I’M A WALKER. I do it almost every day, trekking three miles and listening to selections from my music library for a solid hour. My music collection is kind of eclectic; there is a mix of country and western, classical, folk, Broadway and music from the 1960s and 1970s. On a recent outing I began to think about how one famous tune in particular carries a good message for alarm dealers.
I found myself thinking about how much abuse our industry association representatives and leaders take from rank-and-file dealers.
By my estimate, there are between 12,000 and 15,000 alarm companies throughout the United States. My educated guess is there is 10%-20% of those numbers that are members or participants of the various trade groups. That leaves 80%-90% of all alarm companies without any representation, without any common links to other dealers in their states and thus without any of the benefits that members of the associations are receiving.
This bothered me — particularly after I’d browsed through a message board that’s popular with industry players. There was a lot of criticism and carping about how (at least some of) the trade associations don’t provide any real benefits. It wasn’t coincidence that while this was going through my mind during the walk, my iPod was piping Simon and Garfunkel’s classic hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water” into my ears.
The Industry Needs Your Input
You can Google the lyrics to this iconic song, but suffice it to say that the poignant lines as well as the title spoke to me as I began to consider the signature question of this column, “If you had just one really great idea to share with alarm dealers, what would it be?” So, if you will allow me some poetic license, let’s pretend I’ve interviewed somebody who looks like, sings like and is as bright as songwriter Paul Simon and his partner, Art Garfunkel. Let’s further pretend that they are knowledgeable about the industry.
If you are part of the group, you can certainly affect the outcome of many of the projects that the group is working on. In fact, if you’re on the inside, you will have valued input on what projects should be undertaken.
My guess is their answer would be something like: “Instead of complaining and bellyaching about what associations in this industry are not doing, why not be a bridge between the industry as it is today, and the industry as it could be with your input and leadership?” In other words, be that “bridge over troubled water” by helping to close the gap between where you think the industry is, and where you would like it to be. It’s a big job, but certainly somebody has to do it — and by my count, there many potential participants yet to join the cause.
I happen to think the industry has great leadership. The association executives do a good job; the educational programs are certainly well thought out; the publications of these associations put out real information; and meetings and conventions are, by and large, events that provide not only education and training but also a good opportunity to glimpse the future of the industry by looking at what the new products are that manufacturers are offering.
Now, you have to try this to see how really well it works: Start asking people who were involved in making the meeting or convention happen if there is something that you could do that would help contribute to the associations’ efforts in providing meaningful information and leadership. I’ll bet nine times out of 10 you will get a positive reaction.
There’s Greater Strength in Numbers
If you were to further probe Paul and Art (allow me license to call them by their first names, too) about their ideas for the industry, one of them might say, capturing the 1960s-era attitude: “Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. What can’t be accomplished individually can certainly be accomplished by the group.” And if you are part of the group, you can certainly affect the outcome of many of the projects that the group is working on. In fact, if you’re on the inside, you will have valued input on what projects should be undertaken.
To quote another of that era’s famed tunes, in this case Bob Dylan, well, “the times they are a changing” and yes, that applies to our industry. And the pace of change is increasing so dramatically that unless you are on top of it, the industry can pass you by so quickly, you will never see it come and go.
Here’s a favorite command of mine: Go forth and get answers to the things that you gripe about. If you don’t like meetings, ask how they can change. If you don’t like the way licensing is handled, offer to help change how licensing regulations are written. If you’re not comfortable with what manufacturers are providing you in the form of training and education, offer to assist them in reshaping it.
If you can set aside only a few minutes, at least drop a note to your state and national associations and thank them for the work that they do. Let’s face it, if they didn’t do it, who would? And finally, be part of a bridge rather than a chasm.