All posts by Cory Skeates


Increase Your Business Potential at the Chamber’s Hats Off Event

Looking to increase your business potential? Mark your calendars as The Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce presents the Hats Off! event, scheduled for January 26, 2010. Volunteering for Hats Off! offers you a unique opportunity to visit businesses as a Chamber representative while still promoting your company. In one afternoon, each volunteer will deliver up to 20 packets with 2010 Buyer’s Guides and new membership window clings to our 1,800 member businesses.

The day begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast provided by Florida Technical College and ends as volunteers return delivery receipts to the Chamber office.

How can you get involved?

1) Be a Volunteer

Volunteer to visit up to 30 chamber businesses on January 26 to deliver the 2009 membership materials

2) Be a Secret Hat Company

Create a decorative hat or basket incorporating 50 one dollar bills into the design to be presented to the volunteer who delivers membership materials to your company

Please make sure that everyone in your company knows to answer YES when asked, “Are you a Secret Hat Company?”

To secure your place as a volunteer for Hat’s Off, please click here to register using our online registration software. If your company is interested in more recognition as a “Secret Hat”, please contact Terry Ottinger at  or (863)688-8551 Ext. 231.


Retail aCCess – Creating Customer Communities

Lakeland retailers were at work well before their shops opened yesterday, meeting at Bramble Ridge Golf Course for the inagural event of the Lakeland Chamber’s Retail aCCess program.  After indulging in Chef Paulie‘s superb omelet bar, attendees were treated to an informative and inspiring presentation from Mary Kay National Sales Director, Bett Vernon.  

Bett’s 24 years as an entrepeneur provided her insights into creating customer communities and persevering.  She likened our current economic situation to a deep winter storm back home in South Dakota.  Even on the darkest of days, she knew that, early or late, the Spring would come.  She encouraged us to use exceptional customer service to set us apart from our competition and turn our customers into a salesforce.  Without undue optimism, Bett painted a hopeful picture for those willing to put their customers’ needs above their own.

My portion of the program was intended to show that the internet can be used to deepen personal interactions with customers instead of substituting for them.  I went over how companies can use blogs, twitter, facebook, and other social networking applications to enhance their customers’ experience.  I even snuck in a picture of Chef Paulie at the omelet bar!

Many thanks to Jennifer at the Verizon Wireless store at 4120 S. Florida Ave.  for providing us with internet access.

Staff Picks and Additional Reading:
Bett recommended subscribing to SUCCESS Magazine,
published by Darren Hardy.

Matthew recommends you read “Tribes” by Seth Godin.

Amy recommends “Word of Mouth Marketing” by Andy Sernovitz.


Marketing Mondays – Seth Godin on Email

Seth Godin, author of “Permission Marketing,” Small is the New Big,” and “Tribes,” is an expert at using the internet to deepen human connections.  In a recent post to his blog, Seth outlines several simple principles for creating more personal, meaningful interactions with the people we email.  Terry and I were discussing these principals and how there was a time (pre-email, pre-SMS) when this type of courtesy was common sense, but in the era of facebook and mass email, it’s good to be reminded on occasion.  While these guidelines may require additional time and forethought, your clients and co-workers will greatly appreciate the effort:

Here are some easy to follow tips that will help you avoid being seen as a spammer, or having your emails trashed or ignored. The thing is this: email reduces friction. Greedy, lazy organizations have embraced this and tried to figure out how to blast as many emails as they can as cheaply as they can, relying on the law of large numbers. The real law of large numbers is, “using large numbers is against the law.”

I want you to add friction back in. If you want to be seen as being personal, the best strategy is to be personal, which is slow and expensive.

  1. Don’t send the same email to large numbers of people.
  2. If you have more than a few people to contact, you’ll be tempted to copy and paste or mail merge. Don’t. You’ll get caught. It shows. If it’s important enough for someone to read, it’s important enough for you to rewrite.
  3. Careful with the salutation. Don’t write, “Dear Claudia,” if you don’t usually write “Dear” at the beginning of all your emails.
  4. Don’t mush the salutation together with the rest of the note. If I had a dollar for every email that started, “Joe, When experts come together…” That’s not personal. That’s lazy merging. See rule 1.
  5. Don’t send HTML or pictures. Personal email doesn’t, why are you?
  6. Don’t talk like a press release. Talk like a person. A person is reading this, so why are you talking like that?
  7. Be short. The purpose of an email is not to sell the person on anything other than writing back. If you don’t have a personal, interesting way to start a conversation, don’t write.
  8. Don’t send an email only when you really need something. That’s not personal, that’s selfish.
  9. Do you have a sig with a phone number in it? Your phone number? If you don’t trust me enough to give me your real phone number, I don’t trust you enough to read your mail.
  10. Don’t mark your email urgent. Urgent to you is not urgent to me.
  11. Don’t lie in your subject line, and don’t be cute. You’re not clever enough to be cute. Just be honest.
  12. Following up on an impersonal spam email is twice as dumb as sending the first one. Invest the time to do it right the first time.
  13. Anticipated, personal and relevant permission mail will always dramatically outperform greedy short-term spam. I promise.
  14. Just because you have someone’s email address doesn’t mean you have the right to email them.

Marketing Mondays is a weekly feature of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce’s blog, offering insights and guidance from some of today’s leading marketers, adapted to meet the needs of our member businesses.


December Small Business Award – Claussen’s Fine Furniture

Claussen’s Fine Furniture began when brothers Jim and Byron Claussen bought an existing furniture business, Haven Furniture, in Winter Haven, in 1975.  Jim had experience running a small business and Byron had the furniture knowledge, having been a furniture department manager for Montgomery Ward.  Byron stayed with Montgomery Ward that first year before joining his brother in management. As a result, Jim approached things from the customer’s point of view.  “I simply asked myself, what would I expect if I were the customer in this situation?”   That customer focused attitude formed the basis for the company’s success and steady growth.

That growth allowed Jim’s sons: Jim Jr., Mark, and Joe to join the business after graduating from college.  It also resulted in a second location in Lakeland, which opened in 1991.  At 45,000 square feet, it is almost three times the size of the Winter Haven location. 

“We like to boast that we’re the store with the most choices and the largest selection, even if there are some stores in the area with a little more square footage,”  explains Jim Jr.  “We encourage customers to special order the perfect fabric or piece for their room, unlike some of our chain store competitors.  Customers love that they can choose from over 1,000 fabrics or browse through manufacturer’s catalogs to find the perfect piece.” Personal service and customer satisfaction is a priority for the Claussen brothers.

Claussen’s Fine Furniture is a member of the National Home Furnishings Association, a retail affiliate of the Interior Design Society and Jim has served on the board of the Florida Furniture Dealers Association.   Claussen’s often facilitates donations and deliveries of customer’s old furniture to thrift stores and local charities.   The company supports various local charities and family members are involved in area service clubs and churches.

The Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce would like to congratulate Claussen’s Fine Furniture as the December Small Business of the Month award winner.

Claussen’s Fine Furniture

4715 South Florida Avenue

Lakeland, FL   33813-2126


863/648-1900 Fax


TweetUp – Jan 15th

Editor’s Note: Give a warm welcome to our guest writer and previous Business & Breafast Speaker, Chuck Welch:

Not too long ago, Lorrie Delk Walker and I spoke to the Chamber members about the importance of using social media tools to establish and build customer communication. I mentioned using Twitter. For those who missed the breakfast Twitter is a communication service that enables users to broadcast short 140-character messages to many followers, or directly to a trusted friend. You can view the communication at a particular URL, or add an application to your phone so you can communicate with select Tweeters.
Using Twitter is like “live blogging on steroids.” People use the service to ask questions, set up group meetings, find a restaurant in a unfamiliar city, ask fellow customers about your business, or simply carry on discussions.

I’ve been using Twitter from close to the beginning, but last year started using it heavily conjunction with my news site. Lakeland Local uses Twitter to broadcast short nuggets of information to all those who choose to follow. The title and link to each new post is immediately sent to all who follow on the channel: @lakelandlocal . That channel also broadcasts the titles and URLs for all The Arts in Lakeland posts.
(You did know about our companion Lakeland Arts site, didn’t you?

Breaking news, short important notes, and interesting trivia is broadcast @lakelandflorida. We use that channel to also display such information on our home page.

I have a personal Twitter account @chuckwelch, but I use it mainly to schmooze. It’s a good service because 140 characters is about my writing limit. (I wrote this post in 140 character bursts.)

I’m writing to invite all Chamber members to a meeting of people who use social media on a daily basis, and those interested in how to make it work for their company. Bloggers and Tweeters aren’t the only groups invited to the meeting. You’re still invited if you use, or wish to learn more about,any of the big social media services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, or Craigslist. To help reach interested readers, Lakeland Local has published to most of those sites.

If you blog, tweet, post on Facebook, use the Internet to communicate, or want to learn more — you’re invited Thursday, January 15th at 6pm for a meeting of like minds.

Black and Brew Coffee House

205 E. Main St.

Lakeland, FL 33801

(863) 682-1210

All ages and vocations welcome. Please pass it on.

Editor’s note: I am planning on being there, so I hope to see you on the 15th.