Torrance Chamber of Commerce: Would I join again? Pros and Cons

When I started writing the story about my experience with the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce (TACC), I knew that this would have to be broken up into at least three parts. There was too much to say, and it would have been ancient history by the time I got everything documented in the proper order. My goal in the first two parts was simple; give the back story to my time with the TACC and what happened when I was called into Donna Duperon’s office. I did my best to not editorialize or give my opinion; I wanted to merely lay out the facts. This article will be different. I will editorialize and be opinionated. So, what happened after I left Donna’s office?

I knew that the Del Amo Bridge was going to be opened to the public later in the day, so I stopped by to see if I could photograph the bridge before traffic made it impossible. I lucked out as there were several antique cars lining up for the opening parade; so I was able to wander around and grab a few shots. While I was there I ran into a long time acquaintance that happens to be on the Torrance City Council. I told him that the TACC had just banned my camera from their events. He proceeded to tell me about a ribbon cutting that was coming up on Saturday. Apparently the business had not given the Chamber enough notice, so the Chamber would not be there. I asked if he thought the business would like me to photograph the event; his response, “What business owner would not want you to?” Ironically, the answer is the TACC, I guess.

Del Amo Bridge opening

Del Amo Bridge opening participants

When we left the Del Amo Bridge, we headed over to the Seaside Lagoon to participate in the annual Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce mixer. While there I met a new member to TACC that Tanya had met at the TACC event that my camera had been banned from at Staybridge Suites. His business is getting ready to have a grand opening and ribbon cutting. I told him that I could not do the TACC ribbon cutting unless I was granted permission by him. Strange as it may seem, he wants me to photograph the ribbon cutting.

On Friday I called the store that was having the ribbon cutting that the TACC was not going to attend. When I spoke to the owner and offered to photograph their event, she was extremely grateful and appreciative of my offer. I showed up bright and early Saturday morning and photographed their event the same way I would for TACC. The difference was that the owners of the store were happy to have me and my camera there; TACC does not seem to understand the value that brick and mortar business owners do.

Cookin' Stuff Grand Opening

Ribbon Cutting

In the past couple of weeks since getting called on the carpet by Donna, I have spoken with a few TACC members. They are pretty much broken up into two camps. The one camp is made up of small business owners that are relatively new to TACC. They support me and appreciate whatever I have done to help them on their new venture. The second camp would be made up of people in the TACC inner circle. They do not want to get involved, which I have no problem with, but they have been told that my camera was banned for “legal concerns.” To me this is just a convenient excuse since no one has felt the need to tell me what these legal concerns might be.

I have given these “legal concerns” a lot of thought; and I have come up with the following conclusions. The first thing I have to consider is whether or not Donna and Aaron actually spoke to an attorney about this. If they really did talk to an attorney there are only three possible scenarios that might result in any legal concerns. The first, and most obvious, scenario would be that the attorney was not given accurate information with which to come to an accurate conclusion. The other two scenarios would have to be limited to the attorney not knowing the answer and just guessed; or the .5% of the membership has threatened to sue the TACC if they allow my camera at their events. No one I have spoken with has been able to come up with a fourth scenario.

I presented the question, would I join TACC again? Nope, not much chance of that. When I stop to look back at our time here a few things immediately come to mind. We joined for the networking. The most frequent networking event is their Networking at Noon, which is usually held monthly. What I could not help but notice is that most of the people that come to these lunches work for either the City of Torrance, the Chamber itself or they work for a large corporation that is sponsoring them. Yes, we met a few brick and mortar business owners but the reality is that most brick and mortar business owners can not afford to take two hours out of their day to spend $25 for a $7.00 lunch every month. Yes, there are some people that come a little more frequently than others, but it is easy to see that the Chamber member that really needs the Chamber is probably the person that is going to get the least benefit from it. We joined the TACC because Tanya had belonged to the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce and really enjoyed the constant networking opportunities, even if she could not make it to all of them. She made an interesting observation.

Both Chambers have between 700-850 members. Valparaiso’s population is 32,000; Torrance has more than 146,000. Valparaiso’s Chamber has events before, during and after work. TACC has luncheons and an occasional mixer in the evening with other Chambers. The point being, TACC is not really making it easy for the brick and mortar business owner. To be honest, we started our networking group, Business & Beer to help give the small business owner a way to network after hours and perhaps have an opportunity to meet someone that can help them grow their business. Sometimes I wondered if the TACC was intentionally working against us. As a member our company is listed in the TACC Business Directory and Resource Guide. For some reason they saw fit to list Synergy DTI, Inc. as Synergy Design & Technologies and put us in the Computers, IT and Technology category. They said we do Business Development. While we do assist in business development those are two words we have never put together and we most certainly have never used Synergy Design & Technologies as a company name. It should be no surprise that we have received exactly zero telephone calls from anyone that said they found us in the TACC resource guide.

Business & Beer at Strand Brewing

Business & Beer at Strand Brewing

My personal opinion is that the TACC is too “old school.” There are a few that understand the value of an Internet presence and social media such as the Tech Pros group; but some of the older members that may or may not even run a business in 2012 just do not get it. Then can not grasp that if they want to continue and thrive they must reach out to a more Internet savvy businessman. I recall attending a Kiwanis meeting a couple months ago. As I looked around I noticed that I was one of the youngest people there. I had visited their website and knew they needed help. Giving away lifetime memberships to the widow of a recently departed member is all well and good, but it is not going to contribute to the longevity of this fine service group. If they do not open their arms to the idea of Internet and social media marketing they will not survive.

That being said, just because the TACC does not embrace the Internet it does not mean all Chambers are the same. I have not given up on the idea of belonging to a local Chamber of Commerce. We will spend the next few months investigating the others around us. I have had some interaction with members of other Chambers so I am confident we will find one that fits with our business model.

I am glad this happened when it did though. We do work with new businesses and one of our clients is planning to move to Torrance. I told him that we would get him in TACC, do a Networking at Noon at his place (yes, he owns a restaurant), maybe do a ribbon cutting, really get him some press. We will have to re-think this. I suppose I should thank Donna, Aaron and the .5% because now I will be forced to introduce myself personally to every business owner that has a grand opening. I have a feeling that will work out and the TACC will not have to worry about me giving them any free advertising.

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