2020 has been a tremendously difficult year for everyone, but the Ponca City Chamber of Commerce has kept active in helping out local businesses and being a leader in these uncertain times.
Chamber plans for 2020 were radically altered, every other year the Chamber does a fundraiser, but this year was one without a fundraiser and instead was to be focused on maintaining and growing membership. The Chamber had started planning their membership campaign when the news of the state lockdown broke, so the Chamber did as well.
Despite the lockdown, the Chamber wanted to continue to make sure people were available to answer questions.
“We knew people would be calling, given the Chamber is an information center for Ponca City,” said Rich Cantillon, Chamber President. “Those were very successful, countless calls everyday.”
The Chamber then decided to reach out to members, dividing up the membership amongst themselves and then called every member to touch base and find what they were doing. The information was compiled and all was put onto the Chamber website.
“That was a great advantage for our members,” said Cantillon. “Because you could go and you could see what was open or who was doing take out.”
There was a desire to encourage people to shop local whether via online or takeout, and thus the Chamber came up with the idea of the receipt campaign. During the campaign, wherever anyone would shop, they could bring in receipts into the Chamber and then there would be drawings. The Chamber received thousands of receipts worth over $210,000. They had one $500 winner of Chamber bucks and five winners of $100 in Chamber bucks.
Facebook has been an important tool for the Chamber in its support of members. The Chamber would re-post anything members would post, and use Facebook Live to highlight two businesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, during which staff talk to owners about products, sales and anything else as another way to promote local businesses. Businesses are also highlighted in email blasts sent out to about 2,000 people, including a picture of the business, their address and phone number.
Ribbon cuttings were unable to be held due to safety concerns, so instead a business recognition day would be held. Two have been held so far and they consist of people going by the new business to leave their business cards, thank them for joining the Chamber and investing in Ponca City. At the end of the day, a winner is drawn from the people that came by and the winner is rewarded with $25 in Chamber bucks.
Meetings in the Chamber have changed to meet safety guidelines as well. Meetings are now held in the City Central Building since it allows for social distancing.
The year has not been without its cancellations. The Chamber has had to cancel the Business After Hours event as well as the Party at the Palace. In the place of the latter, the Chamber had a membership week, had free hot dogs and visited all partners to gave them popcorn. The Chamber additionally did not do any invoicing during the months of March and April since those were the height of the pandemic.
The Chamber staff have been working to keep safe during the pandemic, giving employees the chance to work from home if they felt uncomfortable. The Chamber also works to be an example to the community by wearing masks when out and encouraging people to stay home if they feel ill.
“I don’t want people to come to work if they don’t feel well. Number one it can spread and number two it is better to take care of yourself and get well,” said Cantillon.
Looking towards the future, Santa Bucks Giveaway will still take place beginning on the first Saturday in November, with a drawing on December 22. Santa Bucks has been an ongoing event for years in the community with last year over 1,200,000 tickets distributed for every $10 spent, totally over $12 million in promotions.
“This will be a good way to get us back to normal stuff,” said Cantillon.
Cantillon has learned from the experience of this year several important things. Flexibility in the face of things outside your control. The important of patience in a situation that won’t be cured overnight, as well as being patient with people. And the importance of being kind and not to take life for granted.
“Its been wild,” said Cantillon. “We need to continue to be diligent, continue to look for ways to help our local economy.”
The Chamber is also looking to hold a scavenger hunt during the month of October to bring people into the retail businesses and have something fun to get people fired up.
Despite the hardships of the past year, the Ponca City Chamber of Commerce is committed to helping local businesses and the community see this year through.