Clare Goldfinch interviewed Jerry Irving at The Kingston Business Expo 2017

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Claire: Hello there. This is Clare Goldfinch from Business First TV, and today we are here this afternoon with Jerry Irving, who is the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in ... here in Kingston upon Thames. Tell us a little bit, first of all, about the Chamber of Commerce. What can the Chamber of Commerce do to help small businesses in this area?
Jerry Irving: Okay. Well, first of all, good afternoon, Claire, and thanks very much for talking to me.
Claire: It's a pleasure.
Jerry Irving: Well, first of all, I'd like to say we are one of the longest-standing Chambers of Commerce in the London area. We've actually been going since 1905, believe it or not.
Claire: Wow. That is a long time.
Jerry Irving: We've got a fairly long history. The Chamber of Commerce is all about supporting local business. Our mantra is about protecting and developing the business community.
Claire: Yes.
Jerry Irving: Because if we can look after them, then the business community can look after the residents, they can look after the people, they can employ people. What that does, ultimately, adds to the growth of an area.
Claire: Absolutely.
Jerry Irving: We're quite strategic in things like economic development plans, for example, whereby what we do to contribute towards supporting businesses ultimately helps the local economy, helps people, gives them employment, gives them wealth throughout that local community. We serve the borough of Kingston, as I said.
Claire: Yes.
Jerry Irving: We're Kingston Chamber of Commerce. We're not a town chamber; we're a borough chamber. We have around 400 active members who regularly come to our events across the year. In actual fact, we serve probably near two and a half thousand businesses across the Kingston business community.
Claire: You're offering a lot of support to those businesses. Tell us a little bit about today. What is today all about, the Kingston Business Expo?
Jerry Irving: Okay. What expos are about is about bringing business people together. Very often businesses work in isolation, particularly if they're small businesses. They're very focused about what they do. What an expo does is it draws those businesses out and gives them the opportunity to come and talk to each other with a view to maybe buying and selling services. Probably more importantly, it's about giving them the opportunity to develop new relationships, finding new people to work with, finding out what's going on in the local business community.
Claire: Yep. Also recommend each other's services as well, ideally.
Jerry Irving: Yep. Recommending each other. What we find, and this is probably the success of the Chamber of Commerce and other successful business networking organisations, is we create that environment to allow businesses to work together. I'm always amazed when I go away and I talk to our members and I find that so and so's talked to so and so and now they're doing this together, or, "Yeah, I spoke to so and so and he's going to help me with this."
Claire: You're getting these joint ventures going on together.
Jerry Irving: Yeah. It's a constantly bubbling business network environment where we find all sorts of relationships build up and where people work together. What we do find is that once people get to the Chamber, they stay with the Chamber because they understand the value of it.
Claire: Right.
Jerry Irving: That's really not only about networking; it's about business support as well. The third thing that we do is about-
Claire: You also do training as well, don't you.
Jerry Irving: Yep. We do training as well. We have some training programmes around business startup. We work very closely with the university. We have a young entrepreneurs club specifically for new businesses, new young businesses.
Claire: Yep.
Jerry Irving: The other, probably more important, thing, and if you're looking at some of the events over the last week, 10 days with the buildup to the election and what's happened subsequently, we're in a very uncertain period of time. That's the time, really, when businesses need to understand from both local government but also probably central governments about what they're going to do to make sure things are right for businesses. There's a-
Claire: Yeah. That's the time they really need to come together and consolidate.
Jerry Irving: Yeah. There's a lot of questions out there at the moment. When you're talking about Brexit, it's about future potential for employees. "What happens to my foreign workforce post-Brexit?" They want to know about what's going to happen about tax. Where's the situation with VAT? All those things need to be answered.
Claire: Lots of different things going on.
Jerry Irving: Yeah.
Claire: What's been your highlight today here at the Kingston Expo? What's been the you enjoyed?
Jerry Irving: Well, our first highlight was our breakfast this morning. We had a great turnout. I was very lucky to get hold of Sir Ed Davey, who was only reelected last week. Thankfully I've got a great relationship with him, so I phoned him up last week and I said, "Can you make the expo next week?" He came along this morning to talk to us a little bit about his plans as local MP for Kingston and Surbiton, what he's going to try and do. That was a highlight.
Claire: Yep.
Jerry Irving: We've had some great workshops go on thus far. I know right now we've got Google with their Talking Digitally about digital analytics for business.
Claire: Yes.
Jerry Irving: That's created a good draw, so there's probably about 100 people in the-
Claire: That are in there.
Jerry Irving: ... lecture theatre at the moment listening to that. Of course, when we've done all this today, we're all going to want to sit back and relax, maybe have a drink before we think about packing up and going home, so we've got a little celebration going on at around 3:30.
Claire: That's brilliant. Sounds good.
Jerry Irving: We're going to do some prizes.
Claire: Excellent.
Jerry Irving: We're going to choose a best stand prize today. I know there's been some raffles going on throughout the day.
Claire: Indeed.
Jerry Irving: It'll be a good end.
Claire: Big variety of people here, too, haven't there.
Jerry Irving: Yeah.
Claire: There's been a lot of people. Okay. Tell us: how do people find out more about joining the Kingston Chamber of Commerce?
Jerry Irving: Okay. Well, that's very easy. We have a very good website where there's lots of information on there. They can join via that website. Alternatively, I have a membership development manager who started with me just a couple of months ago, so she's out and about talking to local businesses. It's very easy to join. What I recommend to people, though, is, as you would do in most things, don't pay up until you try this out. What I say-
Claire: Come along for a meeting.
Jerry Irving: Yeah. What I say is, "Come along to one of our events. We run 40 of those throughout the course of the year. We run some very successful breakfasts. Come along to those. Try us out." I'm sure once they've done that, then they will think, "Yeah, okay. The Chamber of Commerce is going to be able to help me," and they will join.
Claire: What kind of events, the 40 events that you do per year? What kind of events do you hold?
Jerry Irving: Okay. We run a business breakfast once a month, and our average attendance for that is around 50 businesses. We run lunchtime events. We have a women in business club as well.
Claire: Brilliant.
Jerry Irving: They run events. We do evening socials. We're doing some gin tasting in a couple of weeks time at No 97 down in Surbiton.
Claire: Lovely.
Jerry Irving: They're all various types of events. We try and accommodate for businesses that can't do early mornings, businesses that can't do evenings. Some of our events are more formal networking, so we'll have minutes to win its type of things.
Claire: Yes.
Jerry Irving: Others are more sociable.
Claire: Yep.
Jerry Irving: Come along, meet up, have a chat with us.
Claire: Get to know each other better.
Jerry Irving: Yeah. Get to know each other, because at the end of the day, you do business with people that you know, like, and trust.
Claire: Trust. Yes.
Jerry Irving: We need to go through that process by meeting up with people, getting to know them, and that's the way the business will begin to flow.
Claire: Consistency is key. Well, thank you very much for coming along today. We really appreciate it because we know you're very, very busy. We look forward to coming back next year.

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