By Steve Sears
Chuck Aaron, soon to be the new President of the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce (MOACOC), is living the dream.
He has always wanted to own his own business, and for 5 years he has done so, he and partner Mike Bigger in 2014 opening Jersey Girl Brewing Company in Mount Olive.
Aaron worked for number of companies, all the while educating himself by working various positions. “Distribution, manufacturing, sales, finance – it all comes into owning a business. I became a student of business, so now that I run my business I understand how to build teams, how to finance growth, how to network for sales, and build relationships – that’s been helping us grow a lot the last four years of being open.”
Aaron assumes the Chamber helm from three-year President Harry Browne. “I became an active member the first January after we were opened, ran for an open Board position, so I’ve been on the board now for two years.” Aaron was initially recording secretary, worked on rewriting the bylaws, and has recently served as Vice-President. He will initially serve a one-year term. “Vice President was a great job, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of being President – big shoes to fill with Harry. He’s very active, engages, and has done a lot to grow the Chamber. So, I’m excited by the challenge.”
Aaron, 51, had reached the point in his life where he was either going to take the self-employment plunge or not. He dove in. “We decided ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ and it’s been great. When you say ‘great’ it’s like a lot of other businesses that start up. A lot of nights of not sleeping, very long days, the worries of day to day when you start up, you have to cut things you wish you didn’t have to, but just out of necessity of keeping the business alive to the next cycle. You’ve got to make those tough decisions.”
Aaron isn’t originally from Mount Olive. He was born in Louisiana, lived in Europe for three years, and has also lived in Virginia. He has lived in the Garden State the longest, since the 7th grade, residing in Morris Plains, attending high school in Madison and college at Seton Hall University, and got his master’s degree in Finance Technology from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He met his wife, Angela, while in college in the late 1980s. The couple has two sons, Andrew (age 17) and Michael (age 15).
The MOACOC is, per Aaron, ‘more Mount Olive than the surrounding towns. Hackettstown being the largest of the surrounding towns, the membership is typically made up of Mount Olive and Hackettstown businesses members, but there are some that are a little further bit reaching than that.” He then adds, “We are at 170 members now. Harry will give you the exact numbers. I know he’s pulled some data. Since he’s been President, there’s probably been about a 40% growth in membership in the last three years.”
Browne, 58, a former 12-year Mount Olive resident, now resides in nearby Independence and has been a financial and insurance advisor 20 years. He currently works for One Legacy Financial Group. He and his wife, Mary Rose Ryan, are proud parents of a daughter, Sharon, and son, Harrison. Browne, who is remaining on as a Trustee, says, “41%,” regarding the increase in membership that past three years. He cites a few reasons for that success. “I was fortunate enough to surround myself with Board members and committee members who wanted to roll up their sleeves and actually do something. We truly wanted to contribute to the growth of the businesses of our members. A lot of the things we focused on was, ‘How do we improve the value of being a member?’ Granted, nobody is spending a lot of money to be a member of this Chamber of Commerce. It’s only $125 a year. It goes more beyond that. It’s participating, getting involved, making the connection.” Browne relates it to his own business “I got to know people, and then trust develops, and then a relationship develops. And then you’re doing business.”
“You invest the time; you make the relationships. It’s a whole different level of prospecting, and it may not be the person you’re talking to. It could be one of their contacts.”
Aaron’s biggest challenge as Vice-President was organizational design. “Running the Chamber Board as a Board. One of the first things I did coming into the Chamber was to rewrite the bylaws and establish a core set of rules for operating. That went over really well. It took quite a bit of time to put together. I didn’t do it alone; I was working with a team but was kind of the lead on that. More recently, we started to focus on Board meeting agendas, roles and responsibilities of each of the members. The President typically, when Harry started, was THE guy; did everything, led everything. It’s too much. When you have a Board of nine or ten people, everyone needs to contribute, everyone needs to take responsibility. I think that’s been a nice transition over the last year. “
As for 2020 and his first year of Presidency, Aaron believes the focus has to be on consolidation and delivery of value. “Our members expect two things: the ability to network with other businesses to help their business grow or find other like-minded businesses to communicate with – whatever their need is in their business. We need to connect to other business to help them achieve their goals. Two, we need to educate; we need to provide some type of education that helps our smaller businesses get access to information. This teaches them those things that help them take that business to the next level, whether it’s marketing related growth, financial education, business planning, how to network, how to present your business. We have a lot of large service business manufacturing in the Chamber. I think we need to focus in on diversity of membership. As we build this value piece, we need to bring more brick and mortar, the small shoppe guys, the guys that are running operations on the corridors that run throughout the Mount Olive Chamber. We can’t forget them: those are the ones that are the aces of the business community, the ones where people shop day to day. If we get them involved, and we maintain our current membership, and we begin to offer focused platforms every month that people can attend and schedule up and know about as we go through the year, we can’t help but become stronger and stronger as a Chamber — which is only good for the community businesses, because now were growing – now we’ve put our businesses in a growth mode. We need to focus on these things, and that’s where I believe our challenge is going to be next year.”
Short term goals are streamlining events, combining them. Marketing in the Morning is a popular business networking event held on Wednesday mornings, but there are others called Women in Business, Young Professional Group, and Lunch and Learn. All take a lot of effort and energy to create platforms. Aaron is pushing for consolidation of the last three, to have in his words “one really strong meeting every month that is guest speaker-oriented, that has networking involved in it. It’s two hours long, and we take the people that were running those three events and they (will) run this core event. Two events a month, and members have a chance to engage and participate, and that’s where they’re going to get value back from being members. That’s absolutely important to me.”
Browne envisions certain things for the MOACOC, and one is Aaron taking the momentum and strength created the past three years and raising the Chamber to the next level. “Not only of volunteers but of membership. You know, I’d be happy with a 20% increase — get us to over 200 members. And have a realistic goal. Continue to improve the value of being a member. He (Aaron) already has mentioned to us at a Board meeting some ideas about streamlining our networking events that show some real promise. So now there’s getting the right people, the right boots on the ground, who share that vision, and they’ll do it.”
Aaron encourages non-member businesses to give the Chamber a shot. “The only reason we do what we do is to be able to provide businesses with a place where they can go and learn and network and come and be a part and see what we do. Come as a guest: you don’t have to be a member to attend events. Try it before you buy it.”
Browne also touts the vastness of the area and opportunity. One of the things he focused on was developing the Hackettstown area, the latter with a Main Street area of doing business. Browne’s goal was to try and get some of those businesses to become Chamber members. Himself living next to Hackettstown while also formerly living in Mount Olive and being MOACOC President, he did his best to speak to businesses about getting involved. He brought events over township lines, and Mount Olive members were exposed to the opportunities in Hackettstown, and vice-versa. The largest growth area in membership came from Hackettstown. “I see continued growth,” he says, “from the Hackettstown and Mount Olive areas.”
“I think,” says Browne, again knowing well the potential of Chamber membership, “any viable business – whether it’s someone working from home who could use advice, guidance, or leadership; or a Main Street business, Route 46, 206, or Main Street, Hackettstown – get involved. Join. It is the shortest marketing money you could ever spend.”
“If you are feeling alone as a business, like you’re out there by yourself, you’re really not,” says Aaron. “There’s a community of businesses out there waiting and looking to help you be successful.”