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Chamber looks to past and future

 After swearing in the new board of the Neepawa and District Chamber of Commerce, Neepawa mayor Adrian De Groot (right) shakes hands with newly elected board members (from left) Marvin Beaumont, Scott Dyke, Marilyn Crewe and Cindy Hockin. Other board members include Troy Mutch, Clinton Davie, Leanne Crammond, Sheri Grant, Trish Phinney, Ryan McLaughlin, Mitch Hutton and Ed Kondracki.

 Thanks to some successful events last year, the Neepawa and District Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting, held last week, was cause for optimism.  Held over the lunch hour last Thursday, about 23 people attended the meeting to hear about the organization’s activities in 2014 as well as plans for the upcoming year.
Chamber president Troy Mutch explained that the goal of the chamber is to further the interests of local businesses, which includes advocating for businesses as well as creating more activities within the town that will be of benefit. He noted that events such as the Neepawa Fair, Canada Day celebrations, winter parade and pub night all created traffic through the town, hopefully leading to increased sales for area businesses.
Mutch stressed the importance of volunteers in his report, noting that their volunteer base has become depleted. He noted that they need to get more service groups involved, saying, “Many hands make light work.” He added that they are hoping to host some social and networking events in the new year as well as talking to business owners about their needs.
Mutch also provided an update about this year’s Neepawa Fair May 29 to 31.  He said that Saturn Shows will be returning with midway rides and based on last year’s success, are planning on bringing more attractions. The fair will be at a different location and Mutch said they are looking at the Fairgrounds. They are hoping to add some new events, such as a ball tournament.
One award was given out at this year’s AGM, the volunteer of the year award. This year’s recipient was all of the Neepawa and Area Lily Festival volunteers.
In presenting the award, Mutch said, “This is going to all of the Lily Festival volunteers, for the history of the festival.”
Former Lily Festival presidents Brent Hunter and Ken Waddell accepted the award.
Treasurer Marvin Beaumont presented his report, showing a small profit of $420.18 for the year.  This is the first time since 2008 that the organization has posted a profit. The Pub Night proved to be a profitable event, as was last year’s AGM.
Board member Sheri Grant provided an update about the planned new summer event to replace the Lily Festival. The new festival will be called The Land of Plenty Celebration and Grant noted that they were going back to the cornucopia theme, long associated with the town. The event will be taking place July 24-26, on what would have been the Lily Festival weekend.
Grant said that they have a group of 10 organizers and they have brainstormed a number of activities that could be held as part of the festival. She noted that they have earmarked 20 activities they can organize and are looking for individuals or groups to take on other events.
Planned activities include some pork themed activities, a parade, children’s sand pile, a social, a drive in movie as well as a number of physical activities aimed at all different age groups. Grant also said that they are hoping to have some special business events, such as midnight madness or a competition that would require participants to attend different businesses. She noted that a fiddling contest and old time dance, long-time Lily Festival events, could take place as part of the celebration, but haven’t been targeted as events they will organize.  “They aren’t something we can do,” she said. She added that if anyone is interested in hosting an event that weekend, to contact the chamber. “We are certainly interested in facilitating… There’s an opportunity for everybody to get involved,” she said.
Grant said that they have applied to the Town of Neepawa for a $10,000 grant to host the festival.
The AGM closed with a presentation by Neepawa economic development officer Marilyn Crewe about the lessons to be learned from Target’s failed expansion into Canada. The first lesson was that Target entered the market in a big way, with 133 stores.  They didn’t start small or test their concept in the Canadian market. The second lesson was that Target offered poor customer service.  Canadian customers were familiar with American Target stores and were disappointed when the products and pricing didn’t match what they were expecting. The store didn’t find out what their customers wanted. The third lesson is that Target didn’t have a web presence.  While they didn’t need to offer online shopping, Canadian consumers like to be able to look online at product lines and pricing. The fourth lesson is that they weren’t able to supply what they said they would.  Target’s customers frequently found empty shelves as the retailer was plagued by problems with their logistics and computer systems. The fifth problem was location. Target bought former Zellers stores, without thoroughly investigating their locations.  Many were in older malls, without a good customer base, and this wasn’t taken into consideration in marketing the stores to customers. The final lesson was not to underestimate the competition. The competition within the Canadian retail sector is fierce and proved to be much tougher than Target was expecting. Businesses need to be aware of their business environment.
Crewe went on to explain the actions that business owners can take out of these lessons: the need to create value though honesty and integrity, the need to provide excellent customer service and the importance of collaboration. Smaller businesses are at an advance when it comes to taking advantage of these lessons– they know their customers are well positioned to create a trusted relationship with customers, they are more flexible and better able to meet unique customer needs and find it easier to partner with complimentary businesses in mutually beneficial ways.