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Mount Snow Valley Chamber seeks to move forward

DOVER—The Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce board recently presented its new plans and initiatives for the organization to a packed house.

Interim Executive Director Adam Grinold told the membership that the chamber board has asked him to develop a plan to smooth the transition from his three-month tenure to when the board hires a permanent leader.

Grinold said that he based portions of the presentation on former Executive Director Philip Gilpin’s initiatives.

Gilpin presented a number of initiatives at a chamber meeting Dec. 16. The initiatives included using social media websites like LivingSocial to attract more visitors and changing how the chamber participated in events like the Vermont Life Wine and Harvest festival.

His presentation met with mixed reviews, and Gilpin resigned Dec. 22 after less than three months on the job.

Grinold said he wanted to address the 900-pound gorilla in the room. He told the membership that he agreed with many of Gilpin’s ideas and the possible trajectory of the chamber’s future. Grinold said he wanted to see some of the ideas vetted by the membership.

Grinold added that he has a good working relationship with Gilpin and hoped that Gilpin would eventually partner with the chamber on projects.

But in the short term, “he has resigned, and we have to move forward,” said Grinold.

A common brand

Grinold opened his presentation saying Tropical Storm Irene’s destruction removed the long-held boundaries around Wilmington and Dover.

“People came to Wilmington like it was their own destruction, and we need to unite around all the trouble,” Grinold said.

Staying united will allow the region to move farther faster, he said.

During his presentation, Grinold discussed the valley’s need for a common brand, an active marketing committee, and solidifying the region as a four-season resort area.

The valley has all the raw ingredients for summer recreation, said Grinold, “but we’ve lost our mojo on how to sell it.”

“People are coming to Vermont in the summer — they’re just not coming here,” he said.

According to Grinold, the valley needs a common brand before it can attract the 60 million people who live within driving distance to southern Vermont.

Irene has given the valley unprecedented access to the national media, said Grinold. One priority is to change the perception or the presumption that Irene has left Wilmington a waterlogged wasteland, he said.

Grinold informed the membership that the chamber is developing an arrangement with a travel partner. The talks are ongoing, he said, but it will be either LivingSocial, Deal Current, zozi, Daily Referral, Groupon, Travelzoo, Luxury Link, Facebook, or Google.

The Chamber Cards, a discount initiative started by Gilpin, have arrived at the office, said Grinold.

“I’m most excited about the Chamber Card,” he said, explaining that the cards can enable businesses to increase their revenue in creative ways.

According to Grinold, the cards will sell for $100 and offer holders access to special discounts. In addition to standing offers like 10 percent off merchandise, businesses can use the card in special promotions.

Grinold, who also owns Wahoo’s Eatery, offered this example: Rainy days eat into the outdoor stand’s profits. He said he would use the card to offer spot discounts by sending out an email blast in the morning offering a free shake with any hamburger.

The cards can also help drive cash flow, he said. If someone who owns a lawn mowing company requires extra cash in March, the owner can offer card holders a discount for the summer if they prepay for those services in March.

Grinold said the cards would require a critical mass of participating businesses for the idea to take root.

Turning to the contentious topic of valley-wide events like the Blueberry Festival, Grinold said the chamber is conducting a comprehensive review of the events and the resources they consume.

He said that he hopes to create a “tier support” structure, where events receive chamber staff resources in proportion to their benefit to the valley. Some events would receive a web presence only, while others might merit staff time if they provide the chamber (and its membership) with profit.

Events can’t be a drain on the chamber, said Grinold.

Website woes

The chamber office will also rehab its website in the upcoming weeks, Grinold told the membership.

According to Grinold, former director Gilpin revamped the site last autumn to mixed reviews.

“The old site [was] a little dated, a little tired to be sure,” he said. “The new site is a great-looking site, with a crisp, clean, modern approach.”

He described the new site as easier to navigate, but said that it has underlying issues behind the scenes. He also described the new site as lacking content, and he said that it is not picked up as easily by search engines as the previous version was.

As a result, said Grinold, the website’s daily visitors have dropped about 18 percent in 2011 from the previous year. Page views have dropped about 90 percent in the same period, he said.

To fix the site’s issues, the board voted to hire a website design company. They anticipate rehabbing the website to take about three weeks.

Grinold said that, in the coming weeks, the chamber will continue taking membership feedback and communicate any findings.

“I want to energize everyone in this room,” he said.

During public comment, members spoke about the challenges facing local businesses like the lack of customers staying at the local inns.

Randy Capitani, publisher of the Deerfield Valley News and a chamber member, said the valley is at a “critical point.”

“We need to remember we can’t fracture ourselves over the former executive director,” Capitani said. “We all have to work together.”

Architect Joseph Cincotta felt encouraged by people expressing unity. But, he said, the valley historically works together until people disagree.

“We don’t really have time [economically], and I would like to see a concerted effort to work together as one,” said Cincotta.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #136 (Wednesday, January 25, 2012).

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