Chamber of commerce changes reflect collaborative approach with local partners

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Tabor greets board president Jon Brooks at the door of the Andy Andrews Visitor Center.

A pair of changes approved Oct. 10 by the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will promote the collaborative effort of the organization and its supporters. 

The board voted unanimously to change the term “members” to “partners,” to “reflect the reality of a two-way dynamic,” president Jon Brooks said in a statement regarding the decision. The chamber also announced the term “benefits” was being replaced by “rewards.”

The moves come four months after the arrival of Sharon Tabor, who was hired as executive director following the retirement of predecessor Bob McMurray. Tabor, who previously served in the same role for the Cave City Tourist & Convention Commission in Bowling Green, Kentucky, said the new terms better relay the focus of the chamber. 

“We are a dues-based organization and our goal is to promote business,” Tabor said. “We put a lot of emphasis on promoting financial supporters of our organization. To that end, those supporters should have input and say into the organizational efforts, beyond the board, which is comprised of business partners. We should be a sounding board, and the eyes and ears of the community.”

That previous language “connotes a more vertical communication format, (while) partnership reflected the more lateral form of communication we want to continue to encourage between staff, volunteers and supporters,” according to Brooks.

Since her arrival, Tabor has met with many local merchants; she describes the dialogue as "positive and creative." 

"The goal has been to introduce myself as the new chamber director, and encourage them to share their ideas and thoughts," she said. "It's important, going forward, that we listen to the feedback we receive from our partners."

Updating the terms is about more than the words themselves, Tabor added. 

"Going from 'member' to 'partner' changes the dynamic of the communication between the two parties," she said, adding that chamber partners want to be heard.

"They want input into the things that impact them, like Holly Jolly and Sourwood," Tabor said. "When we're planning events that are intended to bring business to the merchants, we need to make sure we're considering their opinions."

The perspective local business owners bring to the conversations provides valuable information to the chamber. 

"They have a different handle on things then we do here at the chamber," she said. "Merchants hear from people, visitors and residents, about what they want to see in the community. We hear some things too, but by combining that feedback we can come up with ideas. We can't make a lot of changes at one time, but we can work to implement positive changes over time."

Changing the term "benefits" to "rewards" is intended to further reflect the shift in the culture for the chamber and its partners. 

"Benefits are something you have to earn," Tabor said. "Rewards are different, they're an immediate return. Rather than making people feel like they have to work to receive the advantages of being a partner of the chamber, this will allow them to see immediate results."

The chamber will host a meeting at the Black Mountain Library at 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 7, to solicit additional feedback from the community. 

"Each meeting we take one topic and discuss it," Tabor said. "The November meeting will be about solidifying plans for Holly Jolly and will last an hour."

Tabor described the meetings as an informal public forum. 

"Anybody can come," she said. "It's not exclusive, it's inclusive. We want people to get involved in whatever way they can."

The chamber will continue to promote an open dialogue with its 300-plus partners and non-partners, according to the director. 

"It's always prudent to stop, listen and reevaluate," Tabor said. "That lets us know if we need to make any changes, and also helps us identify the things that are working."