Welcome to Podcast episode number 33 of the Mobile Alabama Business Podcast with Heiko Einfeld. My name is Marcus Neto, I own Blue Fish Design Studio. We are a digital marketing and web design company located down town on Dolphin Street. I am the host of Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.
In this week's episode we sit down with Heiko Einfeld, the Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. I ask Heiko questions about his background as the owner of a hotel, where he would like to see the eastern shore in the year 2020, and what resources the local chamber has for new entrepreneurs and business owners. Let's dive right in with Heiko Einfeld.
Marcus: Welcome to the Podcast Heiko.
Heiko: Thanks for having me today, I appreciate it.
Marcus: Most folks are familiar with your role as the Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. Can you go back a bit and lay the foundation? Give us some history about your business background.
Heiko: Historically my background has been in the tourism industry for about 30 years. From the attraction side, to the lodging side, and now here with the Chamber, the CBB end of it. I started out in Huntsville in the early 80's with Space Camp. I was one of the developers of Space Camp in Huntsville.
Marcus: Now you and I have known each other for a while and I did not know that! That's really cool.
Heiko: I was going to school at that point in time and my instructor had gotten some information about they were seeking and looking for some people to start off as counselors at Space Camp. My junior year I just happened to touch base with my professor and he said, "Well, there is this new camp going on." He got me connected and I started there. The second year I came on full time as Assistant General Manager.
Marcus: Very neat. From there, I didn't mean to interrupt you, you went into ... I know you owned a hotel for quite a bit.
Marcus: Before you do that though, you said Huntsville and you're here. How did that happen?
Heiko: I happen to meet my future wife at Space Camp. She was from Robertsdale here on the Eastern Shore. We decided if we are going to live somewhere ... She is a school teacher, she wanted to teach here on the Eastern Shore. We kind of looked at it from that stand point. I came down here once or twice and just fell in love with the area. We decided to move down here, and that was the mid 90's. When I got down here it was either get into the food business or the lodging business, because that's what was going on.
I selected the lodging business. Started off at the beach, in Orange Beach, at Hampton Inn. While living in Fairhope we had a chance to get to know some people. They were building a new hotel, a Holiday Inn Express in Fairhope, so I took that over.
Marcus: Very good.
Heiko: I was an owner operator for 17 years.
Marcus: Wow, and now the Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Chamber helping other businesses. It's really neat to have seen the transition from getting started at Space Camp to owning your own business, running a hotel and now helping other businesses with their efforts.
What area of running the chamber are you currently putting a lot of effort into?
Heiko: We have ongoing events that always take up everybody's time. Whether it be weekly, monthly, semi-annually, we have events that go on. In that we are focusing on, "Where are we going, how are we going to get there?". Basically building out a strategic plan for the next several years. We have met with our board. I have a great Board of Directors. We kind of met and said we need to take a look and see exactly what we're doing.
In a lot of ways we were doing several things, but some of it we weren't doing very well.
Heiko: We wanted to kind of take a look and see if we could maybe, pare down and in on what we were good at and develop a strategic plan along those lines. We have basically worked on a strategic initiative that provides us some core values and some direction for the next couple of years. That's been my main focus here for the last 6 months.
Marcus: Full disclosure, I am part of the board, so I kind of know what you are alluding to. In our industry we call that kind of a pivot. It wasn't too drastic, because it's really just kind of a bringing in of the focus to make it more concise and easy to communicate.
Why don't you go ahead and tell us what those are.
Heiko: We have basically had, up until this point, about 8-9 different initiative that we worked on. We kind of pared it down to 4 core values that we want to focus on. One is promote business, 2 is build community relationships, 3 is to advance tourism as an economic driver, and 4 is to advocate workforce development. Those are the 4 things that we have been good at and want to continue to do, and get better at.
In promote business, we want to provide value, opportunity, promotion, education, networking and recognition for our members. In building community relationships we want to inform, educate, monitor and provide access to local government and community affairs to ensure business friendly environment. In advancing tourism, we want to promote tourist as an economic driver through communication and education. For advocating workforce development, bridge relationships between businesses, education, and training entities at workforce.
Marcus: The last one was something that surprised me as somebody that is new to to the board, just how important it was for some organizations here and having the workforce that they can actually draw from. It's not something that, the way we operate, more often then not, I'm already familiar with somebody before I actually hire them to do any work. So it's a different realm.
I have to say I'm very pleased how things have shaped up and the focus that seems to be coming from these 4 different initiatives. I am excited to see where that takes us.
Heiko: At the end of the day, we as a chamber, we as a group, are no different than many individuals and many of the people that live on the Eastern Shore. We just want to make sure that we have the highest quality of life. That's in the end what we are focusing on. You have to understand, we're blessed in terms of our region, our area. When you think about Mobile and Baldwin Counties, they are growing phenomenally, exponentially. We need to be prepared and play a factor in that, so that we maintain that quality of life.
Marcus: Absolutely. Looking forward, what do you see for the Eastern Shore? If you were to wave your magic wand, what would you want to see for the Eastern Shore in say, 2020?
Heiko: I think we need to take a look at diversity in terms of types of businesses. First off, Baldwin County is the number 1 county in the state for tourism. We need to build upon that, we need to provide diversity and make sure that we have a number of different sectors so that we can build the white collar workforce, we can have manufacturing, we can have healthcare. Look at it from a diverse perspective so that we have a variety of different people that are involved and live and work on the Eastern Shore. I think that's one of the things.
We need to take a look at our infrastructure. As we continue to grow, how are we getting people from point a to point b? The road infrastructure is a big factor as we move forward.
We also need to look at where we are going from a wage stand point. Looking at wage standards and practices. That's going to be something that, with our base in tourism right now, an issue that we need to address going forward.
Marcus: Yeah, it's interesting because those ... diversity will help support all the various industries. The white collar workers will help support some of the hospitality and all this stuff kind of folds in on itself. The other thing I was going to say, is we relocated to Dauphin Street, part of the reason was because I couldn't find any commercial space in Spanish Fort, which is where I live. I figured well, if I was going to travel I would look at Fairhope. In all honesty, from Spanish Fort getting to Fairhope takes me longer than it does to get to down town Mobile. It was insane, I love Fairhope, I think it's a wonderful little community, but the way traffic has gotten recently is, it's gotten insane. Something definitely needs to be looked at there.
Imagine you are speaking to the next generation of entrepreneurs, if you could impart one bit of wisdom to them what would it be?
Heiko: I think just being savvy, have a business plan, have a marketing plan. Make sure that you are up to speed from a technology stand point. In terms of where you are going, what you want to do, and how you want to incorporate it. The world is moving so quickly, our area is moving so quickly, and it's a competitive world out there. Especially when you look at what's going on here on the Eastern Shore. You need to do your homework, in that respect.
Marcus: Absolutely, yeah it's interesting to me how many people really don't have those kinds of plans. Business plans have changed a bit now, especially in our industry, it's do you have a [inaudible 00:11:22] put together, telling your demographic that you're targeting, all the graphs and stuff like that, the idea is still there. The information is still there.
What resources does the chamber offer that a business may want to investigate? Here is why I'm asking you this question. We just recorded a podcast with Mayor Stimpson. I asked him a similar question, what resources does the city offer and he immediately pointed to the Chamber. I think the governmental organizations really see the Chamber as the edge of the sword for that kind of thing. What would you say to the budding entrepreneur, or the new business owner, or the person that just has an idea in their head? What services or offerings might you have that they can take advantage of?
Heiko: I think foremost with us here on the Eastern Shore Chamber, and it's different than the Mobile Chamber, is that we are a singular voice for the entire Eastern Shore area. That means Spanish Fort, that means Daphne, that means Fairhope. We can bridge that group geographically and become a singular voice for the whole area. That is a unique thing to this Eastern Shore Chamber, and is something that we try to work on, in terms of when we advocate or when we bring people together. We can bring these entities together in that respect. That is a huge aspect of the chamber that we can provide access to.
We have within our data base, with in our system, great avenues for networking. Great advertising opportunities and promotional opportunities. We do a number of events through out the year that puts your business out there, and promotes your business. In many ways, especially for someone that is locally minded, we have an avenue that gets your name out there. It's again, the pride of the chamber, it's what we do.
Marcus: It's interesting to me because the events, don't just pull from the Eastern Shore, but often times we are getting people from outside of the Eastern Shore. So, Robertsdale fully, but also Mobile. If the event is anywhere up in the causeway, bayway area, there are a lot of businesses that are members that will travel to get that audience as well. How many members, round about, now in the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce?
Heiko: We have over 1000 members. We are the largest chamber in terms of membership in Baldwin County. It's interesting that you mention that. Probably about 20% of them are members of both Mobile and Eastern Shore Chamber, or one of the other chambers. We do have a lot of crossover, in terms of people. They realize that there business either take place across multiple geographical regions, or they gain benefit from multiple chamber participation.
Marcus: You mentioned a stat, for the audience because I thought this was pretty impressive, how many of those business that are members do you estimate are 10 people or less?
Heiko: We have about 80% of our businesses that employee 10 people or less. It's majority that are, small locally owned and operated businesses. That's where we try to cater a lot of our efforts to is the locally owned businesses. Trying to make sure that we are their asset, their tool for networking, marketing, financial information, economic impact data. Whatever we can do for them. Sometimes it's unique for each business. Many business owners are working day and night to operate that business, sometimes they don't have the time to do some of the peripheral stuff. The chamber can be an asset to them in that area.
Marcus: When I heard that stat, a number of things ran through my mind but it was just so interesting to me. We are a small business, but when you go to the bigger cities, which I am from D.C., that's lost. There are so many big businesses there that you don't see the mom and pop or the smaller 10 person or less businesses. To think that a majority of the businesses that are a part of the Eastern Shore Chamber are of that ilk. It just blew me away.
Heiko: The other thing is, when you look at it from the stand point of Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, a lot of those businesses are geared or directed to the tourism industry. We have a diversity, again of what types of businesses we have on the Eastern Shore, that means a little bit different type of meat. In terms of what we have to supply and what we have to focus on. We have to be a little bit more diverse.
Marcus: Absolutely. Is there an area of business or a service offering that you see that is missing here on the Eastern Shore?
Heiko: I think technology, we try to put technology on the forefront in terms of the way we do things, but a lot of them just can't keep up with the way technology is changing on a daily basis. The chamber can be a little bit more proactive in supporting that effort, if for no other reason education. Provide them put what on Facebook or how to go about promoting, or when to promote. All these type of things, there is a process and a way of going about things that most people just don't have the time to get into if they are operating their own business.
Marcus: All the research, your talking about social media strategies. Knowing which of the social media channels is valuable to a particular business, usually is dictated by the demographic and also how to approach that and get actual results is something that many businesses ... It just comes out of experience and if you cut that down by offering some sort of education then that's fantastic. I know you have, and the podcast will be released actually after this is done, but isn't there a social media strategy event coming up sponsored by the Eastern Shore Chamber?
Heiko: Yes, we actually have 2 that will be going on this week. That will be focusing on digital marketing and digital strategic development. One is with Score, that will be taking place this week at the Fairhope Public Library, and then there's another one at the Original Oyster House, that will be taking place this Wednesday through Dex Media. Both of them, they are a little bit different in terms of what their platform is and what their structure is, but they're both going to be taking place this week.
Marcus: I know, I just think it's interesting. It's been a long time since I have seen any chamber do something along those lines, so kudos to you guys for cosponsoring those events. Obviously if you are a member of the chamber or even if you're not, go to the chamber website and look into what they have coming up because by the time this is released those events will have already happened. There is probably a pretty good chance that additional events will be happening in the future.
Are there any books that you've read that you find helpful, anything that you find yourself referring back to, or that you have given as a gift multiple times?
Heiko: I really do most of my reading in a technical format. Not more along the inspirational line, it's more technical reading. I would say some of the Inter-workings in Governmental is what I'm reading now.
Marcus: Light reading there, huh?
Heiko: Yeah, sometimes when you start dealing in how to format a bill or get a bill through passed or through Congress and so forth. That's the things I've been focusing on.
Marcus: It's interesting, the same thing in our industry, you just get tired of reading PDF after PDF of the technical aspects of these jobs at times. Every once in a while I will just grab some fiction just to kind of remind myself, "yeah, you know how to read.".
Heiko: I was up in Tuscaloosa last week and we were reading the new Moby Dick movie novel, we were going through that a little bit.
Marcus: That's cool, yeah you have to get your brain out of this stuff every once in a while. Speaking of stuff that you like to do in your free time, what do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies or things that you find interesting?
Heiko: I do like to play tennis from time to time, that's kind of my hobby from way back when, in my high school days, and I can still do it at this age. That's kind of the sporting events that I do. I do try to keep up with what's going on in our town. I am very avid of the music and entertainment that goes on in our area, so I try to keep up with the new bands and new song writers/singers, that type of thing in the area.
Marcus: You spend a good amount of time at Old 37 Grill listening to singer/songwriters and stuff like that?
Heiko: Yeah, exactly.
Marcus: Shout out to Bill-e for his wonderful Bacon. We are a big fan, there is no way of putting it, that was just like a blatant plug for his bacon cause I am just such a huge fan.
Back to your role at the chamber, what does an average day look like for you? Even beyond just the mechanics of being the Executive Director of a Chamber of Commerce, what we are looking for here, is are there any things that you find yourself going back to that are set in your life. So, do you wake up at specific time, do you do certain things when you wake up, like do you go immediately to Devotions or do you go immediately to a cup of coffee, do you immediately jump into email, those types of things.
Heiko: Normally my typical day is just to wake up and go through emails and do most of my work. I try to spend the majority of my time, and I would say 70% of it, out of the office. I try to focus on tying to be out there with members, trying to be out there with events and activities supporting different organizations. I sit on several councils and boards and so forth. Trying to interact with our city officials and that type of thing. My day starts off normally about 5am going through emails and trying to do the office administrative aspect from that 5-7.
Marcus: Keep the ball up hill.
Heiko: Yeah, and then get into work, whatever the schedule is. Like I said, I live out of my truck in a lot of ways. We have to offices, one in Daphne and one in Fairhope, and everybody asks what office do I work out of and I say "I work out of my truck between the 2 offices and between meetings.".
Marcus: I had a sales job right after college, and the sales manager always used to tell, I was inside sales but this was geared towards his outside sales guys, it was basically if you're not in the office then you're not doing what we are paying you for. Not that you're just a sales person, but there is very much an aspect of your job that I would imagine just being in the community, understanding what the business owners are looking for out of the chamber, meeting new businesses that may be opening up, or that haven't been met before. Just communicating what they benefits are.
If someone wanted to get involved in making the Eastern Shore awesome, what would you suggest?
Heiko: First off, anyone that has that perspective normally is passionate about something. It will be something, if there's passion, there is normally drive and interest in participation. There is enough going on in the chamber in different avenues that we can offer something. Whether it be involvement in the community, involvement in the government, all of these type of things take place in the chamber. There is an avenue and a realm to get involved and participate.
Marcus: In regards to that, I know that you touched on a number of different things. Even governmental affairs, environmental issues, the things of that nature. The Chamber often times has some roll or can at least direct people to people that they can contact in regards to that.
Heiko: Exactly, again it's about that singular voice, it's about that connectivity, its about the avocation and communication. Now, we may not be currently engaged in that activity but we know who are, we know who is passionate, we know who has ongoing efforts in those areas. We try to align peoples interests with those types of things. There's so many different things going on on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis on the Eastern Shore. Every body to a great extent, is involved and does care and does participate on the Eastern Shore. I love that about our community. They are so community minded. It's just being able to say, some body that's new to town, or some body that has a new interest in a specific topic ... Ill take photography for instance. We were working with something and I found out about the East Shore Photography Club. We were looking at somethings, and there were some people that were interesting in photography, so we hooked them up together. There's those types of things that go on majorly, that the Eastern Shore can align and connect people to.
Marcus: You really never know what is going to come out of those connections. Just as a side note, Jared Budlong, the guy that acts as our audio technician not acts as he is our audio technician, we met actually at the Eastern Shore Camera Club. We were doing a help portrait event, and so here we are. We have been running this podcast now for 6 months. You never know what those connections are going to make.
I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast, but I wanted to give you a chance by wrapping up if you have any final thoughts or comments that you would like to share, anything interesting that is going on at the chamber that you want to talk to people about?
Heiko: We're just excited at the chamber. First off I have a great staff, and I never mention them enough. We have about 11 people that work either full time or part time and they do a tremendous job. They are all focused on the community, all focused on trying to better quality of life. I have a great group there.
When you start thinking about what's going to be going on in the next 5 years on the Eastern Shore, there's nothing but good things going to be happening, and it's just we need to make sure that we as a chamber, we as a community, we as municipalities, just nurture that in the right manor. That's what we hope to do.
Marcus: That's awesome, I appreciate your time and your willingness to sit with me and share your journey with me as a business owner and also as the Executive Director of the Chamber. It's been great talking to you.