Written by: Brian Smith
Original by: Quality Digest

Throughout my career, I have been a member of several trade organizations. I believe that standards have meaning, in every field. When I become a member of an organization, I endeavor to learn as much as possible.

For many companies, belonging to an organization is a purely financial decision. The amount of money spent on being a participating member in certain organizations can often add up to the same amount as a yearly advertising budget. However, many companies feel that belonging to certain organizations, and having the privilege of advertising that organization on their websites or via other marketing tactics, makes it well worth the money.

The real power of organizational membership is when members embrace and use the foundation of the organization’s standards for building their company’s internal structure. Standards in any association can lead to defining an entire industry. Take, for example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or the International Kitchen and Exhaust Cleaning Association (IKECA). The NFPA is an association that sets standards and provides guidance and resources about fire, electrical, and other industry-related hazards. It provides support to industries such as HVAC, electricians, restaurants, and more. IKECA provides standards that use some of the NFPA’s standards (e.g., NFPA 96) to provide guidance to kitchen-exhaust cleaning professionals.

Driving better products and services

The conversations among consumers who are affected by these and many more associations are changing—even if they are changing slowly.

For example, we are hearing more frequently about consumers who want to discuss the regulations that may affect them and the standards that drive those regulations. I will use the kitchen-exhaust cleaning industry as an example again. Cleaning the hood system in a restaurant used to be a commodity service that went to the lowest bidder; however, due to the complexity of cleaning restaurant hoods and understanding that it is more about life safety than cooking performance or luxury, IKECA and its standards are now common among restaurant facility owners and managers.

These discussions are causing the consumer to expect better products and services as well as safer environments, meaning that those needing the services are now agreeing to paying a higher fee for the service. It’s sets of standards like these that have a dramatic effect on everyone involved in the industry, especially when discussing human safety.

Elevating industry reputation

We also notice that providers who are members of trade organizations are more receptive to discussions about different solutions they use in remediation of the issues they face. When an organization has standards to fall back on, it will often do business with suppliers that meet or exceed those standards. This elevates the industry’s reputation as well as the solutions being presented. Vendors supporting the associations will also adopt a more in-depth set of standards. Standards are driving solidarity at the operations level, which is bringing together vendors in support of the specific communities they service.

Knowing that associations are able to bring together diverse, yet single-minded, groups should be a catalyst for other markets to expand their goals and think about how their roles have been defined as professionals in their industry and by the standards everyone agrees to. Within the world of IKECA and its affiliation with NFPA, there has been a dramatic change in the kitchen exhaust cleaning industry. The level of quality has steadily increased since IKECA was formed 30 years ago, and its standards are now regularly required in requests for cleaning proposals submitted by the largest restaurant groups in the world. This also applies to vendors supporting these associations because without consistent external support, the fabric of associations and their members could slip back to inconsistency and shortcuts to alleviate the challenges faced each day by providers in the industry.

Not only have we seen associate membership (i.e., vendors’ members) increase by more than 300 percent during the past 30 years at IKECA, but we’ve also seen that percentage more than triple for associations like RFMA (Restaurant Facility Maintenance Association) and NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association). All three of these associations have a direct impact on both business-to-business and business-to-consumer members.

Solutions-based selling

The next phase for the associations is to refine their solutions-based selling, starting from how their standards support the overall application of standards within the industry. By embracing standards and using them to create educational, public relation, and marketing messages for everyone in their influence, associations can fully embrace solution-based selling and the standards that affect them and their customers. Using standards to emphasize the correct remediation of issues that face the members of an association in a broad, united voice will reinforce the standards and elevate that association and industry community beyond what it is today.