By: James Pruitt
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Bill Drummer may not have been born to be the executive director of the Wauseon Chamber of Commerce, but it’s in his DNA.
Drummer started his gig at the Chamber Jan. 1 and has been busy recruiting new members and looking for ways the organization can benefit existing members. His goal is to get the Chamber up to 200 members and make it financially strong to be a blessing to its members, not a burden.
The son of downtown Wauseon merchants, Drummer owned two businesses ( Bill’s Sport Center for 13 years and CDD Inc. for 23) before selling them in April and retiring last summer. Retirement was fun for three months before he ran of out things to do. Drummer approached the Chamber board and asked about the director’s job and they soon opened it up and hired him.
“I couldn’t stand retirement after running those two businesses,” Drummer said. “After those three months, it was like, ‘Now what?’”
Armed with a mandate to increase membership and participation in the Wauseon Chamber, Drummer said he has been adding two new members a week and has signed 14 up since the first of the year. Some have been former members who have returned to the fold.
“That is compared to they had new members all of last year,” Drummer said. “I know I can’t do that forever. My goal is to get to 200 members, that is easily attainable.
“That is a conservative goal, but you don’t want to put the bar up too high.”
Besides getting former members back in, Drummer has gone after bigger accounts. He has been targeting businesses that do business in town, but may be based elsewhere.
Drummer has been reaching out to the chain stores on Shoop Street (Ohio 108). While they have many levels to work through, he sees this as a viable source for new members.
The challenges of making a Chamber of Commerce work in Wauseon are real. The downtown is quintessential small-town America, but it has many vacant storefronts as the new stores and retail growth has been on Shoop Street.
The city has obtained a $300,000 revitalization grant for downtown and Drummer is hopeful businesses will take advantage of it.
This isn’t just a hope of the new guy in the office, it’s the desire of a man who says he has been ingrained in Wauseon. He has spent his life downtown and has been a member of the chamber for 25 years. His resume shows his deep roots in the community: 12 years on the school board, 20 years on the Wauseon Park Board, 50 years of playing or coaching baseball, 20 years of being a DJ for the Fulton County Heart Radiothon, 25 years with the Elks Club, 15 years in Rotary, 20 years on the Rec Board and the list goes one.
“This (the job) is a natural fit for me,” Drummer said. “It feels natural, just like walking downtown.
“I haven’t realized it’s a job yet.”
Drummer has been reaching out to many of the smaller shops in town, talking to the owners to get them to consider membership. While he comes to get new members signed up, Drummer makes sure he buys something when he’s at a business.
“I have been shopping local all my life,” Drummer said.
He has a good board and is hopeful they will consider a new membership fee for smaller businesses who may not be able to afford the price at first. He also doesn’t want to burden the new members with constant requests for donations right after signing up.
Drummer appreciates the town has strong service groups like the Rotary Club to work with on projects and events. Getting the golf tournament and the chili cook-off back to their glory days is going to take coordination with other groups and more participation from members.
“It’s going to take someone with fire in their belly,” Drummer said.
To help out the membership, especially the retailers, Drummer wants to host a tent sale, where the chamber picks up the tab and the merchants can just bring their wares in for sale.
The city has no large companies to subsidize operations. Projects are done with smaller donations and people pitching in. Where a large company in Wauseon can expect to pay less than $500 for membership, a large firm in Defiance, will pay $4,000.
The challenge is clear for Drummer. Get the funds necessary to operate and grow without turning off new members.
“I know I can raise money,” Drummer said. “I just don’t want to tax members’ (budgets). I want to avoid tapping members.”
James may be reached at