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What is the future of trade associations?

By Marcelle Dibrell

The world has undergone substantial changes since COVID-19 entered our lives two years ago. The old paradigm of being physically present at the job, as well as meetings and other events, has become a question of necessity rather than obligation.

If you don’t actually have to show up, why not engage on Zoom or some other online platform?

That’s how we have adapted our lives to slow the spread of what has increasingly felt like an inevitable disease.

In the past two years, technology has truly modified the way we live, making it possible to work from home.

And in large swaths of the workforce, it is now possible to hire someone to do a job from anywhere in the world.

With the freedom brought by online resources, the future of industry trade associations may very well be virtual.

Within almost every pool and spa industry trade association, from IPSSA and UPA, on up to the PHTA, the question is always how to attract new membership. Membership garners new ideas, new purpose, and necessary funding. But the challenge is always the same: How to inspire the reluctant non-joiners?

Trade associations offer a host of benefits. Association membership typically include: networking; opportunities to preside in leadership roles; subscriptions to newsletters or magazines; access to seminars, conferences and tradeshows; access to members-only offers and discounts; and more.

And so many of these sorts of benefits ultimately translate to increased business profitability. This is certainly true of associations that offer certifications or that otherwise elevate a service tech’s list of credentials. It’s a good idea to check out any means of improving professionalism, and belonging to associations can be a useful means to do so.

But these benefits also come with a cost. In addition to the financial cost — association membership typically involves membership dues — membership also involves a substantial time commitment. Not only does one generally have to attend a regular meeting, but there’s also the commute to get there. And let’s face it: After a long day’s work, the last thing you want to do is brave rush-hour traffic.

No, after spending the day driving from one service account to the next, what you want is to go home, spend time with the family, eat dinner, and watch a little TV. Maybe, possibly, hit the gym.

So even with all of the benefits of association membership, it has long remained a challenge to entice new members.

But in this new era of Zoom meetings and other virtual platforms, the internet has defeated the hurdle of requiring physical presence. And associations can adapt to this brave new world by moving online.

“The days of driving to a Moose or Elk Lodge meeting might be over. After the convenience of attending online meetings over the last few years, I don’t think we’re going back to the Moose model,” said Ray Arouesty, the senior vice president of Hub International and the endorsed insurance provider to the Independent Pool and Spa Service Association (IPSSA), The Swimming Pool Association of Hawaii (SPAH), and the National Plasterers Council (NPC).

Currently, many associations offer webinars and other online resources for members to receive education and other benefits. And some associations are also considering a special kind of membership that doesn’t include physically attending an actual meeting.

For example, leadership within IPSSA has been discussing a special nationwide chapter affiliate program wherein pool and spa professionals from across the country can obtain many of the benefits of IPSSA membership, such as access to manufacturer- based training, certifications, and unsurpassed insurance coverage, without having to drive to a monthly meeting. Of course, sick route coverage would be excluded from membership benefits, but many of the other advantages of IPSSA membership could be retained.

Such a program could bring in membership from all across the country, rather than being limited to only those service professionals working in the Sunbelt states. And just as chapters break off when they begin to exceed a manageable size, online chapters could also split off to maintain workability.

Online association membership may just be the answer to increasing association membership for trade organizations.

In this special issue of Service Industry News, we’ll take a close look at the unique benefits offered by specific memberships available to pool and spa service professionals.

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