BBB Keeper

Executive Director Pamela Crim
Photo by James Patrick.

How do you build a better Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona? Executive Director Pamela Crim and her crew of 15 are aiming to attract more consumers, forge new alliances and gain more visibility.
After celebrating 65 years of helping consumers and companies alike, recent changes mean that BBB of Southern Arizona isn’t like the one your parents relied on.
A new downtown location, a stronger marketing campaign, more community outreach and an updated online presence are meant to attract millennials — those born between 1980 and 2000 — and Hispanics.
“This is very unlike BBB,” says Crim, a former business owner. “We want to get rid of that blue suit, red tie syndrome.”
Change has been a constant aspect of Crim’s personal and professional lives. Born in Indiana and raised in New England, her family moved a lot for her father’s corporate career.
She continued to relocate as a health care sales executive. “I was single, very committed and enthusiastic,” Crim says. “I wasn’t afraid to move around. It was a great adventure.”
That changed when she married and had a son. Wanting to settle down, she took a lateral transfer to Tucson and eventually left her sales position. By then her husband had started the internet service provider After the couple divorced, Crim took over the flagging company. She faced a big learning curve. “I didn’t even know how to use email,” she admits with a laugh.
But she did know about business and customer service. With her father’s help, “the first thing we needed to do was make sure it was a healthy business and it had a focus on the customer,” she says.
She hired people who could help customers use internet technology. She secured business contracts and kept up with changing products in the industry.
By the time she sold the company in 2005, it was profitable and well-regarded. It won a Wells Fargo Copper Cactus Award for Best Place to Work (2004) and one for Business Growth (2002). She was named Woman of the Year in 2001 by Arizona Business and Professional Women.
Her next venture, a high-end day spa in Oro Valley, wasn’t so successful. “It did well the first few years until the economy bottomed out,” Crim explains. Then she had to make the hardest business decision of her life. “As an entrepreneur you have this tremendous desire not to close up,” she says.
But she wanted to make sure she did it right. She paid off her debts to vendors and gave customers time to use gift certificates before she locked her doors.
Crim took the executive director post at BBB of Southern Arizona in 2014. She says her experiences help her understand what the 3,200 businesses accredited by BBB of Southern Arizona go through to win the trust of customers. “I truly feel that I have empathy and great admiration for them,” she says. “Each year, I love celebrating at the Torch Awards all the businesses that do well by doing the right thing every day.”
Even last spring’s annual awards ceremony showed how the local bureau is being transformed. A new category — the Sparks Award — specifically recognizes a business in which the leadership team includes someone no older than 35 years old.
December’s office move from midtown to downtown has increased visibility. “At the previous space, maybe two or three consumers a week would come in,” Crim says. “Three, eight, 10 consumers a day now come into our facility.”
Its new location also is meant to tap into the young workforce that has now energized the organization.
By listening to the bureau’s young employees, Crim, the board and the staff have created programs attractive to millennials who now are buying homes. The bureau has developed new mobile apps. Its recent publicity campaign features a bearded animated character that the staff has dubbed “Max the Millennial.”
Crim did something similar to reach the Hispanic community, having sought the advice of her Hispanic staff members. As a result, BBB has added more Spanish-language resources.
For all audiences, the bureau has become more visible at events and works closely with its member businesses, government agencies and other community groups to keep a high public profile.
Each local Better Business Bureau office is chartered by the national Council of Better Business Bureaus. The council has honored BBB of Southern Arizona every year since 2011 for its growth of accredited businesses.
Although the Better Business Bureau most frequently is viewed as a consumer-advocate organization, Crim also sees it as a group that creates partnerships.
“I have developed a passion for business and a real sensitivity to what it takes to make things happen,” she says. “At BBB, we serve both consumers and business owners and I am proud that I have worn both pairs of their shoes.” — Elena Acoba