A Force To Be Reckoned With
Our new guest writer Dave Gordon is currently the Executive Director of the Independent Equipment Dealers Association where he has been on board for 18 months. His experience includes more than 35 years of leadership experience in strategy, sales, marketing and financial issues, as well as distribution development for manufacturers. Dave spent his early years at AED as the Director of Membership, then later became Vice President of Sales/CONDEX and served as the Publisher of AED’s monthly magazine Construction Equipment Distribution. Dave current lives in Westchester, his hometown where he grew up, just fifteen minutes west of the city of Chicago. In his first blog post for Learning Without Scars, Dave Gordon writes about a force to be reckoned with…
Taking a pass on your trade association? Here’s what you – and your team – are missing out on.
A long time ago in a place far away – queue the scrolling Star Wars intro – I was trying to recruit a construction equipment company on the East Coast to join the association I worked at for 30 years, Associated Equipment Distributors (AED). It was the early 1990s, before the advent of sophisticated CRM systems, emails, and e-newsletters – so, plugging away with all the “old tools” at my disposal, I’d been after this guy for some four months.
I will say he was a formidable “opponent,” silent for long stretches and then, if I happened to catch him on the phone, quick with an objection to nearly every argument I presented. In the end, I believe the primary reason he finally joined was to put a stop to all my calls, notes, and mailed information!
But here’s the thing: Once I convinced him to become a member, that dealer principal jumped in with both feet! He attended every meeting, he served as a director and eventually became chairman, the highest volunteer position. On several occasions, he told me his active participation had been one of the most rewarding business and personal experiences he ever had. The connections he had developed became lifelong friendships.
I could tell literally dozens if not hundreds of similar stories – bringing business owners and their employees into the family of their industry’s trade association has been a chief hallmark of my career. Sometimes it took me well over a year to “win the fight,” so you can imagine the frustration when, once in a while, someone would drop their membership after just one dues-billing cycle!
The fact is, while some owners prioritize and fully immerse themselves in all the benefits of membership, others succumb to their own busyness and give up before thinking it all the way through. Perhaps the No. 1 objection about associations I’ve heard over the years is this: “You guys are doing a great job, but I just don’t have the time to read anything or to attend meetings.”
And look, I get it – you’ve got a business to run and a bottom line to grow. But in my experience, that mindset is likely to backfire on you eventually. That view of associations overlooks one important thing, and in today’s labor market, it may be the most crucial consideration: your people. Association membership enables you to offer resources to your team that help grow them professionally, and that, my friend, will absolutely help grow your bottom line. Industry-specific education, webinars, conferences, reports and publications, along with networking events – these are the tools needed to grow and maintain a successful business.
So, while you may initially feel the same overwhelm you get with the daily newspaper subscription that you just can’t keep up with, a better way to approach your association membership is like the all-you-can-eat buffet: You have to pace yourself, be discerning, and choose the opportunities that can help you with your specific business issues.
And remember, it’s not just about you. You definitely want to get as many members of your team involved as possible. Most corporate memberships allow your staff to take advantage of the full array of benefits, so my advice is: Get them all on the mailing list!
Coming together with other companies within your industry creates a world of opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have access to on your own. The benefits of membership in a trade organization can be different for everybody, but here are four that could make a big difference for you.
1. Training & Education
Training and education are mission critical to maintaining a competitive edge in any industry. Having the best and brightest employees is positively essential for growing your business. Investing in your employees helps retain them, and they’re likely to be far more productive.
Most trade associations offer industry-specific seminars, workshops, and classes to help you learn and grow, with subjects ranging from sales to rentals to parts and service. Other training may include high-level topics for owners, CFOs and general managers.
Trade organizations offer a great way to connect with others in your industry whose businesses are like yours, and they face the same day-to-day problems you might be experiencing. Naturally, you probably don’t want to discuss strategic or operational issues with a neighboring competitor – the beauty of your association’s national membership is that you’ve got out-of-state “friends and family” to call upon, business peers who can share their experiences and either help you explore new ideas or connect you with someone they know who has had and solved the same problem.
3. Industry Trends
If there’s one thing that’s been constant throughout my 35 years in the construction equipment distribution industry, it’s change. Through the highs and lows of the economy, the roll-up of many dealers by the national rental companies, and the consolidation of many dealers, being a part of a trade association will keep you informed on all the emerging trends, economic data, and business tips to help you survive and thrive.
Several trade associations lobby the government on behalf of their industries. Many of these issues can have a direct impact on your business, so joining forces with other members in the organization can certainly be more effective at the federal and state levels than going it alone. Even if you prefer not to have a direct, personal role, you’ll be kept up to date on what legislative issues are being argued on your behalf.
At the end of day, belonging to an association isn’t a threat to your entrepreneurial spirit or your proprietary ways of running your business – instead, it’s an enhancement to you and your company. Association membership gives you what you probably can’t achieve on your own, multiplying available resources, fostering ideas, and cultivating relationships that enrich you and your employees professionally and personally.
If ever you’ve battled against the “fear of missing out,” now is the time lay down your weapons and feel it in full force! Because where associations are concerned, I cannot begin to count the competitive advantages missed by those who choose to tough it out on their own in these bizarre and uncertain economic times. May the force of association membership be with you!
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