SURVIVAL COURSE: Regardless of political preferences, everyone can agree that 2012 is a hyper-charged Presidential election year that will determine the future health of the chauffeured transportation industry and Main Street America businesses overall. Despite such high stakes, industry associations still must focus on a common challenge:
Getting more members and keeping them in the loop while fighting critical regulatory and legislative battles. Strong associations are ultimately an investment in bringing about a more pro-business economic climate that enhances the industry’s operating field. I recently checked in with multiple association heads and supporters to highlight what approaches to motivating the industry base work best.
Two of the most successful and politically savvy state associations in the industry are the Greater California Livery Association and the Limousine Associations of New Jersey. Both groups coalesce around strong leaders, divide duties among committees, and retain paid professional lobbyists and consultants to advance goals. Most importantly, GCLA and LANJ make the direct connection between membership and results.
“Donating your time and money is an investment in preserving your business and allowing it to grow,” said Jonna Sabroff, President of ITS in Los Angeles and an active GCLA supporter and strategist. “Your dues and financial contributions go toward paying the lobbyists and attorneys needed to level the playing field so we can turn back unwarranted attacks on our businesses. This in turn will allow us to preserve the jobs of the men and women who depend on us for their livelihoods.”
GCLA President Mark Stewart knows firsthand the vexing struggle to get membership renewals and operators to pay dues in a down economy. Stewart has led his association to modest growth, but he admits he is puzzled by some of the apathy amid so much economic and state budget uncertainty in California. “We’re all volunteering and doing this on our own time. I’m amazed why despite tough times companies can’t afford memberships. . . For the small cost of membership, you get a good return from people working to save the industry and business. It’s a small price to pay to have the association protect your business.”
LANJ’s tireless and well-connected executive director and lobbyist, Barry Lefkowitz, makes sure members see results and get face time with important state leaders and decision makers. At LANJ, transparency is critical: “Our board meetings are open if someone wants to come see the board and see what’s going on,” he said. “They have opportunities at the end of meetings and general membership meetings to raise questions and issues and bring things to the table. It’s important to be able to have direct contact with regulators who can make their lives miserable or can be helpful.”
Limousine Association of New York President Jeff Rose has found two methods that seem to work against what he calls the selfish habit of enjoying the benefits of others doing the heavy lifting in associations: “There’s peer pressure and that’s difficult because it carries side effects, but the other things are to try and highlight the benefits. You can go to vendors and get them to offer benefits to industry members. You try to find tangible benefits that will [help] individual operations and that will only be available to members of the organization. . . . The other [approach] is the whole networking ability of being an association member. You will gain access to business and vendors when farming out.”
Another motivator is to seek input from members on the crafting of ordinances and legislation that regulates the operation of chauffeured vehicles, said Renzo Ormsbee, President of the Limousine Association of Houston. “One of the things we try to be is relevant to our membership by involving them in making changes to a limo ordinance,” he said. “We’ve taken such opportunities to get with our membership and find out the issues they felt should be addressed. We spend a good part of quarterly meetings talking about what is going on. We bounce input across the leadership and take it to the city government. We make sure that people in the industry think it’s important to be involved in the association.”
Smaller groups, such as the Kentucky Limousine Association, which remains active in a state with only about 30 legal limousine companies but plenty of illegal ones, offers the lure of inside information as a way to get and retain members, said KLA President Carey Fieldhouse. That includes exclusive, password-protected access to a members-only website with resources for operators, such as annual traffic plans for servicing the Kentucky Derby. “We’ve modeled ourselves after the NLA where members get information and a real value for membership,” Fieldhouse said. “We do a lot of continuing education seminars and presentations for members, so that what we do is legal, ethical, and with a moral compass.”
Fieldhouse also relayed an anecdote that reveals a more human advantage of association membership, no matter the size of the group. When the KLA informally gathered for the first time at a Perkins restaurant in August 2006, operators realized they wouldn’t kill each other competitively and could actually work together toward mutual support, Fieldhouse said. After the group formed, a female limousine operator had a stretch breakdown in the early morning hours in a remote area of rural Kentucky. She called a fellow association member, who then dispatched a replacement limo for the client and a tow truck for the one that had broken down. “You’ll get a close-knit group of members who literally will jump out of bed in the middle of the night to help each other out.”
-- Martin Romjue, LCT editor, June/July 2012
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