An interview with Barbara Higgens.

Barbara Higgens, Executive Director, Plumbing Manufacturers Institute

Editor’s note: This month marks the start of a new department in PM, News makers. Each month, PM will pick an industry leader and discuss topics that affect the state of the industry. Let us know what you think.

PM: How did you get picked for the PMI executive director position?

BH: Prior to joining PMI in April, I had been director of marketing for Switchcraft, a division of the Raytheon Co., which manufactures electronic components. While this may not sound like either plumbing industry or association work, the parallels are really quite strong.

In fact, I feel that my background has prepared me very well for this opportunity. My entire career has centered on manufacturing of one kind or another, and I have an understanding of manufacturing issues and budgets. Our members are manufacturers. I have experience on both sides of trade association work — as a member and as a director. I have a strong background in strategic planning and communications, as well as needs assessment. I am a good listener. I have had my own business, and understand the issues and process of setting up a company.

Beginning last December, there was an extensive screening process with a series of in depth interviews by the selection committee. The field of candidates included people from within the plumbing industry and with trade association management experience. In the final analysis, the issues facing PMI centered on marketing, customer service, adding value to members and communicating that value to members and others. I think some of the selection committee members thought I might bring a fresh approach on these issues. The organization is at a crossroad — I’m excited about the prospect of being a significant part of it.

PM: What should an association do for its members?

BH: I feel all associations need to be able to easily and confidently answer members when they ask, “What do I get for my membership dues? What is the organization doing for me?” With tighter budgets and limited time, these are legitimate questions.

As a member of the board of another association, I learned the importance of member satisfaction survey and feedback. Our job is to deliver what members want. It is their organization. The key is listening and then delivering. As part of my initiative to familiarize myself with the industry and our members, I have set a goal to visit each member at their facility. It is important to stay close to them to better serve their interests.

PM: What value are you building for your members?

BH: The No. 1 value our members see is the networking with peers in the industry. A close second is the ability to get ahead of legislation, to influence some of the issues that will dramatically affect our members’ businesses. PMI has been reactive; we’re now trying to be proactive. We’re trying to get ahead of those changes, and get to some of these things up front.

We’re going to grow our organization. We want to be more credible and more visible in the industry. Our vision is to be the voice of the industry. In order to do that, we have to take a higher profile in the industry.

PM: How do you plan on increasing PMI’s credibility?

BH: One way is to be more visible. I’ve been to two trade shows so far, the Kitchen & Bath Show, as well as the Hardware Show. I want to spread the word about PMI. We’re starting a campaign: “Why PMI?,” which promotes the importance of trade organizations and — more specifically — PMI. The key is to make sure we are delivering the value our members want. I perceive my job as certainly leadership, but with an eye toward customer service. We have to deliver the value they’re looking for.

Dave Viola, our new technical director, will help build PMI’s stature within the industry. He brings a strong technical background and an understanding of the workings of the industry. His talent in the area of training will also be a benefit to our members.

PM: What are the group’s key issues?

BH: There are five core issues that PMI will address in the industry. They are trade show consolidation, fair trade, water conservation, leachates and conformity assessment. PMI wants to be the vehicle to report non-compliant manufacturers and to preserve and enhance the industry’s position in the marketplace. We want to help establish a strategy and plan to lead and influence North American water conservation public policy related to plumbing product legislation, regulation, certification, listing and labeling. We’ll do research on trade shows and provide information that will facilitate more efficient use of trade shows. PMI is going to protect the property rights, intellectual or otherwise, of PMI members. Also, we want to promote a plumbing products conformity assessment infrastructure that would lead to a “one product, one standard, one certification, worldwide” structure.

PM: Where do you see the organization in one year?

BH: We will be well on our way to having a more solid organization. We’re building on a foundation that was already strong. It is made up of members who are very dedicated to this industry and PMI. In one year, the biggest change will be the visibility. We changed the logo to symbolize the other changes. That logo will be seen in a lot more places, and the PMI staff will be a lot more involved. PMI is already doing a good job in the way of serving its members — we just need to promote it more. Once again, I think that is why the selection committee chose a marketing person — to set strategies and then communicate the benefits of an already good organization.

PM: How about in five years?

BH: We are going to grow the organization. We’ll have more staff. PMI will be a substantial influence in the industry. I think we’ll be well on our way to achieving the five focus goals, if we haven’t already reached them. Our membership will be even bigger and broader than it is today.

PM: What are your short- and long-term goals?

BH: The short-term is to communicate the changes that a lot of people aren’t aware of. A lot of people don’t understand the task we’ve undertaken, which is to establish a dedicated internal PMI staff. We are employees of PMI — we don’t work for anyone else. In April, I began working off my kitchen table. By June, we had a new office, but no furniture or computers. By August, we had added three employees and were just putting in some systems. That’s the hidden part of what we’re doing — the fundamental part of running a business. The short-term would be to finish the internal things — finalize employee benefits, retirement plans and things of that nature that don’t have anything to do with the industry, but are very important to setting up the new PMI. We want to get the current members to rally around and spread the word.

In the long-term, we want to be more of a dominant influence in the plumbing industry. My vision is to have the PMI be sort of a New York Public Library of information. If anyone had a question; a problem; or an issue, they would think of calling PMI first. We would have the information they needed at our fingertips.

We’ve held our dues structure for 1999. There’s no increase. We updated our logo. We’re going to be much more active with the press and with trade shows. We’ll have better communication internally, by our new newsletter and membership directory. We started the “Why PMI?” campaign, we now have membership ribbons to identify members at trade shows and we upgraded our Web site. It is much more interactive. Eventually we’re going to have a members-only section where we can communicate instantly with each other. We will be building our membership from existing product categories within our ranks and add members for other new synergistic product categories within our industry. I cannot stress it enough, PMI is a strong, solid organization — it’s just a matter of getting the word out, and building from there.

PM: How can you benefit our readers?

BH: We’re going to improve the communication and relationship. Previously, everyone focused on their own little niche. Nobody knew what it was like to walk in the other’s shoes. We want to be helpful to others in the industry — answering questions, defining or explaining codes. We want to be the resource for information. We’ll represent the views of our members as the voice of the industry.

We have big things set for the future with this dynamic staff. As I said in my address at the general membership meeting in Washington, D.C. in September: Vision is a compelling image of an achievable future. We have the vision; we’re well on our way to achieving it.