Advocacy—the act of banding together to influence an outcome—may be related to action but it is hardly exciting. It’s more akin to watching paint dry or trying to push a string. Advocacy usually requires you to pay someone to represent your policy or point of view to the public or government. Advocacy is typically celebrated when the advocate wins, but advocacy is much more important for what it prevents from happening.
Some years ago, Congress was about to pass a bill harmful to the building industry when one of the NAHB members had the idea of mailing a 4-inch slice of 2 by 4 to his representatives with “Vote NO” written on the board. The idea caught on, and there were literally truckloads of 2- by 4-blocks sent to members of Congress. The press loved it; senators and representatives hated it. It worked. The building industry’s point was made. The reason was numbers—numbers of members.
Regardless of your politics, or lack of them, today’s onslaught of expensive documentation or questionable regulations requires organized resistance. The issues affecting our industry, including lead regulations, toxic mold, residential fire sprinklers, workers’ comp insurance and octopus training, are in place largely because there was not adequate support for the preferred side. Millions or billions of dollars later, we complain when we have to toe the expensive line. We say we could have done something about these issues if we had only known. Knowing comes from having resources, money and people to monitor what is going on in Congress. Knowing what is in the planning stage gives us time to mobilize and mount a campaign to get the right version of legislation passed.
We need cost-benefit analysis and forceful decisions based on real-world situations. But how do we make it happen? The answer is advocacy. I need it. You need it. You are it! Remodeling is coming to the forefront as the leader in residential construction because home building is on its butt. Now is the time to be heard. It’s the number of voices that make the right noise that really count. When Congress or one of the agencies is working on a bill, they are often out of touch with what the cost impact will be on the individual job. They may do some polling but never give the ultimate purchaser the choice of asking whether he or she thinks it is worth the additional cost. Only our trade associations have the organizational structure to properly represent our needs.
If you are not a member of one of the two major trade associations, join. Period. You can’t afford not to. If you do belong and your chapter is not actively representing you, fix it. If the industry publications you read don’t advocate membership to further the interest of the industry, complain. We may not be able to completely change things back to what is reasonable, but we can start. The answer is in the numbers. NAHB and NARI have a combined membership of remodeling companies of approximately 25,000. By my estimate, this probably represents only 15 percent of the viable remodeling enterprises in the country. Think of the heat we can create if we represented even just 200,000 companies and each of them contacted their legislators about a single bill: We win, they lose.
Sure, I have a preference as to which association to join, and so does my good friend Mark Brick, past NARI national president. However, we agree joining is the answer. Look at the successes of the National Rifle Association and AARP and the Trial Lawyers Association. Membership is not a new concept. It’s the best way to be heard. Look at everything you have gone through by becoming lead certified and the added cost it has on the job; then the untrained worker and unaware client gets a free waiver from practicing safety. Advocacy promotes membership, and members in great numbers are a lobbying force with which to be reckoned. If lead is dangerous, then no one should be exempt from treating it properly—owner or not.
Advocacy is a must. Practice it. Demand it. Endorse it. Enforce it. Then enjoy the results. While you’re here … .