ASSOCIATIONS ARE CRUCIAL (ROUND TABLE SPECIAL)
Read on and gain a true appreciation of the work and worth of the organisations that operate and represent you..
Associations play an integral part in today’s fast-paced and demanding world. Their roles have changed dramatically in recent years; some people are acutely aware of this fact and yet others somewhat oblivious to these backbones of industry. That change is the subject of Australasian Timber’s Round Table in this edition. We have asked for input from those at the helm. Our participants in this special are Brian Beecroft (TTIA), Colin Fitzpatrick (TABMA), Kersten Gentle (FTMA) and Peter Llewellyn TVAA).
What were the triggers for change?
Brian Beecroft: The triggers for change in the industry have and continue to be varied. At the beginning of the supply chain, access to forest resources and the closure of many timber harvesting regions by State Governments seeking city votes has reduced the number of small to medium sized sawmills and logging harvesting operations. This has, in turn, reduced the number of smaller family run businesses. Smaller timber merchants, particularly in the capital cities, have found it hard to compete against some of the large corporates. In addition, inner city real estate prices and small profit margins have resulted in many long established small businesses selling up. This trend continues as we speak. Reduction in the number of businesses has resulted in greater competition among fellow Associations and, in some instances, attempts to duplicate TTIA’s core services of industrial relations and workplace health & safety. This has required better strategies to market our strengths and point of difference in quality member/ customer service.
Colin Fitzpatrick: In 2008 the Board of TABMA decided that a change of direction was needed and that TABMA needed to communicate more with members; needed to be run more professionally and with a more commercial outlook.
As such a new management structure was implemented resulting in greater communication with members, new and improved services being offered and members being asked for input in what they believed they should receive in return for an annual membership fee.
Kersten Gentle: It’s important to ensure you are relevant to your members and that you are providing a service, not just a voice. In the
early days of FTMA Australia we did exactly that, in my opinion. We depended on the fact that we were the voice for our industry and we represented members on various boards and standards. We also held Chapter meetings in states and territories but again, even though these were important events for networking they weren’t what the members desperately wanted. They wanted help dealing with the key issues that face their businesses daily.
Peter Llewellyn: It is most important that associations communicate, both with their members and with the users of their members’ products. Companies that support an industry association financially need to know how their funds are being used, and consumers look to associations for advice.
Because of changing expectations/ operations when & how did your association set an agenda to meet such changes?
Brian Beecroft: About 5-7 years ago it was clear to all that the industry was in significant restructure and we needed to make sure we remained relevant. We had extensive discussions and set agendas with both directors and staff on how to capitalise on our strengths, solid reputation and the loyalty we had built up with the industry over the years. We reduced membership increases to either lower than CPI or for a number of years or froze membership subscription rates.
Colin Fitzpatrick: The agenda was set in February 2008 with all senior people calling regularly on members, explaining to them what TABMA could offer and asking what more TABMA could do for them.
The response was mostly positive and as such new services and benefits were offered and for the first time in a long time members felt they were being heard. Membership fees were restructured and attempts were successfully made to rebuild relationships with fellow timber associations that unfortunately had deteriorated through varying reasons.
Kersten Gentle: Communication is the key. You can’t just expect to send an email and think that that is communication! You need to know your members, know their businesses and know the issues they are facing. You need to be able to be contacted really 24/7 and that is something we, at FTMA, have done. The FTMA Australia Board made up of fabricators and suppliers were keenly aware of the changing needs of fabricators and we set ourselves deliverables that we could measure ourselves against. We realised that we are not the experts in everything but we have one of the largest networks within the industry. Through years of working in the timber industry supply chain, I have developed networks which ensures I know the right person to help our members. We became our members first port of call. When members have an issue they are encouraged to contact us and if I don’t know the answer, I will get back to them with the answer or the right person who can solve their problem. We want our members to do what they do best and that’s manufacture prefabricated products and let us do what we do best and that’s help them find the answers without spending a day on the phone.
Peter Llewellyn: As one of the smaller associations it was imperative for the Timber Veneer Association to use electronic media to help to get its message out, since we have a limited budget for advertising.
WHAT WAS THE fiRST CHANGE YOUR organisation made?
Brian Beecroft: It was critical to ensure we retained our long term staff so they were fully included in a series of meetings on our short and long term goals/plans. We mapped out a plan and marketing strategy to further strengthen our national membership structure. With the move to a fully national IR system, we could further promote our in-house expertise to members in all states.
Colin Fitzpatrick: The initial change was to encourage greater internal communication between TABMA’s various divisions and then identify the businesses where TABMA had strengths and a degree of uniqueness.
The businesses identified were the Group Training Organisation (GTO), whereby TABMA places trainees and apprentices with host employers, Building Trade Credit which operates as a credit bureau for the building and construction industry and the Timber Tallying division which handles break bulk timber brought into Australia from Canada and the West Coast of the USA.
Kersten Gentle: The first step was developing a set of fact sheets on important issues and building resources. For example, when the new credit laws changed with the PPSR requirements a few businesses went out and developed their own new company credit application form to ensure all the legal requirements were covered. This cost businesses anywhere up to $3000 to have this designed and legally checked off. FTMA Australia developed this tool for our members, paying for Silver Sponsors AB Phillips in conjunction with their legal team to develop a form that would suit all our members at a cost to the Association of over $3000 and we shared this with members for free, as part of their membership. Value for money is what everyone wants in business and it’s no different for Associations and FTMA Australia definitely provides value for money.
Peter Llewellyn: We have had a website for some years. At one stage we set up a second website, thinking that one would be an ‘industry’ website and the other would have a more promotional role aimed at specifiers and other veneer users. However, it became apparent that there was some duplication of effort and the two have now been combined.
What have been some of the major changes your association has made in the past 5 years?
Brian Beecroft: We negotiated and established a vast array of business partners who now give our members access to a range of discounts services and products including:
Recruitment and labour hire
Insurance and Finance
First Aid products
Drug & Alcohol Testing
WHS Breathalyser Equipment
Fire extinguishers and fire protection systems
Protective clothing and safety wear We have just launched a timber industry trade credit insurance scheme in conjunction with FTMA and AB Phillips which is another prime example of a service members in the industry should find really valuable. We further focussed our attention on building strong long term links with key likeminded Associations in the industry like FTMA, TMA, FIAA, Timber NSW, ATIF, WADIC, TPAA and TCA. We have also entered into arrangements with a number of these Associations to provide assistance on industrial relations and workplace health & safety issues. It allows those Association to better focus on their core strengths like training or government lobbying while providing TTIA with an opportunity to fully use our in-house human resources as well as a valuable income stream. We market our strengths more in trade magazines and publishing sites to differentiate, for instance, TTIA having its own legal and safety staff rather than the use of outside contractors.
Colin Fitzpatrick: The major changes over the past 5 years have been changing the corporate name of the association from TABMA (NSW) Ltd to TABMA (Aust) Ltd to reflect our national ambitions. Opening a branch in Adelaide in 2010, taking over the management of the then independently run TABMA Qld in 2011 and opening a Melbourne branch in
2016. The acquisition of the Registered Training Organisation (RTO), FITEC (now trading as TABMA Training) was completed in 2015 enabling us to complement our GTO by having trainees trained within our own organisation. We have also expanded our range of services to include an IR advice line for members and a revamped WH&S inspection service.
Kersten Gentle: Building relationships with members and other stakeholders is a key achievement of FTMA, however, our key achievement is that we are recognised within the supply chain. Years ago the frame & truss industry was lost in the timber industry supply chain and was dumped in with wood products, but with a loud passionate voice we have ensured everyone knows about our sector which has resulted in some great funding opportunities for members and the Association alike enabling us to participate in programs identifying greater markets for our sector.
Peter Llewellyn: Still on the topic of communication, a recent change has been setting up a Facebook page. A further strategy may be to look at Instagram where images can be posted easily and the list of ‘followers’ can be expanded quite quickly.
What have been some of the resultant changes to roles & responsibilities (both managerial and members)?
Brian Beecroft: Realistically, the roles at TTIA have not changed dramatically as each staff member is responsible for building and maintaining their specific relationships with members. There has been more travel intra-state as TTIA membership has extended to places like Qld, WA and Tasmania. Managerial wise, I’m fortunate that as it’s a small team and each staff member needs limited supervision and are fully conversant with their roles and responsibilities. They have been involved in the timber products industry for many years, are fully qualified and prepared to be on call 7 days a week. Members have certainly had to adopt to an ever changing legal/ employment landscape with the need for continual policy development, training and implementation on a range of issues like drug and alcohol counselling, social media and intellectual property just to mention a few.
Colin Fitzpatrick: Resultant changes have been a greater awareness of TABMA within the industry and a greater suite of services offered to members, including:• Trade credit insurance
• IR advice
• WH&S inspection service
• Training of staff
• Recruitment etc
We now have individual Managers for each state who are totally responsible for the operations in those states and growing the awareness of TABMA.
As well we have a national board of directors which meets regularly in Sydney and a membership management committee in each state which regularly meets to provide advice on market conditions and prevailing opportunities in that state.
Kersten Gentle: FTMA Australia is probably one of the smallest Associations within the timber industry supply chain but that doesn’t mean we are insignificant. We are loud, passionate and we don’t hide the fact that we exist primarily to represent the needs of the frame & truss sector. In saying we are the smallest, we only employ one Executive Officer and a very part-time administrative assistant. The rest of the work falls on a dedicated board who are always happy to assist. We have larger members who have the resources to develop a range of policies in house and they are more than willing to share information with smaller fabricators as they recognise as a sector we must lift the standards. Actually, I think this is probably the biggest achievement of FTMA Australia. Through networking and awareness fabricators recognise that the fabricator around the corner is not their competitor, steel and concrete are!
Peter Llewellyn: We are now looking to members to provide examples of outstanding veneer use to support our Facebook initiative. We also discover which projects are using timber veneers in outstanding ways though our sponsorship of the Australian Timber Design Awards.
Is the digital age forcing more change?
Brian Beecroft: Absolutely. Most of our members now receive critical wage and legal information digitally. Our website has become an increasingly important gateway for members to access templates and up-to-date employment information, safety and business partner offers and discounts. That said, TTIA still believes strongly in the benefit of face to face relationships and we take 4 - 6 weeks out every year to run member seminars in most states, and have for more than 25 years.
Colin Fitzpatrick: The Digital Age has encouraged TABMA to revamp our web sites for the Group as a whole as well as for the individual divisions.
We are now very much aware of social media and we utilise Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to add to our appeal to the younger generation.
We also provide our staff with smart phones, surface pro’s and i-pads etc.
Kersten Gentle: Face to face meetings are important but whether it be through work, sporting clubs or schools, it is becoming harder and harder to get people out at night to attend meetings. FTMA Australia has been slower in this area than I would have wanted as I believe Webinar’s are a key tool moving forward and we will be introducing these in 2017. However, for me the hardest thing about the digital age is how many emails people actually get and what do they read and what don’t they read. When someone is running a business and having quote after quote come through the door, something has to give and unfortunately I think this is sometimes us and other media outlets. Voice to voice, face to face will always reign supreme when it comes to effective communication.
Has there been periphery pressure forcing change (e.g. training; building/construction; legal requirements; greater public awareness of good and services etc.)?
Brian Beecroft: Certainly, government agencies with ever increasing red tape and compliance in the areas of workplace safety, employment, taxation and product accreditation have placed pressure on smaller employers to reconsider the benefits of continuing running businesses. Those that continue need expert in-house or external support. All of this comes at a cost.
For Associations, increased compliance costs in areas like training (RTO accreditations) has made many reexamine a cost/benefit analysis.
Colin Fitzpatrick: Companies are now much more aware of the need for staff training in various facets of their industry and their businesses.
Industrial relations is very much to the fore in defining what organisations can and can’t do when dealing with staff matters and workplace behaviour.
As well we are all now much more WH&S conscious ensuring that we provide a safe work place and environment for all of our staff.
Kersten Gentle: Market changes definitely place pressure on change ensuring fabricators are up to date with the latest technology or have services to support them as they go in to new markets. The Prefabricated Ground Floor Cassette Market Implementation Group we ran in 2014/5 was a huge success and we expect the same results with the latest Mid-Rise Timber Construction Frame & Truss Supply Chain Market Implementation Group which we have just started. It is important to be inclusive within the supply chain and this is something FTMA Australia excels at.
Peter Llewellyn: Greater concern about environmental issues has driven change in some areas. For example, we have had to develop data sheets about the use of formaldehyde in the adhesives used in sheet products. Specifiers are also interested to know that veneers are an extremely sustainable use of timber since many veneers are produced from one log.
How would you describe the modernday association & what the future holds for such associations?
Brian Beecroft: I think the modernday association is smaller and leaner than it was years ago. It needs to respond to members needs swiftly and with confidence or it will lose its support base. It copes with the same competitive pressure as its members and needs to develop and maintain its point of difference. Remember the scene in Jerry McGuire where the guy in the business suit said success in business is all about building relationships. Well, that is pretty much number one and the need to develop these with your members is critical in building/maintaining loyalty in the very competitive Association environment. Having individual industry specific Associations is a bonus for any industry and it should be a place where expert staff can provide a quality service for members. No one is owed a free lunch so any Association needs to employ sharp knowledgeable staff and be prepared to stand up and fight for its members when needed, with passion.
I’m confident TTIA has the right attitude and skills to continue to be a valued resource for our industry members across Australia well into the future.
Colin Fitzpatrick: The modern day Association must be up with or ahead of the latest changes in social media, the latest systems available to run a business and most importantly be in a position to communicate with and assist members to successfully run their businesses.
Encouragement of youth and equality of sexes is paramount in associations today and the TABMA Group is proud to be an equal opportunity employer.
Kersten Gentle: There have always been way too many Associations within the Australian timber industry. At one stage there were over 70 different groups/associations which has greatly reduced but still I believe there needs to be some sort of rationalisation to reduce costs. I remember one Australian timber company paying out close to $1million per annum to Associations which is outrageous. Yes, we all want our money and we want our sponsors and members to ensure we can continue to deliver our programs. However, we must look at ways in which we can work together, how we can share costs in areas such as marketing, insurances and web design just to name a few. There are a lot of personalities within the timber industry supply chain which results in barriers to communication at times but we must forge ahead and reduce costs, increase services and ensure the businesses we represent, especially the small to medium size family businesses are getting value for money.
I believe there is a need for Associations and I don’t believe you can be everything to everyone. That is why I am confident FTMA Australia will continue to grow as we represent fabricators. If there is any issue between a fabricator and a supplier, we assist the fabricator to ensure a positive outcome. As the executive officer, I am passionate, I am loud and I am willing to always get off my backside to get the job done. My members are my family and we are always there to support them.
Peter Llewellyn: In some ways the modern day association is doing the same job that industry associations have always done – namely, producing guideline documents, promoting products and advising consumers. In this way an industry speaks with a united voice, rather than giving mixed messages. The main change is in the methods used to get the message out.
Timber Veneer Association of Australia (TVAA)
Chief Executive Officer Timber & Building Materials Association (Aust.) Ltd
Chief Executive Officer TTIA
Executive Officer FTMA Australia
Timber plays a big role in our lives.
There’s always time to learn
Timber transforms into tranquility.