I love planning the annual awards dinner in January. It gets a little scary when you realize you have 150-ish people coming to dinner, but then it is over and you realize that even with the typos on the PowerPoint, everything worked out even better than you thought.
What is the big deal about awards? The truth is, it is not even about winning. It’s about giving local businesses publicity. In the day-to-day operations of the Chamber, we get plenty of chances to recommend certain business types to visitors who walk in our doors or to people who call and ask us for a referral. Anybody who drops by the office looking for fun is directed to one of three things: a kayak rental, a boat ride or a trip to our museum at the train depot. So Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak and Singing River Tours brochures fly off the shelves quite regularly, and if it’s Tuesday, we send them over to the Greater Dunnellon Historical Society Train Depot. If it’s shopping, we suggest the Historic Village Shops, and we never fail to include a few recommendations for lunch and a “must-see” recommendation to Rainbow Springs Art. If it’s a “small town” life experience they’re looking for, we suggest a trip to LaRue’s Ice Cream too.
Since so many businesses are on social media, we try to share posts on our page frequently. We have gotten very accustomed to some of your posting schedules, so we know that Boulevard Bistro publishes their Friday menu either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Because we have a lot of restaurants, we try to post once a week for each one. We keep track of all of the sharing, mentions and referrals.
One thing we also strive to do is to help businesses connect with each other to do business. These relationships benefit everyone.
We are starting to see Dunnellon grow. As much as many of us want Dunnellon to remain a small town, we have to realize we already have grown so much right outside the city limits that there is no real going back to the town of my/our youth, where it was a BIG DEAL when we got the second stop light at Powell Rd. The stories of how, when you got in trouble at school your parents knew before you go home, may no longer exist, but the concept of everybody knowing everybody is still one of the small town treasures we need to continue to cultivate.
Our best chance at prospering is through relationships. As director of the Chamber, I do not get out and visit as often as I wish I could, but I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to develop relationships with so many businesses and organizations in the community. In doing so, I have been able to refer business to so many.
Recently, Keith Carson of Believe in Santa Foundation called and said he needed a place to store some toys and bikes that had been donated to him. It took almost no time at all for him to find a place, and in doing so, he forged a relationship with a business that probably did not know very much about what he did before then.
When we do an awards program, people learn more about who’s who in the Dunnellon area, but this does not mean just the business that went home with the plaque. It’s also the finalists. Take the salon/personal services category, for example. Last time we counted, we found there are about 30 salons in the Dunnellon area. To be a top three in that category is a HUGE accomplishment.
We also offered businesses an opportunity to advertise very inexpensively on the ballot. Some people think that this is buying your vote. If your name is there, people will click on it rather than writing in a name a lot of the time. But even if they do not vote for you, they SAW YOUR NAME. I think of how many times people would more than likely go to a big box store to order items such as business cards because they DO NOT KNOW that we have a local business that does them, Ink Spot Media. I have ordered business cards online before, and I have ordered business cards from Ink Spot. There is no difference in the product or the price. I’d rather shop local. And when I mean local, I mean Dunnellon, not Ocala. We might complain about traffic in our little town when the snowbirds are here, but dealing with our traffic beats dealing with Highway 200/Ocala traffic any day!
One other thing that is great about awards is that we (the Chamber) get to work with several different businesses in the planning of the event. We not only were able to show 150-ish people the beautiful venue, Your Wedding Barn, but we also got that number of people to discover two local eateries, Southern Palate Restaurant & Catering, who provided the dinner, and Sweetie’s Café & Bakery, who provided dessert. This year, we also had a local wine shop, Wine Not? Boutique, donate wine. The beautiful plaques were done by Kustom Glass & Awards.
We provided sponsorship opportunities, so businesses could also sponsor the bar, the food table, and the dinner tables, or place an ad in the program. We had a great number of people sponsor the dinner this year. For the table sponsors, it was an opportunity to get their name and, in some cases, sample products in front of people.
We also gave people opportunities to present awards, just another way to get your business mentioned, and lastly, we did our best to seat people with other people for maximum networking whenever possible. We did have some businesses who insisted their entire office should sit together, but where possible, we sat people strategically so they could get to know someone that they could possibly do business with in the future.
The result of all of this is that, while there may have been a couple dozen people who walked away with plaques, we were truly blessed with so many opportunities to promote business in the community.
Gena Riley, who did the desserts, is the owner of Sweeties’ Café & Bakery and if you are wondering why it is called Sweeties’ just go in and meet Gena. You will find the sweetest person right there! Sweeties’ is right next door to Grumbles House, which is a tourist destination in itself, but I was amazed how many people came up to me after the dinner and asked where Sweeties’ was located. I thought surely everyone had seen it, since it is next to Grumbles. Gena, they will be coming to see you. That banana pudding I had was delicious. By the time I got up there, the peanut butter pie was just a memory, but I am sure the people who had it are dreaming about it!
I visited Angie B. at Southern Palate on Friday, and she reported having seen many of the faces from dinner in her restaurant, which, by the way, is right across Hwy. 41 from Gary’s Carpet. It’s just a little place, but Angie B. cooks with her whole big heart and it comes across in her food.
We hope you enjoyed the annual awards dinner. Before I congratulate the winners, I want to point out one more observation I had that makes me so happy. A few years ago, I noticed that the people who were on ALL the committees and doing ALL the things in Dunnellon were a core group of maybe 20 people. They really did everything, and I think they are TIRED. I am pretty sure I am seeing a new group of leaders emerging, and that is exciting to see. You see, I am here to listen to your ideas, and flesh them out with you, and let’s give them all a try. You cannot continue to do the same thing the same way year after year. The world is changing fast and we need to continue to be INnovative in order to continue to be successful!
Brannen Bank for winning Most Involved Business, Customer Service Excellence and Outstanding Financial Services
Believe in Santa Foundation for winning Most Invovled Organization
Perkins Dentistry for wining Outstanding Employer and Outstanding Health & Wellness Service or Business
Bonnie Powell from Dunnellon Elementary who was chosen as Outstanding Educator
Boomtown Days for winning Outstanding Local Event
Rainbow River Hearing & Balance for winning Outstanding Website or Social Media Page
Al’s TV, Antenna & Satellite for winning Outstanding Retail Business
Rainbow Springs Art for winning Outstanding Specialty Business
Greater Dunnellon Historical Society for winning Outstanding Venue
Riverlife Church for winning Outstanding Place of Worship
Sweeties’ Café & Bakery for winning Outstanding Restaurant
Comfort Suites for winning Outstanding Lodging
Cruise Planners – Miller’s World Travel for winning Outstanding Recreational or Sports Related Business
Kountry Girl Salon for Outstanding Personal Services Business
Gould’s Dunnellon Tire & Auto for Outstanding Vehicle Sales/Service Business
Ink Spot Media for Outstanding Marketing/Advertising Business
H. Michael Evans, PA for Outstanding Professional & Business Services
Ace Hardware for Outstanding Home and Garden Supplies & Services
Bonnie Fontaine, DCBA Volunteer of the Year
Mathew Baillargeon, Penny Lofton Making a Difference Award winner