New Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce Program Seeks to Capitalize on Local AuthenticityNew ‘Southern Ocean Made’ Certification Will Help Businesses Market and Sell Products and Eventually, the Region
If you look at travel trends from experts, websites and travel magazines, there’s one thing they all agree on: travelers’ growing demand for a deeper experience. It’s authenticity, connection, and as one company calls it, “experiential.”
There are a lot of movements, theories and statistics, but one thing is certain. Some folks aren’t happy to just lie down on any old beach with any old drink in hand, and have a cookie-cutter experience.
This year, the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce has launched the Southern Ocean Made program, or SO Made, an initiative with several steps built upon one another within the Beach Culture Redefined campaign. It was announced at the annual State of the Chamber meeting on Feb. 8.
LBI is a model tourism community, but a 10-week summer with a few shoulder-season events and festivals still makes for a tough market. The first roll-out of the program is to assist local businesses that want to start exporting out of the Long Beach Island region, or for the ones that already do, to expand that business. From beer to crab cakes, T-shirts, fudge, sauce and surfboards, there are products made on LBI that are shipped all over the country. That’s money that comes into our economy and keeps people working, even after the summer.
The chamber now has an application online at visitlbiregion.com/the-chamber/southern-ocean-made-certification/ that businesses can fill out to apply. The chamber will review the applications, taking each business into account with criteria based on product design and development, number of employees who live locally, company history, investment in the community, and interest in exporting goods.
“Anyone who gains SO Made certification will get our assistance in applying for grant funding through the N.J. Business Action Center. These are U.S. Small Business Administration funds that are administered through the NJBAC,” said Lori Pepenella, the former destination marketing organization/communications director who left the chamber in 2016 and came back recently as the CEO.
“Funding can be used to pay for businesses to display in trade shows, generate interest from USCS International Buyer Program, and even overseas research trips. It could also be used to fund translation services on collateral and website to attract new audiences and buying power. Of course, this is all to allow our local manufacturers and designers to remain competitive with the rest of the state as well as expand our local workforce.”
The business would get a SO Made seal for its physical location, website and social media, letting people know it is invested in the local economy.
So far, the Manahawkin-based apparel and screen printing company Jetty is the first to apply and be accepted.
“When Lori first brought up this program along with a handful of others, my mind wanted to push it back to 2018, but the fact is that we really do produce a lot of cool stuff in Southern Ocean County,” said Jetty CEO/founding partner and chamber executive board member Jeremy DeFilippis. “Jetty makes a hefty percentage of our apparel line right here in Manahawkin. In fact, every printable is made right here, with our hands, using our eco-friendly, water-based screen printing equipment and processes. It’s a huge part of our brand story that we convey to our customers – we design and print our stuff right here.”
And for the future of So Made, that’s a key word – “story.”
Whereas the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s saw everything from products to travel homogenized, recent years have seen a demand for entities with stories, products and experiences that give a sense of place, more so than a generic crewneck sweatshirt with an interchangeable beach town name and crossed oars. The later phases of the SO Made campaign would focus on LBI’s overall destination experience, and the roles those businesses would play.
“The long-term strategy is to create destination marketing initiatives that market authentically made goods and tie them with experiences, to see how we can use local goods to draw visitors and targeted consumers to our region. Think ‘Made in Vermont’ – they were the pioneers – or ‘Pure Catskills,’ marketing that brands location through local talent and products. This is open to food, beverages, artwork, architectural plans, jewelry, furniture, apparel, equipment or anything that can be shipped outside the area,” said Pepenella.
“Jetty is a perfect example. People learn the story from the product when they see the gear in local shops or go to events, and want to come back,” she added.
Food and drink are a very good example for their regionality. The American Culinary Traveler Report study showed a recent jump in leisure travelers who want to learn about unique dining experiences. The Brewer’s Association estimated that now 10 million people tour small and independent American craft breweries each year. Travelocity has a new beer tourism index.
“They’re seeking out a whole experience based on their tastes. Maybe they’re tracking things down to add to a collection,” said Pepenella.
Local seafood, microbrews, sweets and crafts aren’t necessarily based on summer weather. The SO Made program would help to tell the world about products made here, attract talented people who would move to the area to work, and overall help LBI move toward more of a year-round economy.
“The chamber’s 2018 marketing plan will revolve heavily around the Southern Ocean Made program, and that’s why we want to be a part of it,” DeFilippis said. “It makes sense to promote small businesses that employ people and make products right here at home. We’re excited to use the chamber as another marketing avenue to promote Jetty, especially with a program like this that features a very important aspect of our company.”
The application fee is $200 for nonmembers, $100 for chamber members, and $50 for chamber partners.
Pepenella pointed to many of the start-ups in our area that help to tell a local story. Visitors don’t necessarily want to feel like tourists, and this gives them a special kind of insight with small businesses that really know the area.
“They want to feel like they’re included in the conversation,” she explained.