Industry associations: Do they really help a contractor?

It's every business owner's wish to have a successful company. That might mean cultivating satisfied customers to keep your repeat business strong, or implementing the latest technologies to ensure office and field personal are working as efficiently as possible. Another way I've found to keep my company successful is through involvement in industry associations.

The concrete industry is fortunate to have a number of associations where members can find educational resources, safety information, industry contacts and lobbying power. You'll find a list of many of them at the end of this article. Associations representing tilt-up professionals, ready-mix producers, concrete repair and the decorative concrete industry are just a few. One association I've had a lot of experience with is the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC).

I think back to when I first attended an ASCC meeting in 1989. I can't tell you what the meeting was about, but I can tell you that I came home with renewed excitement for my business. I joined the organization and began to attend their functions. The more I attended, the more industry leaders I met. These were names I only had seen before in industry magazines - now I was rubbing elbows with these people.

Contractors who don't belong to associations often ask me about them, "Do they really help a contractor?" I tell them that one of the biggest things an association has to offer is industry insight. Let's say a contractor comes into an association at the age of 25 or 30, and he's talking to a guy who is 55 or 60. If that younger person is willing to listen, there are years of experience - hundreds of thousands of dollars of experience - for him to learn from. There have been dozens of instances where I've learned valuable information from other members of ASCC. One example was the time I was talking to a contractor from Long Island, N.Y., about doing some hand-forming curb - nothing I could do with a machine. He told me how fast and how many lineal feet per man-hour his productivity was for curbing. It was three times more than what I was doing. He offered to send one of his foremen to my office for one week. The man he sent taught my crew a faster technique for hand forming. Now that's valuable.

Most associations hold at least one annual meeting, some in conjunction with the World of Concrete in Las Vegas each winter. Some associations hold several functions a year, or have local chapters you can join and become involved closer to home. These get-togethers give members a chance to meet, mingle and exchange ideas.

As a member of ASCC, I attend the Annual Conference, a laid-back affair that incorporates educational seminars and meetings with a little pizzazz - on the last night, for example, ASCC's own band performs. Another annual ASCC event is the CEO Forum, held at a destination resort away from work and the daily grind. At these meetings iron sharpens iron, and the networking is wonderful. The idea behind the CEO Forum was to reward concrete contractors with a classy event to which we could bring our wives. We have these meetings at 5-star resorts - Lake Tahoe, Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, the Homestead in Virginia, Kiawah Island. They're small by design and feature great speakers and presenters, fantastic roundtable discussions, and plenty of free time so small groups can have coffee or a cocktail and just talk. You'll soon find that sometimes those impromptu meetings are as important and insightful as the prepared meetings. And we come away making good friends.

Some associations have small group opportunities that help you connect with contractors around the country. At ASCC I'm a member of a MIX (Management Information Exchange) Group. These peer groups typically consist of eight to 10 contractors, generally the same size companies from noncompeting areas, who meet for two days every six months or so. A MIX Group will meet at one contractor's office and do a review or audit of that company. They look at how this contractor does his payables, receivables, job costing, estimating, and all compare notes. Wow! What a way to peel back and look at a business and see just how people do things; and it gives us all a chance to bounce ideas off other contractors rather than our attorneys, accountants or friends.

The old cliché "You only get out of it what you put into it" might be well worn, but it is very true. I have volunteered a lot of my time to the ASCC, but I've received even more back. If you're still not convinced that association membership is for you, call a few active members or staff. The personalities and professionalism of the people involved with the association will tell you a lot about how you'll fit into that group. I encourage you to find an association that fits you, get involved, and improve our industry and yourself.

Rocky Geans is president of L.L. Geans Construction Co. and has more than 30 years of experience in the concrete industry. He is also vice president of the American Society of Concrete Contractors and a popular industry speaker and consultant. Rocky can be reached at (574) 255-9671. For more information on Rocky Geans Concrete Construction Business School, go to www.RockyGeans.com.

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