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Flexibility, and Follow Through Makes Your Chamber Invaluable

Broken Bow, NE


[Intro] Welcome to chats with chambers with your hosts Patrick Kirby and Sami Bedell-Mulhern. Each week we connect and learn from executives of chambers of commerce from across the country. These short episodes will share success stories, challenges, best practices, and tips and tricks to inspire you, and provide resources for hitting your organizational goals. From recruiting new and retaining current members to finding new and creative revenue sources. You’ll hear straight from those leading chambers and communities throughout the US. Chats with chambers is proudly brought to you by the Nonprofit bootcamp. Learn more and check out the show notes for episodes at 

[Patrick Kirby] Well, hey, friends, welcome to another edition of chats with chambers. I really love this podcast because we’re getting so many different perspectives from so many different leaders across the country about what’s working, what’s not. What some cool things and ideas that are going on. Within the Chamber of Commerce. I got another good one for you today. Stephanie, Stephanie Grafel, executive director of Broken Bow, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, welcome to chat with chambers. How are you?

[Stephanie Grafel] Hi, I’m doing great. How are you today?

[Patrick Kirby] I’m doing wonderful, I’m going to be so much better knowing so much more about rock info, and everything else that you’re doing. So let’s start there. Um, tell me about Broken Bow and who you serve and the area in which you are an executive director of the Chamber of Commerce?

[Stephanie Grafel] Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, a lot of people think of Nebraska as a flyover state, I think he even said it earlier. But we here in Broken Bow, we’re dead center of the state. So if you look at a map of the United States, and you stick a pin in the middle of the United States, and in the middle of Nebraska, you’re gonna find us right there. For those that don’t know, Nebraska, well, you think that we were just in the middle of nowhere. But honestly, this is one of the best places you could be put. We’ve got, we’ve got such a wonderful rich history in the area. And the people that we have that we skipped to serve. They understand they understand what it’s like to work with their hands and and work from the ground up. So I just I feel blessed to be able to work with that with all my members.

[Patrick Kirby]  Yeah. So I mean, something interesting about broken bow that I wouldn’t know, if I was random rattling off chamber names. And I came across yours. And I go, I don’t know something interesting about the region in which you are serving.

[Stephanie Grafel] Sure. Broken Bow, they tried to make several different attempts at naming this area, when it first came out. And they were all shot down by the government until the young two young boys came to their father, that was the post office clerk at that time with a broken Indian bow. And he thought, You know what, I’ve tried every other name in the book. Let’s do this. And that’s how broken bow got its name. Most people if they hear Broken Bow, they think of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. And Broken Bow. Oklahoma is a wonderful place, beautiful lakes, beautiful amenities that they have. But they got their name from us. So kind of fun.

[Patrick Kirby]  See, I liked that I liked that you’ve already staked claim to it. And that’s, and that’s wonderful. And I love that, again, the the importance of having a Chamber of Commerce in regardless of where you are in the state is so important in serving the businesses and the leaders, and those that are entrepreneurs and, and one person shops. They’re just trying to make awesome decisions about their awesome businesses. And that’s super cool.

So there’s bound to be a lot of great stories of success that you at the chamber have seen firsthand on the success of businesses that you have helped or been associated with at the chamber. Can you give us a couple of awesome things that you have done that you can share with our audience.

[Stephanie Grafel] I became part of the Chamber of Commerce in December of 2020, which is probably one of the worst times to change career paths and go into a business that really deals a lot with retail and marketing. You know, MIDST OF COVID pandemic, not a whole lot of fun to try and do that and most places were kind of tanking at that point, especially when you look at those mom and pop shops. Here in Broken Bow. We have 3,500 people in our town and our chamber of commerce are not only serves Broken Bow, but we service the entire Custer County community. So there are other, even smaller towns around us where the we’re the metropolis out of all of us.

So walking into that situation was kind of interesting, I came into an office that didn’t have an executive director, and the administrative assistant was leaving two days after I joined. It’s already out for another job. So I got to do this on my own, for the first several months, not only, as I said, on my own, but coming from a background that was far from a chamber background, I actually had been working in the medical field, and I had been locked in with my off Broadway community members, I was working at a assisted living facility, and was locked into the facility for three months with them when the pandemic had first started. So you know, it was just, it was a crazy time to start.

What was amazing about it was the community support and the support that I had, from my board, a board of directors, with all of that going on, Broken Bow, and Custer County, as a whole had already bonded together. And they were using chamber bucks to help support all of the local businesses. All of our larger industries had gone and bought gift cards for the little mom and shop cafes that we had, and everything else. And we’re giving those out to their employees to keep Custer County and Broken Bow alive. You didn’t see that everywhere, especially the larger towns, those small shops, they were gone. And here in Broken Bow, we were really able to keep, we didn’t lose. I can’t think of a single business that we actually lost due to the pandemic.

[Patrick Kirby] That’s incredible.

[Stephanie Grafel] Yeah, yeah, it was really neat. And it’s really all because that’s the type of fest type of area we live in, you know, we work together. And community matters.

[Patrick Kirby] Yeah. Well, I love that. First of all, have the audacity of, of changing over jobs in the middle pandemic, especially going into one that’s a fourth, that’s, that’s the type of person that I’ve always consistently met at a chamber of commerce are the those type of people you are the type of person that is just, I’ll do it, I got I’ve got the skills sets. And I’m a little bit crazy enough to do it. And I love that about the personalities that are trying to help business. And I also love the fact that the Chamber itself sort of was this facilitator of good in order to make sure that the businesses were done, you know, allowing the space for larger, more robust businesses to make sure that they’re looking out for the smaller and medium sized businesses at the same time, because of that community that you only find within this sort of realm of Chamber of Commerce and community that surrounds it. So I just I really love that.

Outside of the pandemic, though, you know, it’s all not sunshine and rainbows. We all know that about the chamber stuff. What have you found? That is your biggest challenge as a chamber leader or as a chamber as itself? And when What are you doing to kind of remedy some of those challenges?

[Stephanie Grafel] Challenges for a chamber? I think? I think there are definitely challenges out there. I’ve not really had I’ve not really had that much problems, honestly, I find that most of my businesses, there are, of course, everybody will find that there’s been a director in the past or there’s been something in the past that’s happened and they have lost chamber businesses. And that business is saying I’m never going to be part of that again. And I think a really cool thing for me is that I’ve been able to go out there into the community, speak to some of these businesses that haven’t been members for years and years and say, Listen, you know, the whole point of being a chamber for you is to help advertise for you. I want to bring more foot traffic and more media traffic to your door. If you don’t get what you want out of me. Tell me what you need, working together as the most important so, you know, I guess I’ve had that challenge of having to my membership. But last year, I ended up with 14 new members, which had been one of the largest membership additions in quite a number of years, and this year, were already up 12 more members. So for a town of, as I said, 3500, we have 254 Chamber members, which is really pretty amazing. Yeah, we all we all have those challenges, but you have to continue to think outside the box.

[Patrick Kirby] Well, I love that the openness or feedback seems to be that’s priority number one, for those that may have had a less than stellar, you know, relationship with the chamber or something went awry. And just, again, I go back to the word I have the audacity to say, I’m going to sit down, and I’m going to listen to what you have to say, rather than get defensive, we’re going to hear it out and say, Hey, here’s kind of where we are. Now, it might be remote, radically different than what you’ve experienced. And here’s what we’re going to bring to the table. And I love, I just love the idea of being open to conversation, even though you don’t know what you’re gonna get into, which is, you know, that’s the type of personality that every one of these chamber leaders have, like you don’t know what you’re getting into. And yet, you’ve got to find a way because you know, community and sort of making sure that everything is sort of super top notch, which leads me to a lot of chambers are always looking for tips and tricks for people who are in the field and doing awesome work. And that thing that they might be doing, you might not be doing as a chamber, you might want to try it.

So Stephanie, do you have for our listening audience and all the chamber folks who are listening? Do you have a tip or a trick that you found to be super successful that somebody else could totally steal and use and their own chamber resources across the country go,

[Stephanie Grafel] You got to think outside the box, you have to listen to your members, each member is going to need something different. And that’s what you need to provide. You know, if you don’t, if you don’t sit down and honestly listen to what they need, you’re not going to be able to retain, retain that membership. You just that’s that is definitely the biggest thing for me. I think that if you’re not open and willing to make changes and make additions, if you’re going to sit there with a can’t attitude instead of a can do attitude. It doesn’t matter what trick you try and use, you’ve got to make sure that that attitude that you have is on stewardship. That’s what we do.

We’re nonprofit, we’re stewards of our community. And you have to wake up in the morning and go into it with that, with that mindset. I guess that’s really it, I you know, I don’t think that there’s any magic trick to it at all, you just, you have to, you have to show that you’re there as a community member, and as somebody that wants to support them. And if you can show that and that’s heartfelt, then you are going to have more members, and they’re going to be active, they’re not going to be just signing a check away at the beginning of the year, and not doing anything until the end, you’re going to have them coming to you wanting to sponsor different events, wanting to see if you need help with different committees. That’s what you need. And that’s what that’s what our goal is always.

[Patrick Kirby] I think the the conversations that you have with really successful chambers like yourself, and the ones that are really finding their own ground and their own unique thing. They don’t have a one size fits all attitude at all, the flexibility of understanding where a business is coming from and where it stands, and coming up with really unique solutions to whatever their particular process is, is super cool. But what I really like about that is really just that openness to saying, Hey, I’m we’re here for you, this is kind of what we get is an open book that a lot of transparency going on in those conversations, which I really think are necessary. And then there’s this authenticity, there this authenticity to the conversations you believe and truly believe that you can help as a chamber these businesses, and I think people can sniff out BS a mile away. And that’s what the I think your success is can be really attributed to like you are really involved in making sure that they get the best value possible. And you can totally tell that come in through either in this conversation. I bet everybody else who’s meet you face to face is feeling the exact same way, which makes me want to join your chamber. Stephanie, you know, I think I want to join Yeah,

[Stephanie Grafel] I should say one other thing. I don’t know the thing that really makes success. You’ve got to be involved with your city government too. Oh, yeah. So, I mean, they have to be hand in hand with you. And so you do whatever you can to make that work and they will respond in kind. So

[Patrick Kirby] bonus tip and trick from 70. I liked this very much. bonus tips. Um, all right, I’m moving to Broken Bow, Nebraska, I got a business, and you meet with me, we’re sitting down for coffee. And I say, Well, it kind of sounds nice joining the chamber. But I’m going to have to be convinced a little bit more, Stephanie, give me your broken bow Chamber of Commerce elevator pitch, convincing me a business owner on why I should join your chamber.

[Stephanie Grafel] As a chamber member, you’re going to get the same amount of support and activity, whether you’re a small one person pop shop, or if you’ve got 100 200 300 employees, what I want to do is make sure that you are successful. And I’m going to do that whichever way is going to help you out, we make sure that all of our Chamber members are very active on our social media pages. And on our website. Our website is available for market landing pages and, and different and different types of advertising. So we have that available. We don’t charge our members when they need to advertise for employment opportunity in their business. That’s part of what we do. We just want to support you. And we want to make sure that as a new business, you are treated like somebody that grew up here.

[Patrick Kirby] I’m gonna give you all my money. That’s all I’m gonna do right now immediately give you all of my money to be a chamber member. Stephanie, you’re awesome. If people are looking for ways to look at what you’re doing. They want to connect with you. They vibe with what you’re saying. But they don’t know how to get a hold of you. Let’s talk about give us a place to go where we can connect and use your brain and all of their awesomeness for good across the country. For everybody who’s listening? How do we get a hold you,

[Stephanie Grafel] you can go to our website, that’s probably the quickest and fastest way to get a hold of us. It is And N E not O K, because we’re not Oklahoma. But please go to that website. If you want to give us a call. We’re here and we’ll answer that phone 308-872-5691. And you can always email us again, that email is going to be right on the website you hit contact us and it’s not going to go anywhere else but to my desk. So that’s one of the best ways you can find us on Facebook. You can find us on Twitter, you can find us on Instagram, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re doing everything we can to be out there for our business members. And, yes,

[Patrick Kirby] love it. All those links are gonna be in the show notes. So make sure that you after this podcast, go out there and click and and say hi to our friends at Broken Bow. And while you’re at it, by the way, subscribe to this podcast so you can get all the cool tips and tricks from all the other people that we’ll be interviewing here on chats with chambers.

Stephanie, thanks so much for what you do. Thanks so much for being a leader within the business community. Thanks so much for taking chamber membership to the next level and thinking about things in the most authentic and a delicious sort of way. Appreciate you and your perspective today. But most of all, hey, thanks for being a guest here on chat chambers.

[Stephanie Grafel] That’s great. Thank you.

[Closing] Hey, thanks for listening to chats with chambers. For more information about the chamber featured in this episode or to check out show notes for links and resources. Visit nonprofitbootcamponline/podcast. Hey subscribe, give us a five star review if you liked what you heard and if you are a chamber would like to be a guest on this show. Hey, email us Or Links in the show notes

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The beauty of Chambers is that they exist in communities big and small. And in each of these communities they make a major impact. Stephanie Grafel came to the Broken Bow Chamber in the middle of the pandemic, with little Chamber experience. But that didn’t stop her from jumping in, building relationships and growing her membership inside of her organization.

In this episode Stephanie shares how she went about building relationships and using the support of her board to not only sustain her chamber through the pandemic but to thrive!

Questions We Asked

  • What is the Broken Bow Chamber all about? [1:40]
  • What are some wins? [4:27]
  • What are challenges you face? [8:30]
  • What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [11:31]
  • How can you learn more about Broken Bow? [15:22]
Stephanie Grafel headshot

Stephanie Grafel

Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce

Stephanie Grafel started at the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce December 2020 as the Administrative Assistant. The Chamber was going through a rough staffing patch, like a lot of businesses during the first year of the Covid Pandemic. For the first nine months she was the sole employee, collaborating with the Board of Directors to maintain an active Chamber Office for all its business members. The Chamber of Commerce continued to host/sponsor all their events during this time. In June 2021, Stephanie agreed to step into the role of Chamber Director with the support of the Chamber Board of Directors.

Stephanie’s family moved to Broken Bow, NE when she was 8 yrs old.  Her father owned Master Cleaners, a dry cleaning establishment in town.  “I spent a lot of my childhood helping at my Dad’s business and later worked for several other places around Broken Bow as well. I enjoyed helping customers and bringing a smile to every interaction.” After graduation Stephanie went on to UNL. She has lived on the East and West coast and many other places in between. She came to the Chamber with an extensive Medical Office background with over 15 years in that industry.  She also had prior management skills with an Air Force Consignment Shop at Edwards AFB in California while her husband Doug was stationed there.

“I am thrilled to be part of the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce team. I have always had a passion for community service and strive to create a welcome environment that promotes growth for all businesses, both established and new. I have learned a great deal from our Chamber Business Members, The Custer Economic Development Corporation, and our local city government officials. We have grown our office with the addition of an Administrative Assistant. We have grown our media footprint with tireless work on our Website and our many social media platforms. We have also grown our membership within this last year as well! Working together we are able to make great things happen. I am proud of where I am from and what we have to offer.” – Stephanie Grafel

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