Examining the Value of Trade Associations

Most of the time, the DPH Perspectives column addresses specific issues that affect the decorative plumbing and hardware industry, as well as business concerns such as sales techniques, using the Internet more effectively or branding your decorative plumbing and hardware showroom.

This month, however, I would like to address a different topic that relates to how you can build your business.

The value of association membership can often be undervalued or overlooked because it may not appear to generate tangible benefits in terms of measurable revenue. Yet, in a time when cost-cutting continues to be rampant, it’s critical to examine the value of all of your firm’s assets – and make no mistake, association membership is a very real asset that delivers very real value to your decorative plumbing and hardware business.


The last 18 months have been difficult for everyone. We all see that revenues are down. The most common response to all of this is to cut costs.

At first, this appears logical. When times are tight, something has to give, and it may be marketing dollars, or staff, or attendance at trade shows, or new technology, or education, or special services, or membership to various associations and organizations – or all of the above.

The challenge to this common thought process, however, is less observable. Over an extended period of time, cutting staff, cutting costs and cutting resources can only go so far. Simply put, you have to start growing and you can’t cut yourself to growth.

Yet today, everyone thinks cutting every “non-essential” cost is the right thing to do. You look at the balance sheet today and it appears that cutting costs helps get you out of the red. That is a good thing, right?

Well, it depends. Let’s not forget how “groupthink” affects our lives. Groupthink is a term used to describe a type of thought exhibited by group members who try and minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing and evaluating ideas.

Individuals who run decorative plumbing and hardware businesses often practice groupthink without knowing it. For example, many of you probably remember 10 to 12 years ago when everyone was buying stock and the pundits were talking about the never-ending growth potential of the stock market. The future appeared to be perennially rosy, and everyone seemed convinced that the growth would just keep on going. Unfortunately, they conveniently forgot the 75-odd years of market data that showed we were experiencing a “bubble.”

Today, the talk is much more negative. Unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low and remodeling remains sluggish as the economy struggles to right itself after surviving a brutal recession.

Everyone still jumps on the same bandwagons, though. The markets plummet one day on bad news and sky rocket the next based on potential good news. And yet, analysis continues to remain in short supply.


So the question is: Where does a decorative plumbing and hardware specialist go to learn how to succeed no matter what the economy is doing? How do you stop being a follower and figure out how to lead?

Once again, the answer can be simple. Winners and leaders never rest – they are always looking to other winners and leaders in their industry to stay as up-to-date and competitive as possible. Sadly enough, though, when times are tough, many decorative plumbing and hardware professionals cut the one “non-essential” cost that offers them that exposure to other winners and leaders – their association.

They don’t realize that this minor cost of membership – which seemed so easy to cut (or to never incur in the first place) – might just be the ticket to their future success.

Consider the following analysis before making a decision regarding joining an organization such as the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA).

A recent study conducted by the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks, Ph.D., entitled “Where the Winners Meet,” states: “On average, association members earn significantly more money and are more satisfied with their jobs than non-members. This is true even after holding constant differences in job categories, disparities in education and all other relevant personal characteristics.

“However, the benefits of association membership are not as straightforward as we often hear: Membership by itself does not stimulate higher earnings and job satisfaction. On the contrary, the most plausible explanation based on the data is reverse causation: Prosperity, success and happiness at work encourage association membership, because associations are where the winners meet in many professions.”

I have been in the association business for more than 15 years, and I can verify this analysis. Joining an association will not in and of itself make your business succeed, but if you join a group such as DPHA and become involved, you simply will be surrounding yourself with winners – the people who are succeeding in your industry right now.

Association members are interested in being active in their industry. They are looking to network, and grow, and learn. They are seeking solutions to today’s challenges, and they are willing to forge ahead and be creative in finding those solutions.

The very things that drive them to join an association and become involved in their industry are the same things that tend to make them leaders, innovators and winners. And associating with “movers and shakers” in an industry tends to inspire creativity, learning, networking and all of the things that lead to success.

Yes, it’s still tough out there. But, as you look at where you choose to invest your hard-earned dollars, be sure you don’t cut the very things that can lead to your future success.

It’s true that joining an association has a cost associated with it, but it also comes with valuable benefits. As the word “association” suggests, being able to “associate” with the leaders in the decorative plumbing and hardware industry can be an invaluable benefit, particularly in tough times like these.

The choice is yours: Cut the cost of association membership and stay within your current mindset, or get involved with your association and choose to be “where the winners meet.”