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Marketing the Area to Increase Visitors in a Tourism Driven Economy

Hayward, WI


[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 episode of chats with chambers. I got a great one for you today. I got Chris Rock Dashiell, She’s the Executive Director of the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce. Chris, welcome to chat with chambers.

[Chris Ruckdashel] Hey, it is great to be here, Patrick. It’s quite an honor.

[Patrick Kirby] I’m very excited to chat with you, especially as a person who’s grown up in Minnesota traveled through Hayward myself over the years. So I know the area kind of but if somebody’s listening, and they don’t know where Hayward is or what Hayward has going on, could you give us kind of a 5000 foot view on you, your chamber and the business community as a whole?

[Chris Ruckdashel] Yeah, you bet we Hayward Wisconsin is located up in the northwest corner of the state. And we certainly refer to ourselves as living in the North Woods. You know, there’s there’s different conversations that happen out there even arguments of hey, where does the North Woods officially start? And you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. But I think without a doubt, and without argument, we are in the North Woods, we’re far enough up here. That it certainly fits our description. We also use terminology like up north, you know, that evokes a lot of emotions in folks, because up north is something very special. So we’re glad to be able to kind of own that moniker as well. You know, up here in Northwest Wisconsin, you know about an hour and a half south of Duluth, Minnesota, which is on the big lake Lake Superior. And we’re we’re situated there literally it’s our landscape is data with hundreds of lakes, inland pristine lakes. Fishing is big here. Water recreation, our trail systems, were there snowmobiling, ATV? Biking, cross country skiing, we’re really kind of an outdoor Mecca. And I can tell you that that tourism is our bread and butter economically.

[Patrick Kirby] I love it. Can you give us kind of a good? What’s the business environment? Like? What’s the business climate? What are the what do you got going on in Hayward?

[Chris Ruckdashel] Yeah, you know, we’ve got a diversity of businesses. And that’s kind of where it starts that our full time population of our community is about roughly 2500 We play a lot bigger than that just being a tip tourism driven economy, we have the type of amenities, whether it’s the shopping choices, the dining choices, the service choices, that really show much larger than that full time population, simply because we’re serving people throughout the year where that population does swell. And, you know, those types of things are demanded above and beyond just our local, you know, resident population. So it’s a very robust business community that its diversity of, you know, really unique boutique retail shops in our downtown area, we have a main street that actually has been voted in the top 10 Main Streets in America, and on a couple of occasions, just in the last five years. We’re a perennial contender for that. So you know, good shopping in that, in that look that you like, we’ve got that, but then again, outdoor is really the bread and butter, what brings a lot of people to our area, just to various kinds of outdoor recreation, the beauty that the North Woods has the serenity, you know, it’s when we talk about up north to a lot of people that kind of means getting away from it all. And, you know, we feel you can do that here. And, you know, that’s very valued in our, you know, society, you know, all kidding aside there, that’s, that’s becoming, I think, increasingly important for folks. So we fit in very well in filling that niche for folks who have been able to get away, to have family fun to make memories, and then come back again, you know, multiple times, whether it’s the same year we’ve got families that make an annual trip, you know, those families that have had a cabin on a lake in the woods or in the woods, you know, for for 90 years, that type of thing.

[Patrick Kirby] I love it. Besides being an I’ll declare it now that you are the center of or the gateway of the Northwoods. I’ll say it you don’t have to. I will. Thank you. Is there a an interesting factoid or something that I wouldn’t know about? Hayward, Wisconsin. Oh,

[Chris Ruckdashel] yeah, there’s a number of things I’ll start with. You know, we’re the home of the freshwater fishing Hall of Fame, which also has the world’s largest fiberglass fish. On its grounds. It’s a giant muskie. Because a world record muskie was caught back here in Hayward area waters back in 1949. So that is such a big part of our history is just the fishing. That takes place here. That’s part of our heritage. But that remains. We’re also home with the lumberjack World Championships, which takes place at the end of July, either the end of July or early August each year. And we’re home to North America’s largest cross country ski race, the American Birkebeiner. Which if somebody has not been here for that, it truly is, I guess what you’d say the Superbowl of the North Woods as well, it’s, it’s almost hard to describe. It’s a race that did finishes on our main street in Hayward each year in February. And it is just one giant party in celebration. That for a small town like ours, it’s pretty amazing the number of folks that can cram into an area like ours. So that’s actually just a small sampling, Patrick, you know, we’re just coming off our, our 72nd annual muskie fest that just occurred this past weekend, in which we’re celebrating that world record muskie that was caught back in the late 40s. So we’ve got a lot going on for us a lot of uniqueness there. And just various reasons for families to come up and enjoy your neck of the woods.

[Patrick Kirby] I love it. Let’s do some, you know, sometimes us in the Midwest, we don’t like to brag a lot. But we’re gonna use this space right now to brag a little bit about your business community and what the Chamber’s done. That’s been extraordinary. What have you done that you had just want to shout to burden the hilltops of like, hey, we did this really? Well. We did this great. We love our business community, because we offered this to them.

[Chris Ruckdashel] Gotcha. You know, that’s, you’re right about that, Patrick, and that we’re, we know, we shouldn’t be bashful. But sometimes we are about, you know, boasting, and we try to be humble. But I’ll tell you what, we are very, very proud of these, the marketing that we do for our community. You know, I was once told me that if you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one chamber. And you know it quickly, I understood what that meant is a chamber should reflect what their businesses and their communities need the most. And for us, going back to a tourism driven economy, we have figured out that that’s marketing of our area, because people have choices of where to go where to spend their vacation times, we have so much to offer here. But it still is our jobs to make sure people know about us. So so much of our time and resources, both financial and human, are devoted to telling our story drawing people to our area. Because once they get here, we’re very confident they’re going to have a good time, and then they’re going to be back as well. So I think we’re very proud of you know, even from say, social media standpoint, we have a good sized following. Heck, there’s others that have an even bigger following on social media. But we’re very proud of how we’re able to engage those that do follow us, if you’re talking about to take percentage of engagement in getting people excited about what we put out there. In the growth that we’ve had over the last several years in that area. You know, us being in this this digital age that we are we know how important that is for marketing efforts. And we really feel that we’ve been very effective in in speaking to the emotions of our potential audience out there. So you know, that’s one thing I do have to say, I’m particularly proud of here, as our as our chamber have, have just the I think the effectiveness in marketing that we’ve been able to do, because we know what an impact that can have on our businesses.

[Patrick Kirby] Yeah, I know that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs and ice cream as an executive director of a Chambers of Commerce. So what are some of the challenges that you in the Hayward area Chamber are experiencing? And how are you overcoming some of those?

[Chris Ruckdashel] Yeah, you know, I’ve pretty much always felt since starting in this role about six and a half years ago, that it was a challenge. And it remains a challenge now. In that is so much of what we do. Local businesses are going to benefit from whether they’re a member of our chamber or not. Now we feel very, very fortunate in Hayward that being a small community we are the number of businesses that are members of our chamber is a large number, percentage wise, we’ve been able to attract and retain many of our businesses, but not every business. And I think any director out there any chamber out there, you know, knows that and isn’t in the same boat that hey, we’d love to have you been not 100% of the businesses are supporting our work and we’d love to see that. Well, we’re the same and that to me is always a challenge because when we’re Mark Getting the area in other activities that we do you know, the Muskie festival we put on this last weekend, for example. The thing is folks, again, are going to benefit from that, whether they become dues paying members or not. So how do we overcome that I’m not even sure if overcome is the right word. But I know how we handle that is, we just want to continue to forge ahead. You know, even though that’s, that’s true that so much of what we can do, it’ll benefit somebody, no matter what we do try to continually add and remind folks of those benefits that are for members only, such as being able to accept our chamber of commerce gift certificates, you know, otherwise known as chamber bucks. You know, every one of our members is listed on our Hayward area website, which is one of the most if not the most popular website in our area. So that’s, that’s pretty important exposure that only a member will receive in being on our website. There is, you know, referrals to people that stop in our Hayward Information Center. You know, if they asked for, you know, the best fish fries in the area, which is obviously a Northwoods staple, you know, what, we’ve got a list ready. And that includes in, specifically our member restaurants that offer that type of thing. So or sponsoring our largest events like muskie fest or our Fall Festival, somebody because we run that those events, they do need to be a member of our chamber to be have that opportunity to sponsor. So those are some exclusive benefits to being a member. So what we do and forging ahead is just trying to emphasize those things as well. Because again, there’s things we do that, frankly, you don’t need to be a member to benefit from, you will benefit but you just don’t need to be a member necessarily. And then we just also try to make sure we remind folks who those things that are exclusive to members only. Well, I

[Patrick Kirby] love the fact that you know and are very self aware that what you do as a chamber benefits the entire community. But I love the fact that you value stack with your members, it’s one of the things that I think is really unique to chambers in general, they go a little bit above and beyond for those who are a part of the cool kids club, as we like to say, you know, you’ve been here for a couple of years, six, six and a half as the executive director, you probably learned a couple of things that maybe you can pass along to other chamber execs across the country who are looking for tips and tricks on how to recruit, retain or give value to their Chamber members. And then maybe they can try it in their communities. Chris, you have a tip or a trick you can give a a chamber executive chamber leader that you can share with us today.

[Chris Ruckdashel] Yeah, you know, I think it’s important to establish what I’d say a set of guiding principles, that and that may not be the same for all chambers, but basically, values to live by, if you will, because of one thing that I know any buddy that works in the chamber out there listening can relate to is you’re literally going to come to forks in the road every single day with with difficult, maybe tricky decisions, various considerations. And that’s one thing that I found helpful is if you establish a set of guiding principles, and I’ll just, you know, a couple examples that we have is, you know, operate with integrity and all actions, you know, utilize partnerships to achieve more improve can continuously, you know, base decisions on intelligence strategy, not status quo. Those are just a few of the things that sometimes I you know, refer back to, that helps us when we come to those various forks in the road or, you know, how should we? How should we proceed with this initiative, what should should guide us, I think having that kind of set of values is quite invaluable, because it ensures that you’re consistent. It reminds you that you’re doing things for the right reasons. And I do feel that it has helped us through because, again, I know everyone can relate if you’ve worked in a chamber, again, there is there’s tough decisions every single day. And you want to be thoughtful with those decisions, but you don’t want to get caught up because we need to continue moving forward. So that’s one thing that I’ve you know, I found very valuable is, you know, those those guiding principles. The other thing I would say, you know, when I said earlier is if you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one chamber, you know, again, what I’ve taken to heart there is again reflect and do the things that you think are most valuable to your members. And that may not be the same as you know that talent 30 miles up the road or, or that chamber two states over. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong and there’s not a blueprint. And that’s why when I started I wasn’t given a playbook of how to run a chamber. You know when I quickly learned why because there’s there’s no one universal playbook. I just Think you have to reflect, you know what your members and what your community most needs. Those are the things you should spend time doing.

[Patrick Kirby] I love this because it reminds us as a leader to find our true north and stick with it. You know what you’re gonna get every single time reminds me that that probably true north is the true north woods in a Wisconsin if they want to find the true north woods, Chris, where do they go? Where do they find you? How do they connect to see well, the amazing things that you’re doing in the Hayward area Chamber?

[Chris Ruckdashel] Yeah, you know, a great a great way to get a feel for area, if you’re not here physically is going to our website, Hayward area And again, we’re situated up here in Northwest Wisconsin about depending on what part of the Twin Cities you’re in to get anywhere from two and a half to two, three plus hours north east of the Twin Cities over Minnesota. You know, we’re we’re truly situated up there, you know, in our in our corner up here. And that’s we’ve got again, Duluth to the north, which is such a unique port city for the Midwest, there’s nothing quite like Duluth. We’ve got Auclair, about an hour and 45 minutes to the south. You know, I mentioned the Twin Cities. And then we’re kind of smack dab we feel we’re kind of this hub of northwest Wisconsin, which is mainly small communities up here. It’s a more rural area. Again, hence our our strength of kind of an opportunity to get away from it all when he come to our neck of the woods.

[Patrick Kirby] Yep, I love it. And if you haven’t visited, you will be amazed if and when he says pristine lakes means pristine lakes. It’s an amazing place. Thanks so much for not only what you do as a chamber leader, thanks so much for your perspective today. Thanks so much for giving some helpful hints, again, reminding us of our true north, getting our guiding principles ready and just sort of an understanding that every chamber is completely different. That you can kind of find your own way if you figure out who your businesses are. Good luck. With the the up north season as we say it in the Midwest, we only get a couple of months of this kind of weather. So you really love that. And appreciate you for being a guest today here on chats with chambers.

[Chris Ruckdashel] Hey, thanks so much, Patrick. Much appreciated.

[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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Hayward is in the North West corner of Wisconsin. They consider themselves to be in the North Woods area. Tourism is a big part of their economy. They businesses are very diverse. The full-time population is 2,500 but because they are tourism driven they have many more services than you’d normally see in a town that size. They have a great mainstreet that has been voted top 10 mainstreets in the country.

Hayward is the home of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. The world record muskie was caught there in the late 1940s. They also have the Lumberjack National Games!

Chris is really proud of the marketing they’ve been able to do for their members. As a tourism driven economy they want to market their area to get more people there.

Business benefit from the work the Chamber does, whether they’re members or not. Instead of dwelling on that they just keep doing the incredible work and talking about the member only benefits.

Chris’s tip? Establish your values and how you’re going to move through the decisions that come up. When you know your guiding principles you can more quickly and and effectively make decisions. Reflect and do the things that you feel would be more valuable to your members. There is no right or wrong!

Questions We Asked

  • What is the Hayward Area Chamber all about? [1:19]
  • What are some wins? [7:00]
  • What are challenges you face? [8:56]
  • What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [12:26]
  • How can you learn more about Hayward? [15:26]
Hayward chamber logo

Chris Ruckdaschel

Hayward Chamber of Commerce

With crystal clear lakes for water sports and fishing, a national park flowing through our city, and miles of trails for riding snowmobiles, ATVs, cross country skiing, hiking, and road or off-road bicycling, this area is buzzing with activity year-round. The Hayward, Wisconsin Area also has a unique selection of golf courses that will make a memory for any skill level golfer!

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