Mark Robert Halper

This spring, I attended board meetings for both the NAHB Remodelors Council and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Not counting companies that belong to both, between them these two organizations have fewer than 5,000 members. Considering there are 80,000 subscribers to this magazine alone, the obvious question is, Why don't more of you join an industry association? See if any of these excuses sound familiar:

Too busy. Tell me about it. This most common excuse is the least persuasive, especially when business is booming. Contractors who are so harried they can't clear their schedule for a two-hour monthly meeting are precisely those who most need to attend.

Too independent. Like most entrepreneurs, remodelers possess a strong, independent character that enables them to overcome the many obstacles that face a start-up company. But as a company matures, the "I fly solo" attitude doesn't cut it. Working in a vacuum holds you -- and your business -- back because it denies you the benefit of the collective experience of the industry.

Too secretive. Back in the '70s, when I started my construction company, contractors who met at the lumberyard counter exchanged pleasantries but never our business practices. That would amount to aiding and abetting the enemy. Those of us who found a mentor were lucky -- if being lucky means picking over crumbs of advice casually thrown our way by an older contractor with an established business who was more amused by our so-called competition than threatened by it. Sad to say, 30 years later not much has changed. Remodelers still believe that giving away company "secrets" will jeopardize their ability to compete. Well, here in the 21st century, just the opposite is true. By refusing to share information, remodelers remain isolated from their colleagues and lose the benefit of all their hard-won knowledge. Not to mention the therapeutic value of crying in your beer together over common problems.

Too cheap. Annual dues for an industry association vary by location. Typically part of the membership fee goes to the national organization and part to the local. Most companies can sign up for about $500, although in some cases, the fee is based on a sliding scale pegged to sales volume. Either way, in the scheme of things, it's a pittance. Most remodelers have lost that much money before Groundhog Day because of undocumented change orders, underbilling of labor, poor cash flow management, and a host of other common problems that membership in an association can help them solve.

Too bad. Non-members miss out on educational programs, so they progress more slowly, continuing to reinvent the wheel and repeat their mistakes. They also give up the third-party validation that comes with certification as a trained professional. That makes it harder for them to distinguish their company from others, forcing them to compete on price alone. But most of all, non-members miss out on the opportunity to connect with other remodelers who understand their challenges and are willing to help. Not just at meetings, but anytime you ask, whether it's by phone, e-mail, or a stop by the office.

Sal Alfano, Editor-in-Chief