By Emily Williams
Karen Odle is seeing the fruits of her 13 years of work as the president and CEO of the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber this year reached 1,150 members, making it the largest chamber in the Birmingham metro area, according to a study by the Birmingham Business Journal published July 26. Vestavia’s chamber outpaces even its counterparts in Birmingham and Hoover.
According to Odle and her marketing guru, Lisa Christopher, the achievement was met through the hard work of the chamber’s small staff and the superior customer service they seek to provide each of their members.
The chamber also during Odle’s tenure has offered digital tools to its membership and helped pull together various entities pursuing progress in the city to work collaboratively.
Odle accepted her job as CEO/president of the chamber after serving as the Vestavia Hills school board president.
“It’s fun and I enjoy what I do,” Odle said. “Actually, my previous career was at a phone company in systems design, where I designed computer and phone systems.”
After welcoming her first child, Odle quit her job and devoted her time to raising her kids. When they started school at Vestavia Hills Elementary West, Odle became more involved in the community.
She began serving in the PTA and soon became school board president, meeting Lisa Christopher along the way. When the time came for Odle’s predecessor at the chamber to move on, Odle turned in her application for the position.
“I enjoy making a difference in the community,” Odle said. “I hope that I am.”
When Odle took the position of president, she said, the state of the city was akin to silos on a farm.
“The city was their own entity,” Odle said. “The chamber was their entity. The school was their entity. I think the difference has been that we now, while we are all still individual entities, are collaborative on everything we do.”
In fact, the city of Vestavia Hills recently adopted the same logo the chamber uses and the city, chamber and school system have all launched new websites incorporating the symbol. The image includes the words unity, prosperity and family.
One way the chamber, schools and city unite is through community caucuses held at the chamber offices. The meetings include city department heads, school officials and representatives from local non-profit organizations.
“It’s a good way for us to communicate,” Odle said. “We all sit around the table and ask what people are doing and what their next quarter looks like. Then, we ask them to take the information back to their organization and share it.”
Beyond the partnership with organizations around the city, the chamber uses various tools to serve its members as well as community members.
Under Odle’s eye, the chamber has forged into the future with a new website and a mobile app. In its third year, the VH2Go mobile app recently reached 1,770 downloads.
“It’s a really good tool and it’s nice to say that we are the only chamber in the area who has it,” Odle said. With VH2Go, users are able to categorically search a list of chamber businesses, the public library and more.
In addition, the chamber’s new website will be home to a community calendar, a long-term goal of Odle’s. She and Christopher said the calendar will help businesses to schedule events without conflict with other organizations while giving the community a full list of the city’s goings-on.
“I wanted to grow our membership,” Odle said. “When I came on, we had 296 members, in August of 2002. We have really tried to maintain a relationship with each of our members.”
Christopher said the size of the chamber can be seen at the monthly luncheons it hosts at Vestavia Country Club. Each event averages about 200 people in attendance.
Odle said the name of the game now is retention, which chamber officials hope to accomplish through service and amenities.
“I’m huge on customer service,” Odle said. “If you don’t have good service then I don’t care what your product is.”
The chamber provides advertisement for businesses with their yearly magazine and a community newsletter. Chamber members have the ability to use a conference room in the chamber office, and the “Shop, Dine, Play” campaign highlights local businesses and educates consumers on the benefits of shopping locally.
“If someone asks for something, it’s never an automatic no,” Christopher said. “It’s an automatic: ‘I haven’t thought about that. We’ll talk about it.’”
Christopher said the chamber’s customer service policy is how its new Young Professionals Board began. The program gives young professionals an opportunity to network, socialize and glean advice from various speakers.
“Our philosophy is to under-promise and over-deliver,” Odle said. “We want to give people more than they expect.”
For more information on the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, visit www.vestaviahills.org.