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Ambassadors greet chamber newcomers

(ran PAS edition)

Bill Totten was about to go home and jump in his pool Thursday afternoon when he was surprised by three women and a basket.

"You guys caught me in the middle of working," said Totten, owner of Whiskey Willy's Steakhouse and Saloon at the U.S. 41 and Dale Mabry Highway junction.

The visitors, three ambassadors from the Land O'Lakes Chamber of Commerce, had come to deliver a welcome basket to Totten, who recently joined the chamber.

Once a month, the ambassadors greet chamber newcomers, presenting them with baskets filled with promotional items from some of the chamber's business members. The ambassadors greeted five new members Thursday.

Along with the key chains, note pads, pencils, coffee cups and business cards found in the baskets, new members also get a welcome plaque, a central Pasco County map and a chamber membership directory.

"This explains everything that I'm supposed to do to be successful in the Land O'Lakes area, right?" he asked.

Not exactly. But joining the chamber does give new businesses community exposure and a chance to network with other local businesses, said Dee Phillips, a chamber ambassador.

"I had a lot more visibility when I became active," said Phillips, a sales representative for American Home Title Insurance on State Road 54. She has been an ambassador for four years. "I know a lot more people now than I ever knew in the community."

The chamber also serves as a referral service for its members, said Marjorie Walsh, the chamber's executive director.

"We refer customers to chamber members before we refer them to anyone else," Walsh said.

During one stop, Lynn Smith said she could recommend some of her customers to new member Phillips Carpets on U.S. 41.

"We try to support each other," said Smith, an agent for The Prudential Tropical Realty and ambassador for more than five years. "I enjoy going to meet (new members) because they feel good about us being there."

The surprise visit seemed to please Debra Epley, a saleswoman for Phillips Carpets.

"It's nice to know that we have such a warm community to welcome us," she said.

The ambassadors also are responsible for recruiting chamber members. Currently, the chamber has more than 300 members. In addition to Thursday's welcome wagon, the ambassadors also persuaded the owner of the restaurant where they ate lunch to join the chamber.

"It's just the civic thing to do," said Frank Lehman, owner of Peacock's Smokehouse and Grill on SR 54 in Wesley Chapel, which opened last month. "I'm new in the neighborhood."

Steward Stafford also thought joining the chamber would help his Hillsborough-based accounting firm, Small Business Service Center.

His business might not be in Land O'Lakes, but Stafford said he hopes to attract customers from the area with the exposure he can get through the chamber.

"It's excellent for networking," said Stafford, who lives in Land O'Lakes and was the chamber's secretary about 14 years ago.

To become a member, businesses fill out an application and pay a membership fee, which is $125 to $175 depending on the size of the business.

The membership fees finance the chamber's events such as the Jellybean Jamboree, Fall Flapjack Festival and the annual Business Expo.

"We try to encourage our business to get involved," Walsh said.

_ For information about the chamber or to become an ambassador, call 996-5522.