CRYSTAL LAKE – After working 70 to 80 hour weeks for the past 6 1/2 years running a business and leading the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, Gary Reece is ready to sleep in.
Reece left his post as president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce last week to focus on Heartland Cabinet Supply, his custom cabinetry business.
Instead of waking about 4 a.m., he now gets up at 5:45 a.m.
“I’m really liking that,” he said.
But he still works Saturdays. In the wake of the recession, Heartland Cabinet Supply has been busy. Things started to pick up in 2011 and 2012 and took off in 2013.
“Business is out of control,” Reece said.
With encouragement from his mentor, the late Bill Dwyer, Reece put his name in for the chamber job when Bob Blazier retired. In 2007, Reece got the gig, not knowing exactly what he was getting into or what the economy had in store.
“I’m the kind of guy who needs a challenge,” Reece said.
His first challenge was to tackle the organization’s finances.
“Gary brought a lot to the chamber,” said Brian Coli, a chamber board member and owner of Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub in Crystal Lake and South Barrington. “When he came to the chamber, the finances weren’t great. But he hit the ground running and has really had a big impact on the finances by building up healthy balances.”
With backing from the board, he cut costs, limited budget increases and put the organization on a sustainable path.
During his tenure, the chamber’s building was renovated, its website was redesigned three times (a fourth is in progress) and the organization’s newsletter was overhauled so instead of losing $18,000 to $20,000 a year, it brought in more than $10,000 a year.
All the while, Reece served as the public face of Crystal Lake’s business community, shook hands, gave speeches, posed for pictures at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, met with politicians and civic leaders and welcomed new businesses to town.
Reece also oversaw the implementation of a new database system and accounting system, developed a governmental affairs policy, held the line on membership fee increases and boosted retention. The chamber’s member retention rate is near 85 percent, he said.
Much of this took place during the Great Recession, a fact that makes Reece’s work with the chamber more remarkable.
Reece also met quarterly with other area chamber leaders to collaborate and share ideas.
“He has truly been an inspiration to all of us,” said Rita Slawek, president of the Huntley Area Chamber of Commerce. “Gary brought the knowledge of a business owner, the patience of a saint and the courage to think outside the box.”
The Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce has launched a search for Reece’s successor. Coli said the organization wants the position filled by April 1.