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Association Support Goes Both Ways

Across the country landscape contractors are gearing up to attack the months ahead and garner as much business as possible. This is where the landscape associations are so important, but also where so many of them are failing their membership.

First of all, it is important to note that membership in almost every landscape contractors association across the country is way down from their peaks before the big downturn. Many are having to rethink their business models and look at the new reality.

Over the past few years Landscape Contractors have been less inclined to spend the several hundred dollars it takes to join an association, especially when they see so little return on their investment. Some associations are having to shed many of their traditional activities and look for ways to better serve, and thus attract more members.

For instance, is your association aggressively marketing to the consumer the importance of hiring a qualified landscape contractor? Are you seeing any billboards or home-improvement magazines with ads from the association? Is your association's legislative arm gaining you more business and making you more competitive? Or has it become a smaller club run by adminiatrators, spending your dues on travel and feel-good meetings?

Here in California, the major landscape contractors association seems to be shedding members and losing revenue at such a pace that I recently heard word that it might be up for sale. I'm not sure that is even possible, but as a response it is supposedly considering raising its dues and making its membership even more exclusive and harder to qualify for. Hopefully, they are just going through a phase where their focus has shifted from helping their members to trying to hang onto the past, but the direction they are headed is off course.

Conversely, over the past several years we have seen the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association increase its communications with the press and with the public. We have seen it join with the national association and work to find ways to promote the benefits of hiring an NJLCA member.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that this is a new era and the days of martini lunches and back slapping meetings are fading in the rearview mirror.

Landscape contractors across the country have been working to dig out of the pit and make a profit, and now, more than ever, need their association to work for them as a collective (can you say 'association') to promote the benefit of hiring its members.

Is your association pursuing licensure? Is it working to help you gain a competitive advantage? Is it exhibiting (and promoting you) at building industry or home and garden tradeshows? Is your association promoting the landscape industry as an honorable profession that a career can be built around? Is your association promoting the need for qualified seasonal labor and the availability of honorable work to the citizens of your state?

You know, over the past dozen years or so the Landscape Architect's association (ASLA) has done a great job of promoting the profession and its membership, even as it too has lost members to the economy. Years back they were floundering a bit and struggling to choose between promoting licensure or increasing the exclusivity of its members. Fortunately they chose to pursue licensure and in a few short years achieved licensure in all 50 states. At the same time we began seeing the association exhibiting in tradeshows and we saw landscape architects mentioned in the news, with roles on TV shows, and even a mention at the Acadamy Awards . . .

Unfortunately many landscape contractors' associations are stuck in an old model searching for ways to hold on to their declining membership and outdated traditions, rather than focusing on gaining more members and providing better, more valuable services.

So as we enter the busy season, while it may be hard to spend time thinking of the years ahead, it is important to support your association and help them focus on the things that are truly important. Things like promoting the membership to the consumers and developers, enhancing legislation, and attracting a qualified domestic labor force.

The markets are going to get better and as they do, fly-by-nights and low bidders will be coming out of the woodwork. Now, more than ever you need your association working for you and working with you . . .

Have a great spring and profitable summer!

George Schmok

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June 26, 2019, 11:57 am PDT

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