Last month, a press conference was held at what had been the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce office.
The purpose for the press conference was to formally announce the new brand and new name: Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce.
At last week’s regular meeting of the Arbor Vitae Town Board, “Let’s Minocqua” was, as it has been before, a hot topic of discussion.
The chamber’s executive director, Krystal Westfahl, visited Arbor Vitae town chairman Frank Bauers on July 9 of last year.
At the July 17 town board meeting, town chairman Frank Bauers briefed town supervisors Ryan Johnson, Brian Nerdahl, Jeff Hunter and Ashley Roach.
“The Minocqua chamber’s thinking about changing their brand,” he said then. “They would drop the names of Arbor Vitae and Woodruff off their brand and instead of the ‘Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce’ it would simply say, ‘Let’s Minocqua.’ Arbor Vitae and Woodruff would have no name recognition at all.”
Bauers said Westfahl asked him what he thought of that.
“I told her, ‘Not much,’” he said.
During the course of the subsequent discussion at that meeting — which had no chamber of commerce representatives in attendance — there was talk about the possibility of leaving the chamber.
“I asked her (Westfahl) what the idea was to change the brand,” Bauers said. “‘Was it to give Minocqua more recognition?’ It was just something they thought was a good idea. Well, we think it’s a bad idea.”
“I think they think they’re better than us,” Johnson said.
Bauers eventually made a motion that “our board is in favor 100% of not dropping Arbor Vitae’s name from the current brand.”
At a town board meeting a little more than a month later, on Aug. 21, Westfahl explained to the town board what the situation was with the chamber, the direction it was going and there wasn’t any intent to leave Arbor Vitae — or Woodruff, for that matter — behind.
She also gave each member of the town board a packet which contained an overview of the proposed new “branding” for the chamber as well as several different logos being considered.
By the end of that meeting, it seemed a compromise of sorts had been reached.
Bauers still not happy
In the wake of the January press conference announcing the new “brand,” it was clear Bauers was still a little miffed by the whole thing.
After earlier in last week’s meeting hearing from town treasurer Melody Gillespie the town paid the chamber its share of just over $60,000 in room tax revenue for 2019, he opened the discussion by saying neither Arbor Vitae or Woodruff supported the change.
“To me, it’s drawn all the attention to Minocqua,” Bauers said. “You know, our name recognition has pretty much dropped by the wayside. The biggest thing is why are we paying $60,000 a year to them and we’re not getting any name recognition?”
Jim Hartwig, president of the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, reminded Bauers the logo ultimately chosen and the centerpiece of the January press conference was one of the options presented to the town board in August.
“We did make some tweaks — name, sizing and all that — but it’s the same as we presented,” he said. “I’m trying to understand what’s changed since then to now.”
“If you look at Facebook,” Bauers said, referring to the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce Facebook page, “it doesn’t say our names there at all. There’s probably at least a hundred pictures on your Facebook page. Not one is in Arbor Vitae. Not one.”
He mentioned the Firemen’s Picnic the town hosts every year in early August.
“The second biggest thing to your Beef-A-Rama,” Bauers said. “Not one picture.”
“On Facebook?” Hartwig asked. “Or the website?”
“Facebook,” Bauers said. “Take a look at it.”
“I will check into that for you,” Hartwig said.
Bauers said the town is paying the chamber a lot of money.
“Before, it was the ‘Minocqua-Woodruff-Arbor Vitae Chamber of Commerce,’” he said. “Everybody knew what it was. It was a chamber of commerce, right? Then they changed it to the ‘Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce.’ Still, you knew it was a chamber of commerce. Now, it’s Let’s Minocqua.”
Bauers said the name recognition for the chamber of commerce is lost with the new brand and name change.
“We are still the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau,” Hartwig said. “Let’s Minocqua is a marketing strategy to keep pace with today’s standards. Very few, actually no one else in Wisconsin, still says ‘area chamber of commerce’ with their logos anymore. We were actually two that were left from years and years ago.”
The big problem for Bauers — and he told Hartwig he had to see his point — is the new logo says “Minocqua.”
“You’re trying to suck all the business into Minocqua,” he said. “We’re getting left out in the cold and we’re paying you $60,000 a year and it doesn’t seem right.”
Johnson said the Red Crown Lodge and Coon’s Franklin Lodge are really the only businesses in Arbor Vitae paying room tax.
“They don’t need the chamber to get their business,” he said.
The town board earlier in the meeting had reappointed Red Crown Lodge manager Sheryl Tharman to the Minocqua, Arbor Vitae and Woodruff room tax commission.
“They don’t even belong to the chamber,” Bauers said.
“Correct,” Johnson replied. “We’d be saving their guests thousands and thousands of dollars which, I think, only helps them.”
A representative with the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce on Friday said it was Franklin Lodge and not Red Crown Lodge that isn’t a member.
Phases and fads
Bauers said he’s visited with Woodruff town chairman Mike Timmons about the issue and said Timmons agreed it was time the towns addressed their respective room tax ordinances.
“Instead of giving Let’s Minocqua 75% of it (room tax revenue) ... maybe 50% would be more in line,” he said, adding Minocqua, Woodruff and Arbor Vitae all have room tax ordinances that are exactly the same.
“So, if two towns change it, it’s changed,” Bauers said.
Roach said she understands how people would use Minocqua as a key word when doing an internet search for Northwoods locations.
She said “it was detrimental” to see the logo as it is, but also said she’d like to see what it changes.
“Is it going to be changing of the business here?” Roach asked. “Are there going to be less people coming to this area? And coming north off of Minocqua to use our attractions? I don’t know that yet.”
She acknowledged it would be nice to see the Let’s Minocqua logo used, but still say Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, perhaps on top of the sign at the visitors bureau office.
“So you still know what it is,” Roach said.
Hunter said he agreed with Bauers.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” he said. “We’ve got two of the biggest contributors ... that don’t need the chamber. They’re getting nothing out of it and neither are we.”
Roach disagreed with Hunter, saying no one was getting anything.
“People are still coming here to the area,” she said. “When they’re staying at The Waters or Red Crown or Coon’s, a lot of the information they’re getting about the area is off the website. So, it’s not like they’re saying ‘Don’t go anywhere but Minocqua.’ Minocqua just happens to be the word they know.”
“Well, we still don’t get any recognition,” Hunter said and Roach agreed with that.
“I guess I’m in the middle on this,” she said.
Nerdahl, saying he was neutral on the issue, said he was surprised there were no representatives from Red Crown Lodge or Coon’s Franklin Lodge at the meeting or hadn’t contacted any town board members “that they’re upset about this and they’re paying most of the money.”
“Marketing goes through different phases or fads,” he said. “This is the phase or fad they’re into right now. They’re looking for a key word that will identify this area.”
Hartwig said the total chamber budget is approximately $750,000, a little more of that $400,000 in room tax revenue.
“From us, you’re getting $60,000,” Nerdahl said. “A small portion of the total budget.”
“It still counts,” Hartwig said.
Johnson said he’d be curious to know what local people have to say.
“It’s so common to pay room tax anywhere you go,” he said. “If you go in the cities, it’s eight, nine, 10% sometimes. It does add up.”
As the discussion wrapped up, Nerdahl said the “due diligence” needed to be put on the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce for proving to the town board “we’re getting $60,000 worth of advertising.”
“You come to us and show us where you’re promoting something in the area and I think two thirds of these arguments you’re listening to would go away,” he said. “Do something, show us and we’re off your back.”
The consensus was the matter would be revisited in a year.
On Thursday, Feb. 20, Westfahl said what may have to happen is she and others from the chamber will have to go to the town board and explain what it is room tax does for the town.
“There’s a lot of confusion on what exactly room tax does,” she said.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected].