When I meet potential new customers, one of the first things I ask them is if they belong to their local association, or even the National Limousine Association (NLA). As a marketing professional, I know businesses should promote their membership in any industry organization, because it adds credibility to what they do. But more often than not, the response I hear to this question is: “Why should I be? What have they done for me lately?”
If I asked any successful operator in the industry if being an association member helped them grow their business, the answer would be a resounding “Yes.” The operators that smaller company owners are trying to emulate have probably served in a leadership role of their local or regional association, and many have served on the NLA board of directors. Associations are a place where all egos are put aside and the real issues affecting our industry get addressed and solved. Yet again and again, it’s the same people showing up month after month to take up the fight.
As with most things, there’s power in numbers, and associations bring people together for a common goal. That could be anything from publicizing prom limo safety to filing a lawsuit against an airport. Yet it’s only when there’s an issue directly affecting their business—like Uber, for example—that operators who never attend meetings actually want to show up and participate in the association’s activities, while for months and years prior, the association leaders had already been monitoring Uber’s every move in order to prepare.
“Our goal is to provide relevant subject matter and speakers for our members, so they can become more informed of the events in the industry and take home new ideas that can immediately be put to use in their businesses,” says Steven Levin, president of Sterling Rose Transportation in Escondido, CA, and board member of the Greater California Livery Association (GCLA). The GCLA has one of the highest meeting attendance rates among the country’s associations. But it’s an uphill battle.
“We continue to face challenges from the political and technological arenas, and need to make it clear to our membership that we need to work together so our voices are heard,” he continues. “This is how we can protect the businesses and livelihoods we’ve worked so hard to build.”
Attending local association meetings regularly is essential, and attendance is encouraging to the leaders of the association. Not everyone is built to be a board member or officer, but those who are volunteering their time to lead should know who they are leading. The lack of interest on the part of operators is hurting these valuable industry organizations.
But how can associations get operators to see the value of attending, even if there are no big issues going on? If you need a place to start, here are some tips that have worked for some of the industry’s biggest associations.
1. You Can't Beat Free
In a tough economy, members might not want to shell out $30 for a lunch meeting, or $50 for a dinner meeting, especially if they are newcomers. See if the association budget can allow for you to cover the cost of the meal for members, which gives them one less excuse for not showing up. If that’s not feasible, you could offer a first-meeting-free deal to new members, or cover half the cost of the meal for all members. Additionally, many associations work out deals to have companies like local dealerships sponsor the meeting and pay for the meals. If you can arrange this, it is a win-win for everyone involved.
of the Minority Limousine Operators of America, has been a featured speaker at industry trade shows, and is a frequent sponsor at local association meetings and events. He also is
co-founder and managing director of Driving Results, a consulting firm for the ground transportation industry that began in 2011. He can be reached at (631) 584-2273 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.