DERRY — The Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce hit 400 members in recent weeks, and the women at the center of it say that’s largely thanks to a shift in how the chamber did things two years ago.
President Ashley Haseltine and Vice President Heidi Morrison first met in 2016 working similar jobs in sales and marketing for local assisted living facilities. Today, they’re the powerhouse team rolling out the red ribbon, giant scissors and goodie bags for all their new member businesses, marking major milestones like grand openings, first-year anniversaries and expansions.
Haseltine said they never miss an opportunity to recognize a member business and that they have done more to court new members by expanding the value of memberships, spreading the word about benefits, and being increasingly active on social media.
Haseltine started in November 2017 and hired Morrison in February 2018. One is rarely seen without the other during a chamber-hosted event. Morrison started as membership director and was promoted to vice president in July, which Haseltine said was to make her title reflect what she was already doing.
When Haseltine first interviewed for the job, she said the board didn’t know how many members there were. One of the first things she did was create an accurate list, which totaled 267, a number Haseltine still knows by heart. Today, they have 400 members and counting.
Haseltine estimates they’re the fourth-largest chamber in the area, close behind the chamber representing greater Salem, which she said has close to 500 members. Greater Manchester and greater Nashua have the largest membership rolls, Haseltine said.
“One of the first things that we did was meet with longterm members to find out what worked well and what didn’t work well,” Haseltine said.
She also met with former members. The feedback from former members told her that small businesses particularly felt they didn’t have a voice, enough business opportunities or much return on their investment.
“Within the first six months or so, we started sunsetting things that weren’t working,” Haseltine said.
The chamber aggressively ramped up its social media presence, posting regularly, sharing information about member businesses, sharing things of interest to both business-to-business firms and consumer-focused companies, and systematically inviting everyone who interacted with the page to follow it.
The Facebook following grew from about 850 to 5,700.
“We’re the most followed chamber of commerce in New Hampshire, last time we checked,” Haseltine said.
The chamber also started using an underused feature of the chamber website that offers each member an enhanced directory, which creates a detailed web presence for the company that the chamber says often pops up on the first page of a Google search. Haseltine said she and Morrison are well versed in search engine optimization and Facebook’s algorithms, so they know how to give members’ businesses more web exposure, which is increasingly valuable in today’s digital marketplace.
Morrison said they also did more to provide a tangible dollar value to joining, by assembling a welcome package for new members that now contains up to $1,300 of donated gift cards and services from existing members, such as a free month of social media management from Owens Media Group (OMG), a professional headshot from a local photographer, an oil change from a dealership, and dining certificates from T-Bones Great American Eatery.
Morrison also includes a lot of literature about what kinds of products and services other members offer.
“I call it their homework,” Morrison said.
And when the chamber itself needs something done, its leaders make it a point to use only members wherever possible, Haseltine said.
They set a goal to add about 60 businesses a year, and hold a retention rate of about 80%.
Over the past year or two, she estimates the chamber had a retention rate of 85 to 90%.
In 2018, the chamber successfully courted 95 businesses, and is on track to exceed that in 2019.
Some of their new members include Norwegian-based AutoStore, which set up its U.S. headquarters in Derry last year, Prime Source Foods, a food distributor building a warehouse and processing plant in Londonderry, and NorthPoint Outdoors, a landscaping business in Derry that is also building a new facility.
Cask & Vine and Doire Distilling, both small Derry companies co-owned by Andy Day and Alana Wentworth, are also recent additions, which, despite their small size, Haseltine proudly counts among the chamber’s big coups.
Located a short walk down the road from the chamber’s offices at the Derry Opera House building, Day said he and Wentworth used to be chamber members some eight or nine years ago when they ran the Drinkery in the old Tupelo Music Hall location in Londonderry, but they canceled their membership after failing to see a lot of benefit.
As of July, Day and Wentworth rejoined the chamber.
“They’ve made a tremendous effort to be physically out in the business community as well as using social media and the channels that people have chosen to actually get their information,” Day said. “They’re getting behind all the things that need to happen in order to be an effective chamber.”
Haseltine said the chamber hosts multiple events on a regular basis, including forums focusing on infrastructure projects, economic development and government relations.
And they host seven to eight networking opportunities a month.
She estimates the frequency was closer to three to five a couple years ago.
Morrison said the chamber is offering a lot of services — such as the enhanced directory, or certifying the New Hampshire origin of products being shipped internationally — at no additional cost, when other chambers charge extra.
Nonmembers pay $100 per stamp for that certification, but members can get unlimited stamps.
The membership fee is $199 per year for nonprofits, and between $250 to $850 for for-profit businesses, based on their employment numbers.
Chamber members hail from Atkinson, Auburn, Chester, Derry, Hampstead, Londonderry, Sandown and Windham.