Can you stop work, say “no” to a project and, dare I suggest, take a few days off work to attend an event? The answer is simple. You can’t afford not to. There are several associations in the floor covering industry working hard to bring about positive changes. Each has at least one big annual event, call it a conference, convention, or whatever. The purpose of these get-togethers is education: New products; new installation methods; business information; and other programs to get you fired up about flooring.

Some associations have a nice bankroll to work with, but most do not. Still, the programs offered are tremendous, especially when you consider most associations make things happen with member volunteers.

The bottom line is, it will cost you a few dollars a year to be a member, but nothing good is free (you tell your customers that, don't you?). Your investment will add credibility to yourself and your company. Newsletters, decals, and advertising slicks for business cards and stationary are a benefit, but the real value is found in the people you meet.

The major manufacturers are always in attendance, including the technical representatives. They want to know how their products are working for you. If the only two places that afford you the opportunity to meet the tech reps are an association convention or on a jobsite failure, wouldn't you rather meet them under friendly circumstances?

The same can be said for new products. See them for the first time during the conference, or as they are loaded in your truck on the day you’ll be working with them; the choice is up to you.

Local associations are great, and they provide good networking opportunities, but it is the national groups that really expand your horizons. As friendly as your relationships with your competitors may be, there are always some things you have to hold back. This is not the case when comparing notes with a contractor located three states away. Is there a better place to get the cutting-edge information than from your peers? Membership is akin to having access to top-notch consulting, only there are no hefty charges involved. If you are considering expanding into the installation of a new flooring category, you wouldn't want to call your local competition to ask their advice. It could be a little challenging, considering you may be taking work away from them.

There are those in the floor covering industry who view us simply as providers of a skill. The reality is that, as contractors, we are concerned with the same taxes, payment problems, insurance issues, and business concepts that affect the retailer.

All this may seem to lead to brain overload, but relax. Social events are always a part of the conference schedule. Dinners, theme parties, and outings offer plenty of time to form some real friendships.

When the installation community doesn't get involved with its associations, it sends a message to the rest of the industry that we don't care. This is not the case; we just need a better understanding of the value of membership. All the associations would be more than happy to send you an information package. Contact them and request it. Then attend the big event, and go in with a game plan. Don't just let a program happen around you; make it happen for you. Obtain a schedule in advance and review the educational sessions. Create a list of information you want to gain, or questions you want to ask about various sessions. Make the time you spend pay off for you. I hope to see you at the next event.