[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 https://nonprofitbootcamponline.com
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Welcome to another episode of chats with chambers today, I am so excited to be joined by Candi Westbrook. Candi, thank you so much for joining me today.
[Candi Westbrook] Absolutely. Thank you for inviting me.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So tell me a little bit about yourself and a little bit about the Coffeyville. area.
[Candi Westbrook] Awesome. Yes, Coffeyville, Kansas, we’re in southeast part of the state, a rural community of about 9000 known for many things, but probably the most infamous is our don’t gang robbery where our town took down the Dong games back in the day. We have about 240 members in our chamber right now. And this year, we’re celebrating 115 years. So been here for quite some time. And personally, I’ve been here, about five and a half years, which in chamber industry speak is actually kind of a long time tends to have a high turnover rate. But one of the things that I was really adamant about when I started was creating a positive work environment. So we could try to keep more people around in the chamber industry and just keep that consistency. So I could work on some more long term goals. So yeah,
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] great. And how big is your team?
[Candi Westbrook] We have three people, myself, we have a tourism director, and then we have a office manager. And then we have some part time interns occasionally and, you know, small helpers here and there. But well, I
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] think that’s I’m so glad that you mentioned that you’re trying to build that culture so that you can retain people because I think that is one of the biggest things, especially right now as people are thinking about where they want to work, what they want to do, that culture become comes into play big time,
[Candi Westbrook] it does, people have to rethink that it’s more than just money that will cause someone to stay or come to your company. So it’s that work life balance and finding other things that have meaning. So yeah, definitely something we’ve worked on.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, so what would kind of be one thing or I’m sure there’s many things that you have accomplished in your community, but kind of what is one thing that you’re most proud of that you’ve been able to do in the community as as the executive director of the chamber?
[Candi Westbrook] Yeah, well, a few things that kind of, in a way, were forced upon us because of the pandemic. I mean, I would never say the pandemic was a good thing. But it did force a lot of businesses to kind of change how they did things so that they can stick around for years. And it did the same thing for us. So we kind of had to rethink how we wanted to be as a chamber. And that’s hard, especially when we’ve been around 115 years, you know, that cultural mindset is No, we should always do it the same way forever and ever. So slowly shifting that mindset, to getting people to see things a little different. One of them being events. I mean, they’re an important quality of life issue, or kind of point, I guess. But we’ve slowly been moving away from the party planning people to more of the connectors, that convener of leaders so that our community can work on things that make a bigger impact, you know, housing, business, expansion, workforce, things like that. So a key part of that was creating that collaboration with other entities and communities, regions, everything organizations. So, for example, a couple things that really was excited about here in Kansas, something new is that our chambers can now band together to offer health insurance. That was not something we can do before and so 39 chambers in our state, and under an organization that we have called Chamber of Commerce, executives of Kansas, we partner with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to offer health insurance. So now whether it’s a small business or a large business, we’re just trying to pass that cost savings on to them and band together. So things like that, where I just feel it’s important that instead of us all being in silos, we’re working in collaboration to To help offset those costs or offer things that we could never do before. So that’s one thing. Something else that really wasn’t something I thought was going to be as, as big as it turned out to be. And that was being the information hub. During COVID, we pretty much were sending out daily emails, we wanted the businesses to know what was going on, and how to navigate everything and just give them as much information. And back then information was gold. It was kind of like, yes, what can I get? Eventually, we even added a community newsletter because community said, well, we want to know what’s going on to. As we came out of that pandemic, we heard from some businesses that said, don’t stop, we need this information, we want this information. And so we now have a weekly, what I call out the weekly wrap up. But basically, this is strategies, of course, news, in the business world, Community News, feel good stories, because we always want positive things. So pretty much anything and everything. We include it now. And again, there’s times I thought, Oh, this is time intensive, maybe we should step back and not be in the news industry. But the community wanted it and they asked, please don’t stop, we need this. So that was something else that has turned out to be really good thing for us.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So and does that go out to just Chamber members or people that are community members? But aren’t Chamber members can?
[Candi Westbrook] Yes, both. We have multiple Newsletter Lists. And so anybody in the community can sign up for it. So we do have, of course, our businesses that sign up. And then we have community leaders. And we even have some businesses that haven’t quite joined the chamber, but they’re finding that information valuable. So I know at some point, they’re going to say, Okay, we’re on board now. So
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] yeah, I’m a huge fan of email marketing. So I love that you’re doing that and providing value, because like you said, it’s just a way to stay top of mind with those businesses to see the value you’re providing. So when they’re ready to kind of take that step forward, they don’t kind of forget you as an option to help support their business. Absolutely. What I’m hearing from you is almost like you really take, you know, look at yourself as the conduit in your community to kind of be the place where all people can come with ideas, thoughts, and that you can push out resources to everybody to kind of uplift the community as a whole.
[Candi Westbrook] Yeah, absolutely. Because we are, like I said, a staff of three. And actually, our office has gets pretty busy here, because we’re also a tourist attraction. We’re housed in the bank from the original don’t rain, so we have a lot of visitors. So traffic is just insane in our office, so we don’t have time to plan everything and do everything. But we can definitely get all the right players in the room working together, you know, on projects and programs and services. So yeah, definitely that conduit or convener?
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah. I love that. So what is something that maybe you have been struggling with in your community and with the chamber and kind of what are some ways that you’re trying to kind of work through that and strategize through that?
[Candi Westbrook] Yeah. Well, if I could encourage other chambers, especially small chambers, in rural communities, to do something that you didn’t think you would do, and that’s push yourself outside of your comfort zone, to learn more, not hold back, because I know in the past, I’ve held back because I didn’t think I was the expert. No, maybe I didn’t get into that that’s, you know, not my forte, or I don’t have experience with that. And so I hesitated. And recently, something kind of changed, it had to push me to get out of that comfort zone. We have a regional economic development office. And the director was phenomenal. So much so that the state of Kansas hired her and took away from us. And we were, we were sad. But because she was so great at her job, I didn’t have to do much in that arena. I was like, Oh, you’re great. You just go with it. And I’ll stay over here in my lane. And you know, I supported when she needed me or helped. But when she left and they haven’t filled that role yet, I kind of thought, you know, I need to step up, I need to make sure that we’re our voices are still heard, and that we’re still out there, and then we’re helping our community. And so I had to teach myself I had to take videos and classes and go to meetings and and even if I didn’t know everything about that topic, at least put myself out there and dangerous enough, I guess that I created some positive energy and then I could turn them over to the experts. So I would say that was one thing that has been a challenge but I just encourage our baby, push yourself have confidence that you can do it, you know, learn more, because our chambers have to be He’s bigger than just the party planners, you know, we we’ve got to go to that next level and help out. So,
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] yeah, I mean, we can only control what we can control. Right. So I love what you’re saying in that, as opposed to taking a look at that situation as a negative, you said, Okay, well, I got to just pick it up and run with it and see what happens and figure it out and provide solutions. I think that’s brilliant. And that a lot of people can flip that easily. And move past kind of that impostor syndrome that you talked about, like, I don’t know if I can do this. Right, right.
[Candi Westbrook] But we can do big things. Yeah, exactly. If we just sometimes don’t have enough competence. Because we’ve done some dense things a certain way forever and ever. And it was like, but I’m a firm believer. And actually, because I went through a leadership program, a while back that it just it forced us to say, Okay, if there’s not a little heat going on, then maybe not activities happening. You can’t just, you know, mellow and wait for something to happen. So
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] that’s, I think gold, what you said, right there, we can’t just wait for things to happen. We have to make action if we want to stay growth. So you just gave like three great tips in that last like two minutes. But I’m going to ask you for another one. So if there was kind of one thing that you would love to share with other chamber executives, that has been just really helpful in your business, and kind of your longevity in the chamber that you’re at? Like, what would what would you want to say to other chambers that are listening right now?
[Candi Westbrook] Um, well, like you said that the biggest one was just that stepping out. And always learning something always being thirsty for knowledge, because things do change so much. But I will also say, I have had to really practice my listening skills. We all think we are good listeners until we find out we’re not. So I think it’s just important that you have to listen to what your members were saying. And sometimes you have to read in between the lines of what they’re not saying. But I really had to push myself a little bit more in that direction to go, what do they really need? And, and is what I’m offering cookie cutter? Or do we need to personalize stuff when we sit down and, and strategize with a business to help them? So it’s sometimes it comes down to that personalization. And just being there and listening?
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Do you think there’s a fear with chamber leaders that if I actually listen and get the feedback from my members, and then we don’t do what they want that then we’re going to lose them? Versus if I really listened to what my Chamber members want? And we come back to them and say, you know, we can’t do this right now. But we’ve heard them that they’ll still stick around. And at least they were heard, and they don’t always need to have that. Yes, all the time. Like, is that kind of what you found? Or how has that played out? For you?
[Candi Westbrook] Yeah, I think that they people have to realize that sometimes the business doesn’t need you to fix everything, but they do want to be hurt, like you said, I mean, like in the marriage, you know, just you don’t have to solve my problem, darlin, but I need you to hear what I’m saying, and, and be sympathetic. And also, that’s how you find patterns. If you’re not listening, you won’t know that now, 10 of our businesses are saying the same struggle. There’s a pattern here, and let’s bring somebody in to help. But what you said was was spot on, it’s just a matter of how you provide that feedback. You know, you can’t promise the moon and then not fulfill it. So you can just say, thank you for sharing, that’s good input, we might be able to use this for something down the road, or, you know, can’t switch that now. But I understand where you’re coming from and, and so it’s just, I guess it goes back to that, putting yourself out there. If you don’t put yourself out there, then no change is gonna happen. So you’re gonna lose members anyway.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Right? No, I think that’s so good. Well, I love everything you’re saying, I think there’s so much gold here just in putting yourself out there listening, stepping into roles that maybe you didn’t think were possible, and challenging yourself. And I think I think that’s so important right now just to continue to evolve and support our communities in the best way. They need it, right? Because every or every chamber, every business has different needs in their community. So I think that’s so great. That candy if people are listening, and they’re like, you know, we are in the Coffee Ville area, we don’t know that much about the chamber, which sounding by your membership, I don’t think is the case. But why might people want to join the chamber and how might they learn more about the things that you offer your community?
[Candi Westbrook] Sure. Well, I heard this one time and I think it’s true. People ask, what do you get when you give it the membership And so, and I always say back in a word, everything I mean, everything that we’re doing, whether it’s directly or behind the scenes, is to help our local business environment. And so sometimes they don’t see what we’re doing. But I’m like, hey, here are all the things that we did behind the scenes. And now, the results are finally paying off. It takes time. But you know, things like the health insurance program, just finding ways to lower your expenses as a business, driving traffic and getting customers for you and generating that, that traffic, of course, economic development being big this year, for me, especially. And also a crisis management. We’re kind of like an insurance. So we’re there, even if you hopefully never need to use this, but don’t wait till your businesses dying. I always tell people I’m like, we help so many people during the pandemic, with grants and supplies, and just different ways of supporting that if they hadn’t been a member, you know, they would have been missing out. So I always tell people, don’t wait till your business is dying. Do it now. And, and in the end, what people really get is me. And if they don’t trust me, and if I’m not doing my job, and my staffs not here to personalize things for you, you know, won’t be successful. So we always tell people that you’re you’re getting a person, a real person that is here to help you. So as far as how to get ahold of us, so our websites, probably the easiest way, and it’s super easy to remember, it’s Coffeyville chamber.com. Easy to remember, but I’m always a quick call away, I tell people, whether your states away, you can call, um, you can get on email, Facebook, every platform that’s out there, you know, these days, so that and also come in we, as I mentioned earlier, we’re blessed to get to work in an actual historic building. That’s been here 150 years so they can come in and take a tour of the bank and get an IC because we are home of the ice steward over here. They were invented here. But we haven’t ice machine.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Super fun. Yeah. Well, I love it. And it sounds like you have really found a way to marry the historic piece of your community with the forward thinking of ensuring that communities still continues on for a long time. This is our doing that. And that’s not an easy thing to do. So kudos to you for that. And we’ll have all of these links in the show notes at nonprofit boot camp. online.com. Candy, thank you so much for joining us today.
[Candi Westbrook] Absolutely. I think this is wonderful that you’re doing these and hopefully you get other wonderful, great things from chambers all over the is it the nation, you’re kind of going all over? Yeah.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And I have to say I have not had the same conversation twice. Yeah, the most incredible thing about how amazing all of you chamber leaders are in the way that you’re innovating. And so, thank you so much for sharing your story because I know it will inspire other organizations across the country.
[Candi Westbrook] Absolutely. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Or email@example.com Links in the show notes
Coffeyville, KS is a small town in NE Kansas most known for being the site where the Dalton gang was taken down. They are a staff of three which includes a toursim directior. They are working hard to build that culture that encompasses their values.
COVID forced the Chamber to have to revisit how they carried on. Since they have such a long history they had to really take stock in what was working and where they were going. They have decided to stop/or lessen their events. This has allowed them to work more on building relationships and help those business with sustainability. It also allows them to focus more on things like workforce and housing that are critical issues. They are also able in Kansas to come together with other chambers to provide group health insurance.
They have also become a educational hub. They have newsletters that help educate the community on what is going on in the area, strategies for businesses, feel good stories and more. They have become a trusted source in their community as the go to place to find information. This goes out to anyone in the community, not just chamber members.
Candi encourages you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. She had a team member that was so great at her job the state recruited her. Candi had to learn her role and figure out how to fill that void. It required her to learn and put herself out there. Your chamber has to be bigger than just a party planner.
Questions We Asked
- What is the Coffeyville Are Chamber all about? [1:03]
- What are some wins? [2:48]
- What are challenges you face? [8:06]
- What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [11:22]
- How can you learn more about Coffeyville? [12:44]
Coffeyville Area Chamber of Commerce
The overall goal of the Coffeyville Chamber of Commerce is to provide a working alliance of business and professional people that would work together to conduct activities which will make a positive impact on the economic, educational, civic and social welfare of Coffeyville and the area, and thus help maintain the profitability and viability of its members.
We seek to:
- Connect business leaders
- Advocate for our local businesses at the local & state levels
- Promote local events and community information
- Serve as the tourism information center for Coffeyville
- Support leadership development and foster professional growth
Learn more at https://coffeyvillechamber.org