Association membership includes many benefits to help you succeed in business.

In my estimation, less than half of all trade contractors belong to their local trade association, and less than half of those actively participate in local meetings or conventions. What a waste!

We will discuss many of the pleasures and profit-oriented reasons for participation in your trade associations, but I highly recommend that you attend one of their local meetings and a convention to see for yourself. It’s called “rubbing elbows with your peers.” These are your competitors who band together for the benefit of all. I have been an association member and enjoyed more than a half century with respectful people who share everyday experiences.

Problem Solving

Let’s begin with organizing and operating a cost-effective salvage center that we discussed in a recent column (“Back To The Future,” July 2010). Contractors that attend trade meetings are in a reliable position to help you as well as themselves with critical do’s and don’ts:

• Some may not have seen the column and will appreciate you bringing it to their attention.

• Some companies may be too small and not have the necessary space to work on and store salvage. They may wish to join forces and cooperate with your venture.

• Some may welcome the concept and have the needed space and facilities. They might invite you to share their program.

• Some may disagree with the idea and their comments will be worth your time to consider. They could help you avoid any critical mistakes.

You will be pleasantly surprised by listening to other contractors as they discuss their everyday business and family situations. Likewise, they will encourage you to share your daily frustrations, problematic decisions and success stories.

You may have some serious concerns that another contractor has already faced and overcome. You can experience confidentiality when discussing personal and family matters with a contractor from a distant location during lunch or break times at a convention.

A common predicament that most contractors face is family succession. Which of my children could take over and run this business? Another problem with family businesses may include wives or other family members interfering with business matters that can and should be controlled with a written and regimented chain of command. Your fellow contractors would certainly appreciate your suggestions on these matters.

You can share tentative plans to diversify, start a new division, enter into a joint venture, and discuss advertising costs  vs. results. Or you can discuss problems with cash flow, collections, change orders, banking, bonding and insurance.

You can also share legal advice on hiring and firing, OSHA citations, unfair labor practices and using arbitration to settle differences.

Most associations conduct seminars that cover some of these topics. But there are many more positive reasons to join your industry association.

Most importantly, you will learn how to delegate and ensure all of your work and responsibilities are taken care of properly. This is especially critical when you go away to a convention or hold a time-consuming position doing business for your local chapter.

Conventions are usually scheduled at fancy resorts where you can take your family to relax, recharge your battery and enjoy your spare time - play golf, hunt, fish, swim, play tennis, gamble, etc. A simple business phone call will provide questions and answers for any critical situation back home.

'Together We Can Win'

Membership also adds political power, financial stability and increased ability to provide needed services to your community. You certainly can help your neighbors as much as they can help you and your business.

You should involve the major supply houses in this “Together We Can Win” attitude. They display their products at every convention and explain how and where to use them efficiently. They provide free training for your craftsmen at the supplier’s facilities or at a jobsite where a substantial amount of product will be installed. Some even certify your installers.

Many of our trade associations employ the services of knowledgeable attorneys to provide assistance on collective bargaining and union procedures. Whether you already are a union contractor, are considering joining, or are being threatened or harassed, your association can help.

The majority of union agreements and work rules are negotiated between union officials and a local trade association. You can get involved in these negotiations to ensure a positive, profit-producing agreement that provides a proud and fair working atmosphere for all of your employees. A major concern is preventing jurisdictional problems and strikes.

Belonging to a trade association also gives you a louder voice to deal with local politics regarding building codes, continuing education, licensing for craftsmen or businesses, jobsite inspections and plan approvals. Authorities will certainly react more to a group’s appeal than requests or complaints from one individual contractor. Your local chapter also has access to information from state and national agreements that would fortify your position.

Our failing national economic situation has created ungodly competitive bidding in most markets. You may need some major concessions with restrictive work rules and even with wages or work hours. Your requests would definitely be far more effective coming from a trade association.

Most outsiders think that all contractors are enemies because we bid against each other on every project.They haven’t been to a convention or chapter meeting to witness not only friendship but the outstanding effort to help each other. I was amazed at the sharing of manpower between association members during previous work shortages:

• Contractors who were short of work would actually lend their employees to another member who needed help. Those employees would remain on the same payroll to eliminate wage comparisons and changing benefits and insurances. The lending contractor would then send an invoice for the total amount.

This was especially effective with keeping apprentices employed. Open-shop contractors have access to registered apprenticeship programs and classes through their local trade associations.

• Some contractors will also sub work to one of their competitors as the need arises. However, care must be taken not to commit collusion or engage in price-fixing. Here again, the association’s legal advice will help prevent any problems.

Participating in local and national trade associations will bring all of these benefits to your company during this work shortage and recession and help to ensure a successful future.

Do it now. Attend chapter meetings and a national convention to see what “Together We Can Win” would mean to your company.