Thursday, December 12, 2019

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Health care. These two words are on the mind of every adult in this country. Outside of watching the news and thinking about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects you and your family, how much thought have you really given to the concept?

“Reaching across the aisle” – that’s one of my favorite phrases and something I feel we need not only to say but also to do more of, not just here in the Lake Gaston region, but around the country. We need to do a better job of understanding that success leads to success, that when one business or organization succeeds, it sets the bar for more successes in other businesses and organizations. As I have stated previously, we all need to work together and show support for businesses, non-profits, churches, schools, artists, and so forth here in the Lake Gaston region. The concept of Shop Lake Gaston 1st applies not only to literal shopping for goods and services but also to showing support for our region. We will be all the better because of it. Being supportive of the region does not mean that we turn a blind eye to issues that need to be addressed in order to make us more successful. However, while working to overcome challenges, we also put our best foot forward and promote the very best aspects of our area. In so doing, we are naturally more positive about the region and about each other; thus, we can do a better job of reaching across the aisle to work together to affect positive change. The Lake Gaston region is a wealthy region. I don’t mean that in terms of dollars and cents. Just take a moment to look around the Lake Gaston region at the wealth that really counts – creative people, abundant natural resources, proximity to interstate, location between Richmond and Raleigh, unique tourism attractions, entrepreneurial spirit and Southern hospitality, historic downtowns, agriculture, open space and so on and so on. There is so much that is in place for our businesses, our organizations, our schools, and our people to achieve success. We need more reaching across the aisle to see what other folks are doing that we might be able to tap into as resources for our region to make us even better. Do your employees not show the level of customer service that you would like to see? Take a look at businesses around the Lake Gaston region that are having success in this area. Talk to the owner or manager to see what steps they have taken to improve their customer service. Need more formal training? Our region has access to three top-notch community colleges – Halifax Community College, Southside Virginia Community College, and Vance-Granville Community College – all of which have continuing education and small business classes that may have just what you need. Some of the best volunteers in our area schools and non-profit organizations come from our regional businesses. Businesses, consider adopting a school or a non-profit and volunteer employee time, help raise funds, work on a project or serve on the board. Non-profits, reach out to the business community not only when you need to raise funds but also year-round when you are setting goals and seeking new ideas. In this way, businesses will be invested in your success year-round and won’t think you only reach out to them for funding. Schools, the best way for you to find out what businesses see as being lacking in our local workforce is to talk to them. Consider creating a business advisory board, especially to help in guiding your students who do not plan to attend college but who plan to seek work immediately after graduation. I love the collaborations that are going on with some of our regional school systems and our community colleges through Early College; whereby, some of our students will graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. They will have a leg up in pursuing a bachelor’s degree, going into the military or seeking work. Health care organizations, seek business partners to implement grassroots wellness programs and to encourage healthy behaviors at their places of businesses with both employees and customers. By partnering and maximizing resources, we can accomplish so much more. I know I’ve thrown out a few perhaps old-fashioned sayings in this Chamber Talk, but I truly believe in them. Remember the old meaning for the T.E.A.M. acronym – “Together Everyone Achieves More.” Well, that’s another one that is absolutely true and speaks to the reaching across the aisle concept. Try to reach out around the region to find some partners. It will be a very rare thing indeed for you to reach out and not find another hand reaching back. Reach out to us at the Lake Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce. I guarantee that we are ready to help this region any way that we can, including helping partners find each other and working with them to achieve success!

For this week’s Chamber Talk, I have been talking with one of my all-time favorite people and newest Chamber board member Nina Angle of Anglewood Kitchens & Design. Nina and I have been pondering the questions “What is the Chamber?” and “How does the Chamber benefit a business owner?”

Time seems to be on a fast track here at Lake Gaston. Despite the heaping helpings of winter weather Mother Nature has seen fit to serve us, March 1 arrives on Saturday! Lake Gaston regional businesses and residents alike are eager for Spring with the beautiful weather, time outdoors, second home owners, vacationers and visitors that Spring and Summer will soon herald in for us.

I had an interesting conversation with one of our local businesses the other day. We have previously addressed this issue in brief in Chamber Talk, but my conversation with that business person, made me want to present it more in depth. The topic of our conversation was customer loyalty.

We all know that in this age of e-commerce that we are able to cast our net far and wide to seek the best price or a unique brand of a particular item. However, we also know that although convenient, shopping online loses any personal interaction with the business. If, for instance, I am shopping for an appliance or a piece of furniture, would I rather shop online, gazing at photo after photo of products, or would I rather go to my local merchant, actually touch the product and listen to the store staff tell me more about the product’s features?

I truly feel that we have good customer service here in the Lake Gaston region, and good customer service is one of the most important facets of the customer buying experience for both goods and services. You may argue that shopping online is quick and offers more choices. That can be true, but it can also be tedious, depending upon the site from which you order, and disappointing in product quality.

For example, three Christmases ago, I wanted to order a radio/CD player for the shower because my then pre-teenager loved listening to music while she stayed in there for what seemed like hours. I honestly couldn’t find this product in stores locally, so I decided to order from Amazon because, of course, they would have what I needed. I selected a mid-price product with the features I wanted. It arrived quickly and was packaged nicely. However, it stopped working soon after my daughter received it.

Products fail all the time whether ordered online or not; however, if I had taken the time to further explore and find this product with a local merchant, perhaps they would have known more and could have shared with me the product’s performance. There was no place to return the product, so it still resides in the cabinet under the bathroom sink in the hopes that I will one day fix it.

What else doesn’t happen when we order online? Our dollars do not turn over in the region the way they do when we shop locally. I have mentioned previously that research shows that shopping locally keeps approximately .55 of every $1 in the area. The fact alone should make us want to keep our dollars in the Lake Gaston region, but the other facets of customer loyalty and shopping locally are having relationships with our local merchants (kind of like Andy Griffith and Floyd the barber back in the good ol’ days) and keeping our businesses healthy.

If I walk into any store or contact any local business for a service, they will do their best to meet my needs and exceed my expectations because this is their livelihood. I like consistency and reliability and being able to count on the experience I am going to get. I like knowing the merchant by name and having more of a personal interaction. Choosing to spend money is a personal experience. Spend it wisely with our local shops, restaurants, and service-providers. Healthy businesses are able to hire more and better staff to enhance our customer service experience, and they are able to stock a better selection of products.

Shop the Lake Gaston region first. It is a win-win in the region for everyone – businesses, customers, local government, non-profits, churches and more! Keep your ears open. Our next Shop Lake Gaston 1st contest will begin on Memorial Day weekend and run through Labor Day weekend.

By the way, I want to say a hearty congratulations to our ACE Hardware family – Paul, Bill and Terryn Owens – as they soon open their new ACE Hardware location in Rolesville, NC. If you’re headed over that way, be sure to stop by because you know the level of customer service you will be able to expect. Lake Gaston is proud of you!

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