ICS Magazine

Is Trade Association Membership Worth It?

January 7, 2008


During my travels throughout the United States, as well as in England, Japan and Australia, I’ve been very fortunate to meet many people through my affiliation with both IICRC and SCRT. I represent SCRT on the IICRC Board of Directors. When discussing my involvement with these organizations, many respond, “Oh, yeah, I’m a member of IICRC, also.”

Of course, you and I both know that’s not true, but in case someone out there doesn’t, I thought I’d explain the difference between an industry trade association and the IICRC. It may be a little confusing at first, but once understood, it makes perfect sense.

First of all, IICRC is a non-profit certification organization and technician registry for certified registrants and companies. IICRC was founded to set and promote high standards and ethics within the inspection, cleaning, and restoration service industries. As such, it creates course outlines and exams leading to certification in numerous technical (not management or marketing) categories.

IICRC has no members; it has registrants. The IICRC neither employs instructors nor offers any courses. It merely approves instructors to teach IICRC-approved courses leading to IICRC certification. These IICRC-approved instructors may offer courses through their own schools or companies, or they may be contracted by others (manufacturers, suppliers, trade associations) to teach IICRC-approved courses. Those who attend and pass the IICRC examination become an IICRC-certified or registered technicians. He or she may or may not be employed or own an IICRC-Certified Firm.

An IICRC-Certified Firm is a company that has established and maintains a professional atmosphere in conducting its business. Once approved, the criteria for maintaining Certified Firm status includes adhering to the IICRC-Certified Firm Code of Ethics, showing proof of liability insurance, having a current business license, maintaining a written complaint procedure, and providing on-going training leading to certification for all technicians. For the annually renewable fee, the Certified Firm is listed on the IICRC database and may receive referrals through the IICRC 800 number. More important, Certified Firm status gives that company credibility!

Now let’s look at what trade associations do and the relationship some of them have with the IICRC. Trade associations can be regional, national or international, and 15 of them actually own and control the IICRC. Each has an equal share of stock and one seat on the IICRC board of directors.

Trade associations play a prominent role in setting professional, performance and safety standards and other guidelines with their representation on the IICRC board. IICRC committees are made up of volunteers from many trade associations throughout the world. In fact, that’s how I got involved with IICRC in the first place.

Trade associations not only enhance the image of their members with consumers, they also provide opportunities for education, networking, and information exchange – something the IICRC simply does not and cannot do. By hiring and using the services of trade association members, this reduces marketplace risks facing consumers. Further, trade associations provide creative management, marketing, and sales ideas to keep their members’ businesses moving forward - professionally and profitably!

Most Trade Associations have monthly newsletters or magazines and a web site that supports the association members. Through newsletters and websites, they disseminate valuable, important information that otherwise may be unavailable to non-members. Most have regular meetings, including an annual convention and trade show (Connections), where members can interact with each other and with industry suppliers, and see the latest in labor-saving equipment and supplies. Most offer discounts on Convention registrations. Some offer discounts on supplies and equipment. Some even offer scholarships for their members.

As I mentioned earlier, many Trade Associations sponsor workshops, mill tours or courses featuring industry experts to provide opportunities for members to stay abreast of the latest in technology, and to provide opportunities for IICRC Certification or Continuing Education Credits. Some associations maintain a web-based forum in which a member can encounter a cleaning or restoration technical problem in the morning and have answers from multiple industry experts by that evening. Associations develop, and ultimately, educate members on business practices, and legal issues, thereby elevating the quality of publicly delivered goods and services. Associations are the perfect vehicle to oversee research projects. In many industries, professions and charitable organizations, associations are the only body knowledgeable enough to provide continuous education.

The IICRC does little or none of this. It simply provides a structure for education (Certification Category outline and exam) and maintains a registry of qualified firms and technicians for referral to consumers.

Of overriding importance, Trade Associations provide the comradery, the fellowship, the networking for members that a certification registry doesn’t attempt to provide. If you’re considering diversification into fire or water restoration, you can call someone in your Trade Association who’s done it, or go to one of the Association message boards to discuss the ramifications of your decision. You save thousands of dollars by avoiding the same mistakes another member has made.

And what about pricing an unusual service? Chances are someone in the association has “been there, done that.” Flooded with business from a natural disaster like a hurricane or wild fire? Looking for professionals who can “send in the Marines” to help, and uphold your reputation for quality? Association members tend to be the “cream of the crop.”

Building burn down or an illness have you disabled? Time after time, association members have rescued fellow members in trouble.

Through community service, associations call forth extraordinary amounts of volunteer labor. Associations mobilize and train these volunteers, thereby developing, giving expression to, and focusing public attention on the strength of the American spirit. Also, several association chapters have cleaned Ronald McDonald Houses at no charge.

So who makes all this happen? Answer: the volunteers! Those people who have a broader perspective on the industry; people who aren’t content to get on a web site and complain about the state of the industry. The people who roll up their sleeves, who go to work and make a difference. People who use their valuable time and financial resources – usually from their own pockets – to benefit their industry peers.

I often hear those in the industry who gripe and complain about trade associations, about the people who manage or influence their courses of action. Typically, they fall into one of three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Whenever I hear that kind of talk, I simply ask if they belong to an association. Most don’t!

Keep in mind, like any other successful business it takes money to operate a trade association. That money comes from members, conventions or special projects. No one company or partner organization is underwriting association expenses. So if a group offers a “free” membership, you might question what benefits they can offer you. Association members want, need and deserve more and more benefits from their association. Web forums, workshops (in their back yards), conventions, technical bulletins, free advertising, business forms . . . But for every benefit that the general membership enjoys, you can bet that there’s a volunteer or small group of volunteers who, at considerable personal expense, are making these benefits a reality.

I could go on and on, but I think by now you get the point. Both IICRC Certification and Trade Association membership are important for the growth and health of your business.

Oh, we know what you’re saying, “It’s too expensive to do both!” Promise! It doesn’t cost; it pays, over and over again, throughout the years. In fact, according to an industry survey several years ago, companies that belonged to Trade Associations had higher sales, more customers paying higher prices per cleaning, and an owner who received higher annual compensation than those who didn’t belong. Hmmmm, sounds like a benefit to me!

There are more than 1,200 member companies throughout the United States and abroad benefiting from their trade association membership. If yours isn’t one of them, you may want to consider checking it out. Where can you find a trade association to join? Simple! Just go to the IICRC Web site at www.iicrc.org under “Supporter Associations.” Then, check out their Web sites, talk to their members and contact the international, national or regional association of your choice today. Ask about all the benefits available to support your business.