BusinessPrep Small Business Workshop Announced

The Chamber will present a short, but information-packed small business workshop on May 14. With the fluctuating economy, it may be time for may of us to take a look back at our marketing plans, and tweak where necessary. During the 1 1/2 hour session, you can expect to learn tips and tools for finding your niche in today’s market as well as a process for developing your very own marketing plan when you leave!

Because your time is so valuable, the workshop will begin promptly at 7:30 a.m. Doors will open at 7 a.m. for networking and breakfast.

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BusinessPrep | Strategies for Prosperity

Developing Your Marketing Plan

May 14 | 7:30-9:00 a.m.

Hosted by Webster University

101 West Main Street, Suite 150 | City Center

$15, Chamber members only (includes breakfast)

Seating is limited… pre-register by visiting the Chamber Store! Walk-ups cannot be accommodated!


Pink Slip Party! What’s That?

Pre-register by clicking here.

Economy got you down? Out of Work? Tired of searching? Need to Network?

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On May 19, join fellow job seekers at the Chamber’s Pink Slip Party! We’ll have food, drink specials, and the opportunity to commiserate with others as well as learn a little bit more about the resources and opportunities that are available in the Lakeland area. You’re encouraged to bring some resumes with you, but please don’t expect this to be a job fair! Each attendee will be given a colored arm band to indicate status… Pink for job seekers, green for recruiters and employers, blue for educators, and yellow for folks who just love coming out for a good time.

PINK SLIP PARTY | Mingle and Network

with professionals, educators, recruiters & people looking to hire.

Hosted by Natalie’s Sports Bar & Grill

3120 South Florida Avenue

May 19 | 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Job Seekers and Networkers: $5 admission
Recruiters, Educators and Employers: $30 admission includes 2 drink tickets
Complimentary appetizers & drink specials

Pre-register by clicking here.  Cash & check only at the door. For more information, contact Amy at 863/688-8551 Ext. 229.

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Marketing Mondays | What You Can Learn From Zappos

I’ve made one purchase from Zappos.com.  No local stores had the shoes that I needed (and needed fast) and Zappos came to the rescue.  While I’ll always tell people to Buy Lakeland First, I don’t mind saying it was a phenomenal shopping experience.   They are an internet success story, but the principals Soren Gordhamer took away from a visit with CEO Tony Hsieh and the Zappos staff apply at the brick-and-mortar level just as well:

1. Your relationships are your brand

The first lesson was on how much they emphasize quality interactions, whether it is engaging with someone on their blog, Twitter, or a vendor. In fact, from their perspective, every interaction impacts how people view their company.

Tony put it this way, “Brand building today is so different than what it was 50 years ago. 50 years ago you could get a few marketing people in a small room and decide, ‘this is what our brand will be’, and then spend a lot of money on TV advertising — and that was your brand. If you as a consumer only had your neighbors to talk to, you had to believe what the TV was telling you. Today anyone, whether it is an employee or a customer, if they have a good or bad experience with your company they can blog about it or Twitter about it and it can be seen by millions of people. It’s what they say now that is your brand.”

Business people in Lakeland tend to know that already.  I don’t care nearly as much about your price as I do who you are and whether or not I know I can trust you to take care of me.  Physical and digital word-of-mouth will speak volumes of your relationships or lack thereof.

2. Deliver a positive experience

It is of course nice to buy from a company that offers free shipping and a gracious 365-day return policy. These reflect the confidence Zappos has both in their products, but also its trust in people to not take advantage of such a system. A wide selection also helps — their state-of-the-art warehouse in Kentucky has over 1.5 million shoes, and is designed to get shipments to customers as fast as possible.

However, in our time there, we learned that delivering a positive experience extends beyond selection and return policies. We talked to one call rep who spent two-and-a-half hours on the phone with a caller; another spent five hours, both trying to address the caller’s needs. When asked if they got in trouble for spending so much time on the phone with one person, they laughed. They emphasized that their goal is to connect with people who call and to meet their needs. This means that if someone calls for an item that Zappos does not carry, the customer service rep is encouraged to help the person find somewhere online that does carry it. Zappos may not make any money of the sale, but the person goes away with a positive experience.

Do you go out of your way for your customers?  Would you send them to your competitor if, for their specific need, he offered a product that suited them better?  Do you consider customer service a chore or an opportunity to wow a customer?

3. Embrace transparency

…It’s gonna happen whether you like it or not!

This was one of our favorite points Tony made in our interview. Of course, transparency can take place in many ways. What impressed us in our time at Zappos was how transparent staff were in our discussions. In fact, this openness is a key element at Zappos. Jo Casey, the Help Desk Coordinator emphasized the importance of the freedom to be themselves, saying, “Anyone can do what we do, but nobody can be who we are.”

And let’s face it: when given a chance, you are more apt to work with someone that you know versus a complete stranger. However, people can only get to know us if we let them, if we are transparent, if we bring “who we are” into our work. Tony said in our interview, “I think people worry too much about bringing their personal selves into business, when I think the way to succeed in today’s world is to make your business more personal. Twitter is also a great way of doing that.”

In fact, following Tony’s and other Zappos’ staff tweets, we have noticed that most of them are not about trying to get you to visit Zappos’ website, but focus instead on giving people a chance to get to know them better. And when people know more about you, they feel closer to you, and they have a better sense if they want to do business with you.

If the CEO of one of the largest apparel companies in the world can take the time to answer a customer’s question or tell customers what gets him out of bed in the morning, you can too!

None of these are new concepts, but a good reminder never hurts.  Getting back to the basics of doing business is more important now than ever.


Chamber Crowns 7th Annual King of the Wing

The deck at Citizens Bank & Trust was the perfect venue for Thursday evening’s festivities!  Bank staff were on hand and created a welcoming and fun atmosphere for everyone to enjoy- especially as the beverage dispensers!

Nearly 600 Chamber members and guests sampled wings, ice cream and more as they waited for the announcement of the judges’ careful decision. As they went, attendees were able to sample food & treats from: Beef O’Brady’s, BubbaQue’s BBQ, Dragon Ice Cream, The End Zone, Gator’s Dockside, Kazbor’s, Kerr’s Winghouse, Mojo’s Winghouse, Rita’s Water Ice, & Zohra’s Lakeside Restaurant.

In addition to the food folks, the luau had wonderful support from sponsors! Bernie Little Distributors, Fun Bike Center Motorsports, Focus Magazine all provided support. Party People Celebration Co. dressed the tables, added balloons & created the “luau feel”. Southside Package & Lounge, Signs & Specialties & Image Creations By Billie all provided the last little extras to bring the event together.

After much deliberation (and a little math), the judges were happy to announce BubbaQue’s BBQ as the 2009 King of the Wing… Congratulations!

This event would not be such fun without the work from sponsors, vendors, and volunteers… Thanks so much for making our 10th Anniversary a great one! For more pictures of the 10th Annual Luau Downtown, visit the Chamber’s Flickr page!


Chairman’s Update: CSX

Due to the recent media attention surrounding the Central Florida Commuter Rail Legislation being debated in Tallahassee, I’d like to take this opportunity to reaffirm the Chamber’s position to our members, our friends, and the citizens of our community on the various issues of CSX, freight traffic in our downtown corridor, as well as commuter rail.

Our work on the CSX issue began back in 2006. As many of you know, the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC), in partnership with the City of Lakeland, the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, and other community stakeholders, extensively studied the impact of the proposed CSX ILC project in Winter Haven. A Lakeland CSX Task Force was formed at that time to address the issue of increased freight traffic through Lakeland as a result of this project. The group met with CSX, the Florida Department of Transportation(FDOT), the Department of Community Affairs and local and state elected officials to learn how best to protect Lakeland from the negative effects of additional freight moving through our city.

The Chamber’s position was concisely presented in a Resolution adopted by our Board of Directors in February 2008, and states:

“The Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce recommends that the FDOT fund and conduct a complete and meaningful feasibility study to identify the most efficient and cost effective alternatives for development of a statewide commuter and intercity rail plan, including specific steps, projects, timelines and required funding for implementation.

Furthermore, the LACC recommends that the FDOT undertake a comprehensive statewide analysis of freight rail corridors to identify alternatives for the “Super Freight Rail Highway” specifically for the routing of freight traffic away from existing urban areas and their respective future growth boundaries to minimize conflicts between freight rail, vehicle, truck and pedestrian crossing movements and related urban development.”

Our position has not changed and we maintain our resolve as summarized above.

It became clear to those of us studying the issue in detail that any successful rail strategy would, by definition, need to be regional in its scope and perspective due to the inherent complexity and scale of rail projects themselves. Lakeland officials began meeting in 2008 with business representatives from Orlando and Tampa through a group termed the Super Regional Strategy Team. It was immediately clear to us that the communities to our east in the Orlando area, as well as the communities to our west in the Tampa Bay area, had coalesced separately and formulated effective, regional rail strategies for the benefit of their regions. All the while, the Central Florida region had not yet even begun to think regionally on this topic. It quickly became apparent that unless we, the Central Florida region, worked together in a collaborative manner to develop a regional and statewide transportation plan, no one area would be successful in its short or long-term transportation goals.

Understanding this gaping need, we took action. As a result of efforts on the part of many, including the LACC, stakeholders representing the Lakeland, Polk County, Tampa and Orlando areas agreed to support both the Central Florida SunRail Commuter Rail project, as well as the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) transportation plan. Likewise the leaders from both the SunRail and TBARTA organizations agreed to support legislation that would relocate freight rail traffic around Lakeland and other impacted urban areas in the Central Florida regions.

The Chamber’s lobbying efforts this legislative session have focused on the inclusion of the “Lakeland Language” in Senate Bill 1212 and House Bill 7009. In a letter sent to members of the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee on Monday, April 20, I, as Chairman of the LACC, urged the Committee to support the proposed language and amendments that have been advanced by Lakeland that:

  • Require FDOT’s assistance to work closely with affected communities to identify and address impacts with increased freight traffic;
  • Finalize the FDOT District 1 Rail Traffic Evaluation Study and require the FDOT to commence a Project Development and Environmental (PD&E) Study so that a preferred re-routing alternative can be identified that minimizes the impact of freight rail traffic in the urban corridor;
  • Requires the preferred alternative, with a priority ranking from the Polk Transportation Planning Organization, or its successor, to be programmed for funding in the department’s work program in a fiscal year no later that 10 years from commencement of construction of the CSX Winter Haven ILC; and
  • Adequately addresses the LACC’s stated desire for continued focus on regional connectivity of passenger and freight systems in the Central Florida region.

It is important for Chamber members to know that the LACC has not wavered in our view that the ultimate goal is to move the freight rail out of our downtown corridor and to mitigate the negative impacts of the CSX ILC to our community. We must continue to support the development of a regional commuter rail system and we will continue to partner with our Central Florida friends and stakeholders to build a shared regional growth plan.

The LACC will continue to keep members updated on this important issue as it moves through Session. House Bill 7009 and Senate Bill 1212 have been placed on their respective Chamber’s calendars and are waiting to be heard on the floor.

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