Today’s economic climate is bleak, to be frank. As our industry struggles with delayed or cancelled jobs, the subprime mortgage crisis and a myriad of banking failures, it is hard to be optimistic. Some days staying home and watching a movie in a dark room sounds like a great way to escape the dreariness of reality.

Today’s economic climate is bleak, to be frank. As our industry struggles with delayed or cancelled jobs, the subprime mortgage crisis and a myriad of banking failures, it is hard to be optimistic. Some days staying home and watching a movie in a dark room sounds like a great way to escape the dreariness of reality.

Be stronger. Be smarter.

Realize that this down cycle will pass. Believe it.

Tough times are great times to contact your association and see how the industry is innovating and responding to change and down markets. Associations are hubs of information about government policy, product innovation, trends (green products, anyone?), marketing campaigns, promotional strategies and staffing ideas. Trade associations offer one-stop shopping for your business. Ensure you get all the information possible to maximize your opportunities in tighter markets.

Your membership dues fund a myriad of activities; don’t be shy - contact your local chapter or national office and ask questions. Even if you feel a thousand miles removed from the administrative offices of your trade association, the contact with you, a roofing contractor out in the field, the real deal, is worth its weight in gold. Associations have to be focused on the big picture to ensure they can respond to various government regulations, marketplace changes, and building code developments. Numerous members will share your same concerns and issues; linking with them through the association is a great way to develop well-planned response strategies to an industry crisis.

Communicate With Association Staff

Associations have well-trained staff members who present well on stage - it’s part of their jobs. Remember, however, that they are there to help you with your roofing business. Contact them and ask questions. You’ll be surprised at how much information you get back.

Association staff members are easier to talk to than you think. Don’t be intimidated by a title or a person who handles more office paperwork than you do. These staffers also have industry experience and have merged that with administrative skills. Association quality control and marketing field staff are experts in their field, virtual gold mines of information. They are there to help, and they need you to ask for assistance. So many times associations send out surveys and hope, just hope, for the tiniest percentage of returns. When an association contacts you they are looking for feedback to ensure what they are doing is what you, their valued member, wants them to do. It’s a two-way street, and they’re depending on you for guidance. Your industry experience and knowledge is priceless to them. They’d love to hear your insight.

A smart move is to establish a good working relationship with your fellow members and association staff. Putting faces to names makes it much easier to sit down at the table during tough times, roll up sleeves and get the job done.

Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau Cedar Quality Auditor inspects product. (Photo courtesy of the Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau.)

Get Beyond Tunnel Vision

It’s truly amazing how tunnel vision can develop over the years. Been caught staring at every single roof on the street as you drive down the road in your rental car on vacation? It’s hard to leave it behind. Realize this. It’s OK that the dynamic roofing industry is an integral part of your life. Make it your mission to get others involved and learning about our industry. When you mingle with other contractors, suppliers, manufacturers and wholesalers, you will learn more about their best practices, which in turn helps your business.

Perhaps your association has an affiliate membership category that includes hospitality service providers. Sure, you’re thinking, how does talking to a hotel manager help me sell more roofs? Think about it this way: The hospitality industry employs the absolute best, top-notch service staff in the business world. Wouldn’t your business benefit from learning how they get customers in the door? How about those little extra perks they give to their repeat guests, such as freebies and e-mail promotions? With a little ingenuity, the same concepts can be applied to your business, likely with stellar results. Your fellow members will be glad to speak with you; remember everyone joined the same association in the hopes of improving business. Make sure you get your piece of the action!

Get Involved

I spent a great many years heavily involved with our local Chamber of Commerce. Several times I’d have members come up to me and say, “Well, I’ve paid my membership fee for the year but nothing’s happening.”

Nothing’s happening. Really?

My immediate question back to them was, “Have you attended a meeting? Served on a committee? Showed up at a networking event? Written a column for the newsletter?” I would get blank stares and firm shakes of the head. These people actually thought that they’d just pay their dues and all of a sudden the customers would start rolling in.

Full membership benefits entail a little more than signing a check once a year. It’s all about engagement with your association. If you never show up, then fellow members don’t really know that you’re open for business. If you never volunteer to help out your association, giving back to the community, then your skills will not be seen by as many industry stakeholders. The main lesson here is get involved. Don’t be shy. Sure, turning up as a new member at an association function can be a daunting experience. A great solution is to call the chairman of the membership committee and ask him/her to pair you with a buddy for the first event. That way you don’t have to sit alone - and you’ve just made your first business networking client.

Offer Solutions, Not Just Complaints

Associations thrive on member feedback. Dedicated staff members have a tough job trying to satisfy hundreds of members’ needs and wants … and it all has to be done on an equal basis. Trade associations must not fund programs that are for the exclusive benefit of one member. Their mandate, tax-exempt status and ability to gain government funding depends upon offering services to the full membership.

Staff try hard to satisfy everyone; however, speaking from over 10-plus years experience, I know firsthand how challenging it is when 50 members want direction A and the other 50 want direction B. Usually a decent compromise is figured out through the board of directors with the assistance of staff. However, make sure that key feedback is presented to them. It’s much more productive to call the association office and say that you have a problem - and also, that you’d like to present a suggested solution. This is a much easier conversation for staff to have and certainly gets your views up to the key decision makers in a more appropriate format.

Make Your Dues Count

In summary, smart association members know that filling out that application form is just the first step in a long, successful relationship. It’s no secret that you’ve joined the association with the hopes of improving your own business. Improvements (and hopefully with the resultant increase in profits) will be seen after you realize there is more involved when you get involved. Showing up to meetings and sharing your ideas is key. Volunteer to take on committee assignments. Sharing ideas with a broad cross-section of industry stakeholders will give you a big picture view and help you tackle a large and sometimes unwieldy marketplace. Learn all you can and read association publications. The investment of your time is well worth the effort and it will pay off handsomely in the end. Before long, someone may tap you on the shoulder and say, “Would you consider running for a board seat in the upcoming election?”