By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Celebrating its 25th anniversary with a brand new logo and website, Welcome Neighbor continues its winning combination of promoting hometown merchandise while greeting new residents in more than 20 communities.
“The basis of the company is simple, word-of-mouth ad-vertising,” Jeff Campbell, General Manager of Welcome Neighbor said. “We just go out and greet people and talk about the businesses that are in the community and the nonprofits that are there. It’s a good community service and encourages people to shop locally.”
Welcome Neighbor currently covers the counties of Carver, McLeod, Scott, Wright, and western Hennepin. The communities served are as far east as Prior Lake and Eden Prairie, and as far west as Hutchinson, with potential for further growth.
Although the concept of the business remains the same as when Dan and Darlene Roth of Waconia founded it in 1987, several changes have taken place to improve the business’s visibility and productivity since Herald Journal purchased it February 2011.
One major change was giving the website and logo a fresh look.
“Having a better web presence has made a huge difference to the business,” Campbell said.
Campbell has found that having the website has allowed new residents to feel confident about the company’s authenticity.
“The hardest thing for us has been getting that new resident to get back to us. Everybody is skeptical that we may be selling something,” Campbell said. “If we knock on the door and nobody is home, we just leave a card with a picture of the greeter (Welcome Neighbor representative) on it and they can go online now and request a welcome visit.”
“It has also helped with businesses that are interested in working with us,” Campbell said.
The website includes a page for every community that Welcome Neighbor serves, and a photo of the greeter for that community, sponsors (businesses) listed with a link to their website, and a link to each city’s chamber website.
This allows the new resident to connect with their city and business community.
Other changes made to improve productivity are new computers and accounting software.
“The accounting software we were using was the original, and we moved to QuickBooks, which allows us to e-mail our invoices and keep better track of the finances of the company,” Campbell said.
In July 2011, Roxanne Felder was hired as office administrator to assist Campbell with his workload.
Felder has been an asset to the office, keeping all of the 24 communities’ information organized, which is no easy task, according to Campbell.
With more than 200 clients (community businesses), and civic information for every county and city collected routinely for each community, there is a lot of promotional material to sort through.
“Collecting it and keeping on top of it from the business side of it isn’t easy,” Campbell said. “It’s very time-consuming. We try to get a year’s worth of information or certificates at a time.”
Another timesaving change was moving the Welcome Neighbor office from Waconia to the Herald Journal office in Winsted. It made for a much shorter commute for Campbell and Felder, who both live in Winsted.
“Here (Winsted), everything is under one roof which makes it very convenient,” Campbell said. “All of the printing and design is done right here. Welcome Neighbor is not a store-front type business, and it really came down to saving some money with rent. The move has been a nice change for us and hasn’t affected the business negatively at all.”
Welcome Neighbor has 10 greeters who cover 24 communities. The greeters are experts on each of the communities they cover, and Campbell calls them the face of Welcome Neighbor.
“I am impressed by my greeters, who do their job well,” Campbell said. “They take pride in their community and when they meet new residents, they want them to know all the community has to offer. They are always enthusiastic about their job and about making Welcome Neighbor better.”
When someone new moves into a community, it’s the greeter’s job to take a folder to the new resident with information put together specifically for that community.
The folder contains civic information about the city, county, parks, maps of any kind, a church directory, child care and preschool directory, and more.
In addition, Welcome Neighbor clients each have a presentation page, which includes pictures of the owner, and a certificate which offers free or discounted services or items to the new resident when making a visit to the client’s business.
Some of the Welcome Neighbor clients are owners of restaurants, medical clinics, automobile repair and services, and insurance and financial services.
Campbell meets with his greeters every other month to share news and concerns.
“Everyone is working individually so this gives them the opportunity to talk about something that has happened or any concerns they might have,” Campbell said. “It’s a good way for me to connect with them, too. Otherwise it’s just an e-mail here or there or an occasional phone call.”
Campbell has learned of other welcoming services that have eliminated the greeter, switching over to mailings, which is easier to do, according to Campbell, “Just mail out a packet.”
“But it doesn’t have the effect of someone stopping by,” Campbell said.
To confirm Campbell’s convictions, each day Welcome Neighbor receives a few response cards back from new residents thanking the greeters for their service.
Campbell also keeps updated on what is going on with other welcoming services through his membership with Welcome Services International, which meets annually. The group has about 60 members, located throughout the US and England.
“What we try to do is to help each other out,” Campbell said. Through “Shop Talk” e-mails, questions and answers on subjects pertaining to the welcoming services are shared on a regular basis.
To learn more about Welcome Neighbor, go to www.welcomeneighbor.com.