Should you join an industry association?

With the news that some of Australia’s largest retailers have now joined the Australian Retailers Association, many small business owners may be asking, ‘What can an industry association do for me?’

At the end of October, president of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), Rowan Hodge, made a national announcement celebrating the fact that many of Australia’s major retailers had made the decision to join the ARA.

Together with JB Hi-Fi Group chief executive Richard Murray, Hodge wrote that “the integration of the major retailers into the ARA is an exciting moment for Australia’s retail sector” and that the addition of these major retailers to the ARA was a “critical first step in creating one voice for small, medium and larger retailers”.

To understand why this announcement was so well received by the retail industry, it’s important first to understand what the ARA is, and why industry associations can be beneficial.


What is the ARA?


The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) was founded in 1903 and is the largest retail industry association in Australia, offering private membership to businesses in the retail sector.

Membership with the ARA provides access to a team of 35 employment relations specialists, lawyers and solicitors who are on call to answer retail specific enquiries regarding employment relations, tenancy, staff training and development.

The Association also offers members access to exclusive industry events, workshops and courses, a wealth of online resources and membership discounts on insurances, business bank fees and other industry specific services.

The addition of more ‘major members’ is a big step forward for the Association who has around 9,500 independent and national retail members, 95 percent of which are small and medium sized businesses.


How does this benefit smaller retailers?


A fantastic analogy for explaining the potential of an industry association comes in the form of an ant colony or beehive. Individually, each member of the group doesn’t offer much influence or power outside the colony, but when working together, the collective group is able to achieve things well beyond a given individual member’s capacity.

It’s the same with an industry association.

When smaller businesses join an industry association and decide to work together to enact change, they speak with a much bigger voice. In addition, when these smaller businesses are joined by the ‘big players’ who hold more industry influence and financial persuasion, both groups can use innovative strategies to work towards complete industry reform and the setting of new standards.

It’s well demonstrated that the effects of industry teamwork can be ground-breaking and can shift entire sectors towards a more successful path.


Should you join an industry association?


There are many reasons why companies choose to join an industry association.

Firstly, the pooling of industry leaders and their collective knowledge creates an incredible resource when it comes to specific problems in niche industries such as employment law, franchising or production. Chances are, if you’re being faced with a business problem, someone else in your industry has faced this issue and successfully overcome it.

Leah Brown, manager for Human Resources at Calvin Klein Jeanswear Australia explains, “We have found great value in the [industry association’s] Employment Relations advice. The legal advice is very professional. We have also been able to verify and be correctly advised on various and specific situations”.

Another benefit of membership comes from the extensive business network that you become a part of.

Most associations offer member-only workshops and training courses, which are not only a valuable source of information to help you with specific skills, but also afford the chance to meet others who understand your specific business challenges, or who possess finesse in areas you might feel you lack.

To ensure their reputation is upheld, associations will usually have some sort of application and vetting process and association members will usually be required to uphold a specific code of conduct or possess a specific level of skill or experience to maintain their membership. Thanks to these strict requirements, many business owners feel that their association with a regulated industry body worked to enhance the reputation of their business, and of themselves as a business owner.

It’s important to understand that whilst there are costs involved in becoming an industry association member, some trade associations offer perks relating to purchasing power or cost cutting initiatives with banks, insurance companies or even international suppliers.

Director of The Rock Crystal Shop, Graham Barrett believes that joining the ARA and the advice that he was given by the Association helped him save valuable costs in his retail business.

He notes: “Before joining the ARA, we changed to Commonwealth Bank for better fees and services to our previous bank”.

“After consultation with the ARA, we were advised that as part of our membership we could receive further financial benefits from Commonwealth Bank including lower fees on our EFTPOS facilities and bank accounts.

“These savings more than covered our annual ARA Membership,” said Barrett,

The Digital Strategy Consulting Insight Report explains an additional benefit:

‘Trade associations can galvanise their industries, pulling together fiercely competing companies to provide a single loud voice that champions the sector’s potential. The role of trade associations in our industry is even more vital because the pace of development in the digital economy means it’s particularly hard for outsiders to keep up.’

The report continues with possibly the most important roles of an industry association: ‘Get the formula right and [industry] associations have the power to transform their industries, uniting stakeholders and boosting market growth’.

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