Stronger Together and Leading with Strengths

After years behind the camera photographing weddings, chamber member Melissa Shook wanted a better way to share her talents with other business owners and to give her weekends back to her young family. With years in the business, Melissa recognized that the bridal business had shifted to an industry where referrals came more from other vendors than from the brides themselves.

Outgoing and naturally talented at meeting new people, Melissa realized that she could help more reserved wedding vendors learn to build new relationships in fun settings. In January 2017, Melissa started Southern Wedding Professionals to create networking opportunities for individuals and businesses serving the wedding industry. Melissa likens her business to a chamber of commerce for wedding professionals.

Relying on her talents for hard work and achievement, Melissa hosted her first industry networking event in January 2017, planned and delivered her first bridal event a little over a year later, and in August 2018, launched her magazine The Southern Social. The magazine launch party (hosted by chamber member Firefly Gardens, which graced the front cover) was a celebration of Melissa’s passion for connecting wedding professionals and educating brides.

Melissa put together the first edition herself to demonstrate her own capabilities in graphic design and knowledge of the industry. Future editions will include input from many others. A collaborator at heart, Melissa plans to engage her advertisers in the development of the magazine content. While other publishers keep their magazines under wraps until the reveal, Melissa offers transparency and engagement for the businesses featured in the pages. They will see digital proofs to ensure they won’t be disappointed when the print edition lands.

Melissa also wants the magazine to offer brides education about budgeting, vendor selection, and planning. By teaching brides how to find the right match in vendors for their style, budget, and personality and sharing the values of honesty and openness in the selection process, Melissa hopes the magazine can help ensure a positive experience for both brides and vendors.

The desire to build connections that led Melissa to form her business also caused her to get involved with the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce. A graduate of Leadership Midlothian, Melissa put her energy and love of small business into action to chair a very successful Midlothian Marketplace in March 2018. Melissa continues to look for opportunities through the Chamber to support, encourage, and mentor other business owners, while humbly seeking the same for her rapidly growing business.

The recent flooding that unfortunately impacted many of our chamber members took the metaphor further than we hoped, but the “high tide lifts all boats” theme continues to drive Chamber members like Melissa. Just as Southern Wedding Professionals set the tone for competitive wedding vendors to connect and support others in their industry to succeed, the Midlothian Chamber aspires to offer the same supportive culture for all our members.

One great example of collaboration is the Chamber’s partnership with the City of Midlothian and Reach Council to teach strength-based leadership to Midlothian students with help from board member Jennifer Wilson, our education committee, and many community leaders. Take a cue from these generous leaders, look around and lift a hand, or take a hand, and let’s all agree that together we are stronger.

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