When I meet new customers, the firs thing 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.
2. Invite Guest Speakers With Relevance
One of the best ways to add value to any meeting is to offer something they can’t get anywhere else, such as an opportunity to hear from politicians, regulatory agencies or other seasoned business professionals. It’s a recipe that has worked for the Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ). “The reality is that we have to work very hard to keep members attending by offering them the types of guest speakers that mean something to their businesses,” says LANJ Executive Director Barry Lefkowitz. “With the upcoming Super Bowl in our state, we featured a representative from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to give us key insight into how plans are developing for this large-scale event.”
Nowhere else will operators be able to have this valuable face time with decision makers than at an association meeting. Extend invitations to your local legislators or regulatory bodies and promote the meeting as a can’t-miss event.
3. Switch Up the Location
Meetings are typically held in conference centers, hotels or restaurants due to their convenience and ability to accommodate groups. Sometimes, though, associations can get attached to a location, and end up holding every meeting there. Sure, the food and service are good, but maybe it takes half of your members an hour to get there and the other half only 20 minutes. Try moving meetings around your state or region throughout the year. If distance has been holding people back from attending, take the meeting to them.
Another popular trend in associations is hosting the event at one of the member’s facilities. This can be an operator or vendor, and provides a unique opportunity for members to tour the facilities. Maybe they can tour a dealership, getting sneak peeks at the newest vehicles and taking test drives, or they can walk around another operator’s office to see how they set up their dispatch department or chauffeur lounge. Whatever it is, it’s going to add value to how they do business.
4. Build Their Businesses
Even in the midst of fighting airports or unregulated transportation apps, operators still have a business to run every day. One way they can ensure their businesses continue to grow is to network and potentially grow their affiliate base. If you’re in a large state like California or Texas, there’s a chance that your clients might travel to other parts of the state for business. Fellow association members in those cities would be ideal affiliates. Associations should consider hosting regular referral networking meetings where members exchange information, discuss what vehicles they have, or find out who might have vehicles they need. Their revenues will grow, and you will have created a meaningful event for the members. It’s a win-win.
5. Utilize Your Vendor Members
Builders, technology providers, marketing firms, insurance agencies … the list goes on. All of these businesses have something that your members need to run a successful company. Vendor members are already invested in the well-being of the association—probably donating to PAC funds, sitting on the board of directors, or sponsoring meetings. They want to see it thrive. Pay them back with some much deserved floor time at meetings throughout the year, and in turn, ask them to provide some special incentive for the members. Whether it’s a discount on their next order or a raffle to win a free product, it will draw members in and increase the vendor’s exposure to the association. //LD
Arthur Messina is the founder and president of Create-A-Card, Inc., the leading chauffeured transportation marketing firm, which he began in 1986. Messina has served on the board of the National Limousine Association, is a current board member 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 email@example.com.