The value of a Maggie chamber membership
Businesses in the valley have varying views on whether being a member of the Maggie Valley Area Chamber of Commerce is worth the annual dues, but Chamber Chairman Joe Moody said it’s a great value for the many benefits provided to the chamber’s 180 members.
A chamber membership can range from $200 to $500 depending on the size of the business, though most businesses in Maggie Valley fall into the $200 range. Because the chamber is a membership-based organization, those membership fees are crucial for the chamber’s operating costs.
“Our mission is to support the area businesses and economic development while continuing to be a self-sustaining body,” Moody said.
By being a member of the chamber, businesses stay connected with what’s happening in the valley and get promoted through several avenues — chamber website, chamber visitor guide, social media, print advertising, co-op advertising on visitmaggievalleync.com and email blasts.
The chamber works with the town to help new residents and businesses relocate to Maggie Valley and also hold ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new chamber members to welcome them to the community.
Chamber Executive Director Teresa Smith said one of the newer benefits added for members is a deep discount on a business liability policy through Auto Owners Insurance. She said the group plan saved one restaurant owner more than $1,000 a year.
The Maggie Valley chamber also puts on a number of events at the festival grounds throughout the year to drive traffic into town and into local businesses, whether they are members or not. Smith organizes and hosts a summer and fall arts and crafts festival and the WNC BBQ Fest in July.
Even if visitors aren’t coming to the valley specifically for the festivals, it gives them one more thing to do during their visit. Gabi Edwards, co-owner of Holiday Motel, said the chamber-sponsored festivals and every other festival held in Maggie Valley benefit all businesses directly or indirectly.
“Our business really doesn’t rely heavily on festivals in town to sell rooms with our established clientele, but most of our events do help the overall customer experience during their visit,” she said.
In addition to driving traffic to Maggie businesses, the events help the chamber supplement its $140,000 annual budget. Smith said the arts and crafts festivals are a popular attraction with many visitors planning their summer or fall vacations around the event. Because the shows are two-day events, local hotels benefit from the vendors staying overnight as well. More than 3,500 people attended this year’s arts and crafts festival.
“We’ve been doing the arts and crafts shows for 25 years,” Smith said. “Even though we don’t charge an admission fee to people, we make money from the vendor fees.”
Smith said the WNC BBQ Fest is the chamber’s largest and most popular event. Since it is a Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned competition, the planning is tedious and barbecue teams are eager to be there.
“It draws people from all over — we have a full line up of 49 teams this year with 12 teams on the waiting list,” she said. “They all want to compete here — it’s a beautiful venue for them.”
Turning web traffic into real traffic
When someone does an internet search for Maggie Valley, the chamber’s website, www.maggievalley.org, is the first listing, followed by the town government website, Frankie’s Italian Trattoria and the Maggie Valley Area Lodging Association’s websites farther down the list.
Smith said the website’s No. 1 Google rating is a huge benefit for members because it gives them the best visibility when people are looking to plan a trip to Maggie Valley.
“Because of Maggie Valley’s name recognition, people come to our Maggie Valley site,” Smith said. “We’d be losing tons of customers if the chamber didn’t have the website in particular.”
Smith said the chamber site gets more than 100,000 unique visitors a year. From January through May 2016, the site has already had close to 90,000 unique visitors. In comparison, the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority’s website —www.visitncsmokies.com — had about 81,000 unique visitors from July 1, 2015, through June 2016.
The chamber still seems to be the hub for tourism-related questions about Maggie Valley and the rest of the county. When a lead or inquiry comes through the door, calls on the phone or sends an email via the website, Smith said, she directs it to the right person.
She responds to Maggie Valley-related requests and passes the rest onto the Haywood County TDA. Out of the 9,121 phone calls, 4,710 website inquiries, 743 emails and 458 walk-ins during 2015, 2,140 of those requests were sent to the TDA.
With that much traffic on the chamber’s member-based website, chamber businesses are getting a fair share of online publicity.
Michael Meissner with iMountain online marketing handles search engine optimization for the chamber website — simply put, he ensures the chamber’s website is the No. 1 link when someone searches online for Maggie Valley.
“With its number one ranking for most searched keywords, Maggie Valley-related, the chamber spends less than 1 cent per lead to the chamber’s websites,” Meissner said. “The chamber’s market is a well-oiled machine, fine-tuned for incredible mpg.”
The Maggie Valley Chamber has published a visitor guide and membership directory for many years to promote local attractions, restaurants, merchants and events. Smith said she runs out of them every year before the leaf looker season even begins. Out of the 20,000 she ordered for 2016, she has just 4,000 left — and it’s only July. The visitor guide is distributed to welcome centers across the state.
Smith said she sends more guides to Andrews than any other welcome center because it’s the first welcome center in the state for people coming from Georgia. In many cases, Maggie Valley’s visitor guide is displayed alongside promotional material from Asheville and Bryson City, yet the chamber guide moves faster than the others.
The chamber stopped printing a visitor guide for several years (2009-11) when it was without a director, and Smith said Maggie Valley’s tourism suffered.
“Maggie’s overall contribution to tourism in the county went from 60 percent to 49 percent during that time,” Smith said.
The visitor guide is also available online on the chamber’s website. The publication is also designed by Michael Meissner — the same online marketing consultant responsible for the chamber’s website and getting all the Maggie tourism groups to collaborate on the co-op marketing efforts.
In the loop
Some benefits can be quantified — website visitors, phone calls, emails booked hotel rooms and occupancy tax revenue — but other benefits are harder to put a price tag on.
Moody said having Smith at the helm of the chamber is one of those benefits that can’t be calculated. A Maggie Valley native, Smith had been involved in Maggie Valley tourism long before she became the chamber executive director. When Lynn Collins resigned as the Maggie chamber director in 2008, Smith was president of the chamber board and volunteered to serve as the director until a replacement was found. Four years later, the chamber officially hired Smith and started paying her a salary.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told the board when we hired her — Teresa does — and has done for a long time — more to promote tourism in Maggie Valley than any other person I know,” Moody said.
Smith keeps a pulse on the community and keeps members in the loop on what’s going on in the valley.
Betsy Boyd, owner of Boyd Mountain Cabins, said her business has been a member of the chamber for many years and appreciates all the work Smith does for businesses.
“I think the chamber benefits from having someone like Teresa that’s such a go-getter,” Boyd said. “One thing we enjoy is they send us leads every week from inquiries. The chamber also has a very good website that gets lot of hits promoting Maggie and the area.”
Dave Angel, who is working to open the first craft distillery in Maggie Valley — Elevated Mountain — has already joined the chamber and is excited to be a part of the local business community.
“It’s a great resource for networking within the business community. A key offering of the chamber is tourist leads from potential visitors wanting to learn more about local restaurants, hotels and attractions,” Angel said. “As Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. opens later this year, this list of leads allows me to intersect with potential visitors and share what we have to offer.”
With all the criticism and challenges facing the chamber, chamber board member Lyndon Lowe understands why Smith may feel like she isn’t appreciated for all the work that she does, but he has no doubt she is good at her job. However, he said his job as a chamber board member is to ensure business owners are shown enough appreciation, as they are the sole source of TDA funding.
“Without the other business owners in town there would be no where for our guests to eat, shop or entertain themselves, and without our attractions there would not be as many guests for the rest of us to worry about anyway,” Lowe said. “ So how about we all just appreciate each other as we are all supposed to be working towards the same goal — making everyone successful, which in turn will make our community successful.”