A Leap of Faith Is More Comfortable with the Lights On

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is considering ways to re-orient its very effective organization to deal with market and structural changes expected in home building and remodeling. While the NAHB Remodelers have a roster of industry leaders, NAHB builder members and associates (vendors and specialty contractors) who remodel on a regular basis comprise a significant portion of the contractor membership. Remodeling is a big thing at NAHB and how it is represented, led, managed and organized is a huge concern to the membership.

Significant changes

A report proposing some significant changes to structure, management and member representation was recently distributed to NAHB leadership. The report addresses upcoming budgets and options to deal with membership losses resulting from the prolonged recession as well as counter-measures to keep housing and remodeling affordable in the face of new federal regulations. These topics are laudable and necessary for an organization to remain healthy. At the same time, great care needs to be given to industry support, as economic recovery is immanent. Now more than ever, it is important to offer existing and newly recruited members — the grassroots — the support they need to grow and prosper.

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies points out that remodeling is still a very fragmented industry, represented primarily by small companies. These smaller entities do not have funds for effective lobbying or advocacy. They need help to band together for effective representation, and NAHB and NARI are that source of help. It is no mystery that it is easier to service fewer large member companies than the greater numbers, but the need is where the associations should be devoting its energies. It is high time that the remodeling industry become the recruiting focus so that this enormous part of the residential construction market is properly represented.

Local engagement

There are some proposed changes (or advanced options) that deal with the strongly successful engagement of local members in the governance process of state and national association matters. Remodeling contractors, whether or not members of NAHBR, who attend state and national committee and directors meetings are better kept abreast of industry issues in the pipeline, trial balloons and pending legislation so that opinions and discussions can help form positions we, the contractor, want. The information that comes from the front line — the company and the local associate — should be central to proposed positions. With all deference to staff at whatever level, no information is as valuable as that from the “trenches.”

The proposed changes to eliminate networking meetings, director face to face exchanges and policy discussions can certainly save money for the association but at what cost to the health of the industry? The proposal needs input and discussion before being implemented. We hear a lot about transparency these days, and the basics of remodeling industry health needs lots of “lights-on” in the open discussion to take place at the local and state level so that the final plan is a more comfortable leap for members.

In any effective association, top staff and member leaders must constantly remind themselves that the local member contractor is the client, the customer and the guts of the organization and without them there is no association, no matter how efficient, modern or shiny. Home building very much includes remodeling as the basic industry, and changes need to be tested to market and for efficacy. NAHB, NARI and other building industry associations are successful and effective only when they represent their memberships well — not just because they are efficient and have some state-of-the-art methods.

LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and the other social networks are fun and functional, but we shouldn’t throw away e-mail, facsimile and hard copy just yet. Let’s take all the time we need to find out what remodelers want and need — the foundation. Then, and only then, is it time to restructure. We still sign contracts in person, in ink on paper, while you’re here...

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