2020 has not been kind to small business. With the typical challenges and struggles that most every small business has to navigate, 2020 has brought a slew of its own unique challenges, and we are all acutely aware of what they are. But with a worldwide pandemic, diminished occupancy levels, and a nation gripped in fear, local business owners have looked frantically for a beacon in the fog that can provide them with some direction and hope for brighter days.
The Greater Boerne Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Kim Blohm, has thankfully stepped into that responsibility and carried the burden dutifully and with strength. As we close out 2020, Blohm sits down to discuss her roots, her journey to her role, and where she hopes to lead local business next.
A Houston area native, Blohm grew up with a strong educational motivation, yet little certainty of where that would take her. She begins, “I was always a good student and I went to private school from K-8th grade so it was 60 kids I grew up with. My brothers moved to public school and I wanted to go, so I went to regular high school and went from 800 kids in my school to 5000 kids, so it was culture shock for me. I was pretty sheltered – so then I learned that you could dye your hair and get a nose ring without permission but I always wanted to do right by my parents so I didn’t get into too much trouble.”
Blohm graduated a year early, and after a short stint at Houston Community College, Blohm was invited to A&M for a quick trip, and as she puts it, “Once you go once, you’re sold. So I enrolled immediately.” Enrolling in Telecommunications and Media Studies, Blohm wanted to move into news broadcasting but says with a laugh, “I worked at the local news station for 6 months. They make no money, work stupid hours, and it’s not nearly as glamorous as you think. So I decided I’d just figure out my career path as it came to me.”
Eventually graduating in 2008, Blohm moved to San Antonio and took a job with an investment group, which she summarizes with “But I hated every minute of it. Luckily the market crashed in ’08, so I got laid off, and trust me, that was a good thing.” She also had been dating seriously Justin, who had a semester left at A&M, and the two wed in 2011.
With a little uncertainty around her, Blohm was substitute teaching at BISD, and working at Generations FCU in a temp role. She explains, “I helped with tax refunds and whatnot – I worked my way up and they had a marketing position open but they said “You don’t have experience with graphic design” so I went to Alamo Community Colleges and did night classes for that until I was certified. I went back and applied and they had already hired someone, but that week she left and I got that job and was there for 5 years.” In this role, Blohm thrived. The reasons why she succeeded translated to her current responsibilities. “It was people helping people – serving the underserved and I loved it. We started with financial literacy and I led the youth financial literacy program. The average age of a member was 65 so we sought out younger members so we got into the schools and we partnered with Alamo Community College and taught classes there every week and it was very successful. It was quite proud for me because we were legitimately making a difference for people. I found that I loved feeling accomplished with helping others.”
Ultimately leaving that position, Blohm looked for a new challenge. She continues, “I talked with a recruiter and they got me into Phyllis Browning as their Marketing Director. I was their 2nd one ever. I liked it – it was a big change. It was no longer serving the underserved, but it was challenging and fun and I saw so many ways we could easily improve things. Their processes weren’t running perfect and it was easy for me to improve. For example, their photography wasn’t so great and I was able to find a guy out of Dallas that did it and he is now the #1 photographer in San Antonio – it helped the firm so much. It really changed the whole real estate industry locally. I loved working with the realtors and getting to know them personally and meeting their goals.”
Justin and Kim welcomed Mason in 2013 and Presley in 2017, and their priorities changed for obvious reasons. While still working with Phyllis Browning, Blohm had local relationships as they were residents in the area, yet commuting heavily. One of those relationships was Joe Granados, the previous Chamber President. “I knew Joe Granados who was the President here at that time – and he had always said he would hire me if he could, so he did in 2018 as VP of Membership and Marketing. And let’s just say that as soon as I took this role, I knew I was going to love it here. First it was hard because everyone wanted to know your connections to the area. They want to know your whole story and are somewhat judgey. Once they let their guard down, then you are able to really show them who you are and that first 6 months was tough as I had to prove myself. But I love the people here so much and there was so much opportunity to bring new life here.”
Granados resigned in January of 2019, which left a leadership void within the Chamber. Blohm explains, “For me I was interim President because as the VP it fell to me. I realized more and more that I could do it. Then I decided that I would go for it, I applied, they did an extensive search to make sure it was legit and I really appreciated that. After 4 months of interviews and their full hiring committee, I was offered the job at the end of April of 2019 and we’ve been having fun ever since.”
However, “fun” is a relative word when presented with the unique challenges that Blohm has had to navigate.
“Well, I got one year of what we’d call normal. Our goal was to focus on growth and retention. We wanted to make sure we were touching the membership and to make sure they didn’t feel like we were taking their money and just never talking to them again. We wanted to be active in all ways. I felt like that first year was successful and we exceeded our goals. We had a great year – pre-pandemic it was great, and even post-pandemic now – it’s been amazing. We had a ton of events and we did 97 ribbon cuttings which is insane. The networking events averaged 20 per year and people were connecting with us and we had 5% membership growth that year and our retention was 78%. We wanted to increase our member retention to 87% going into 2020. We wanted to build on our momentum from 2019 and so that was our focus. We started the year super strong. We had great engagement at our events – we had several events in the spring that just had us heading directly for the goals we talked about.”
Then, she abruptly adds, “And then COVID hit.”
Freezing our local economy, Blohm and her staff moved quickly to find ways to navigate an unknown situation. “If we hadn’t had such a great start to the year, I think it would have been tough to make it through this year. For us, we knew that now is the time to advocate and connect with our members. Especially during such a rough time. We knew it was the time for us to shine, or fail completely. We are literally here to help the business community, and we knew that this was the biggest opportunity we’d probably ever have. People initially couldn’t figure out who was open locally and what they were offering. So we created a BoerneStrong page so that we could do exactly that and educate the community. Staff was all working like crazy to make sure we got REAL info out to the community as well as we all know there is so much misinformation flying around. So we doubled down on becoming a conduit for information that the community really needed to know. We were all working from home and I am so proud of my team for how they responded.”
Like other regular local business, the Chamber had scary days as well as the team tried to figure out how they were going to stay afloat. Blohm explains, “The initial shock or fear was that when the PPP loans came out, we were excluded. It was scary. We tried to keep a really positive attitude and at first we just did the best we could and we had to trust that people would see our value. When renewals came up, it was tough to ask for those renewals just because we knew everyone was hurting. We started calling people 2 months before their renewal dates just so we could start talking about what they need and how we could help. 168 new members joined during a pandemic. 4% growth, and 82.5% member retention. 814 members. It was so humbling to see the response. We felt so blessed. People re-invested in us when they were up for renewal, and we are so blessed to have these members. I have seen so many other Chambers fail throughout this, and my heart breaks for them because you can’t do this job unless you love it and your members. The community has just been incredible. I can’t overstate this. It’s like a Hallmark movie, and I mean that. Their support makes me want to cry.”
While this “chapter” of our lives isn’t over quite yet, the Chamber, like most businesses, is figuring out their new normal and trying to plan for the future. Blohm says, “For 2021, member retention is going to be our goal still. How do we continue to motivate those members and provide value that they want? Events are going to be hard in 2021 because nobody knows what they will look like. There’s a network luncheon, but it will probably be half the size because of attendance numbers…because this is a bit of the new normal until something changes. We did a really cool thing with the City in May and we worked with the City Staff at the Library and we called every single member and just asked them “How are you doing? What do you need? What can we do to help?”. It’s felt great to just be proactive and find ways to help.”
As the organization reimagines how their events will look and how they will continue to provide value to their members, Blohm and her team are working tirelessly. She continues, “We realize that nobody wants to do zoom meetings any more. How do we safely get people together, because we know you all want to do it. It’s a month by month situation because it’s constantly changing as you all know. We have to get approval for many of our events and it’s constantly changing. Our networking luncheons can be more easily controlled as we can sell tickets, but the Networking Mixers will be tough for us until something changes. Many of our groups are meeting in person and there’s probably about 20 to 30 people per meeting – but we love being able to have the interaction. I want to continue to make an impact and add value to our community and to deliver on those promises. They chose to invest in us when it was their last $30 and I value that and I want to make sure we return that trust many times over. That is crucial to me. “
As for community, Blohm is passionate about this area and it’s evident in her words. “It’s so inspiring to be here in Kendall County. .It feels so good to find so many people that love and care about you both as an organization but just as people. They respect the work that we do, and people are grateful for that, and it makes me want to cry. For us, this is our job…but to feel the appreciation for even the small things…it’s just a dream come true.”