamber and the town to encourage more cooperation and collaboration between businesses in the valley. Only a handful of people attended the first event last month, but about 15 business owners and town staff attended the December event.
“We hope this will help increase our membership,” Smith said. “We want businesses to share information and attend meetings like this one.”
Maggie Valley is a small town but some business owners still say they feel disjointed and out of the loop when it comes to what other businesses and the chamber are doing. Chamber members that attended the Rise and Shine event seemed to be pleased with the change.
“I think offering a free membership is the best thing because it will include the whole community — right now those who can’t afford it don’t feel like they’re important,” said Tina Snow, chamber member and owner of Momma T’s Mountain Made.
Snow said having a broader member base would also help her when visitors ask for referrals on where to shop and eat. She uses the chamber website as a source but fears she may be missing opportunities to help other business owners if they aren’t included on the chamber website.
“That’s always been a problem in the past,” said Rose Beck with Poppy’s Little Knife Store. “The chamber only promotes members so you don’t know about what the other businesses are doing.”
New chamber member Christine Chamberlain, owner of Organic Beans Coffee Co., said the new tier structure would allow new businesses to feel included as they try to build their businesses.
“Then they can work their way up to a higher membership cost,” she said.
Changing the structure could be a risky move — what if members choose the free option over the paid options? Without revenue from membership dues, the chamber wouldn’t be able to operate. New chamber board members don’t think it will be a problem.
Dave Angel, owner of Elevated Mountain Distilling and a new member on the chamber board, said he thinks it will encourage more businesses to get involved with the chamber for perhaps the first time.
“Offering something more affordable is a great way to introduce people to the chamber,” Angel said. “Once they get involved and see what the chamber can do for them they’ll see you get what you put into it.”
Scott Nielson, co-owner of Cabbage Rose Gifts and a chamber board member, said he’s excited about giving every business the opportunity to become involved in the community through the chamber’s many efforts whether it’s the arts & crafts fairs, barbecue festival or decorating the valley for special occasions.
“Some people will worry about more people wanting the free membership, but I think once they’re in there and see the benefits they will up their membership,” he said.