What have you done for me lately?

Janet

Janet

In 1986, Janet Jackson broke through on the Pop and R&B Charts with a little ditty, “What have you done for me lately?” and that refrain has become ingrained in our popular culture today. We’ve all heard it – perhaps some customer or client feels your performance doesn’t measure up today no matter what you might have done yesterday.  An employee is dissatisfied or feels unappreciated no matter what you might have done for them recently. Maybe it’s a family member who thinks you’re unreasonable despite the sacrifices you might have made on their behalf in the past.  As a Chamber of Commerce representing 1,100 members, you are going to hear that line occasionally. It’s the reason we work so hard to make our membership aware of the programming and opportunities available to them.

Last month, I was surprised when I attended a BusinessWorks program and at the conclusion, the co-chairmen announced they had come to the part of the program that was entitled, “What has my Chamber done for me lately?” It was led by Joe Carbon, who himself, was recently diagnosed with cancer. You might recall last month I wrote about Joe as the unidentified Chamber Member who compared this organization to a family. Joe talked about the outpouring of support in his battle to lick the “Big C”. There were few dry eyes in the room as we recognized how much he loved the folks in the room and how much they returned that feeling. Another member, Kevin Cole, spoke about how he saw first hand the seven touches of the Chamber. Nearly every client he had could be traced back to our Chamber. Members around the room talked about how the relationships they made in the Chamber paid off for their business and I left there feeling great!

Charlene and Zion at Big Day at the Lake 5

Charlene and Zion at Big Day at the Lake 5

But none of that could compare to the conclusion of my week. That Saturday, I joined several hundred volunteers and boat hosts in hosting kids at Big Day at the Lake 5. I was the guest of Huntersville Commissioner Brian Sisson and his family as we entertained Charlene Whitaker (Big) and Zion Black (Little) on Brian’s boat and Jet Ski. At first timid, Zion really opened up and you just about had to pry her off the Jet Ski. All of the kids and their Big Brother / Big Sisters were then treated, along with the hosts, to lunch at the Energy Explorium. I had to leave early to attend Bob & Louise Cashion’s 5oth Wedding Anniversary. There, as I moved from table to table, person to person, I was enthralled with stories about how Bob & Louise had impacted our community over their lifetime together. I wasn’t surprised at the stories. I’ve heard them many times before and witnessed their community leadership firsthand. Their generosity is renown throughout the lake region. The Cashion’s have spent a lifetime of sharing their success. They have used the gifts God has provided and left their community a much better place than they found it. They are truly a community treasure.

Bob & Louise Cashion

Bob & Louise Cashion

When I laid my head down on my pillow that night after a long but wonderful day, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I am to work and live in the Lake Norman region. It was a day when kids, most from single parent families, walked on sunshine. Their laughter and splashes heard from the Energy Explorium to Cashion’s Cove. Where the love, charity, and compassion ran as deep as the lake itself.  And I witnessed a community return thanks to two very inspirational and special people.  It was a very good day.  It was my big day at the lake.

Lessons at a Lemonade Stand

Granddaddy Russell working in our garden

Granddaddy Russell working in our garden

In past articles I have written about one of my favorite spring and summer hobbies – gardening.  I really enjoy going down to our farm in Rock Hill and working the ground that my dad, grandfather, great-grandfather and yes further generations toiled.  Perhaps the best thing about the garden is that the investment in labor always yields a bountiful harvest of fresh vegetables that keep my family and friends happy.

A couple of summers ago, I drove through the back roads to the farm and passed by a little lemonade stand by the side of the road.  A little girl sat at a folding table and chair with a hadnwritten sign that said, “Lemonade for Sale.”  There was also what appeared to be a glass pitcher and a few Dixie cups stacked up as she waited patiently for the thirsty customer who would certainly come along.

I drove past thinking I might stop by later for a cool drink after working in the hot July sun.  Later that afternoon, I jumped in dad’s truck and headed down the road to pick up some extra bags of fertilizer.  However, when I passed the stand, the lemonade was still there but the little girl had vanished.  I drove on, made my purchase at Farmers Exchange and returned passing by the vacant stand.  After spending a couple more hours tying up the tomatoes, I packed up and headed back to Huntersville.  This time, however, the little girl was perched back on her chair, head resting on her left hand, as she slumped down on the table.lemonade

I pulled my car over and walked to her stand.  She beamed a big smile as I asked her for a cup of lemonade.  To be honest, the lemonade was a bit warm as the afternoon sun had taken a toll on the ice.  However, after a long day in the garden, the beverage was tasty and hit the spot.  She charged me twenty-five cents. After downing the delectable treat, I asked if I could have a refill.  She indicated that would be another twenty-five cents.  She carefully poured another beverage in a new cup, handed me my drink, and held out her hand for payment.  I pulled out a $5 bill and her eyes widened and mouth dropped in awe.  The little girl timidly said, “Mister, I do not have enough change.”  I told her that was okay, she could keep it.  As I drove away, I watched in the rearview mirror as she dashed to her house.  She probably made more in one visit with me than she did all weekend.

The little girl was lucky to have that one “big sell”.  Her location was not ideal – located on a lonely country back road where you’re more likely to see a stray dog wander by before the occasional car.  I had missed her on the previous trips and she clearly wasn’t prepared for any large transactions. 

Recently, I was struck by how that transaction reminded me of some of the lake businesses who may have businesses in low traffic areas or may not have a solid business or marketing plan.  Surely this current recession has tested and perhaps weeded out those who were not financially grounded or prepared.

Chambers of Commerce provide businesses with opportunities to build relationships through our many networking opportunities and provide businesses with the tools they need for their toolbox.  Seminars are available in financial planning, sales training, marketing, and other personal and business skills.  Our Chamber also has a close collaboration with both SCORE (Senior Corp of Retired Executives) and the SBA (Small Business Administration) that can counsel and assist small business.

childUnlike a lemonade stand, our lake businesses cannot afford to make critical errors in planning, financing, and marketing their business.  There is no doubt that the economy is turning and things are beginning to improve.  Our businesses are much more like the garden that takes constant attention. You do not just plant a seed – you have to constantly provide care.  Tilling, hoeing out the rows, fertilizing the ground, and supplying it with plenty of water.  The investment in the business, the time spent building new relationships and cultivating new ones will yield a bountiful harvest and a successful business.