IRgA leadership recently announced that the spring 2011 Convention & Trade Show would be the 84-year-old association’s last. As the board figures out ways for the organization to continue to serve the industry, Gary Wilbur, R.S. Knapp, and Bob Roperti, Jiffy Reprographics, shared the rationale for this decision.
“The IRgA has experienced decline similar to that of the reprographics industry. It will scale down to serve a smaller market need," said Wilbur.
The industry is going through a structural change, he added. “Our customers have changed their workflows to processes that in many cases exclude us or, at a minimum, make it very difficult to make enough money to cover the overhead.”
Last year, the IRgA had 200 member companies; that was down from 600 in 1999. Today, there are 185 member companies—148 reprographers, 26 vendors, and 11 complimentary members (affinity groups, regional leaders, media, etc.). While core membership has remained flat, the vendor segment has diminished the most.
When founded in 1927, and throughout its history, the association has fulfilled an important industry niche—to bring together those associated with the process that delivers information throughout the construction cycle—usually through some form of printing or related technology.
However, over the last several years, Wilbur said, our industry became fragmented. Other industry groups formed, there were mergers and consolidations on both the reprographer and vendor sides, and there were typical economic cycles. “Recent changes in technology, along with the growing significance of the affinity organizations, have created a situation where the necessity of the IRgA’s industry role has diminished. As a result, the continued viability of the association remains in question,” said Wilbur.
Assessing the Need
To address the issue, the IRgA Board of Directors went through an extensive process to determine what should be done to ensure the IRgA endures. They spent several meetings discussing more than a dozen proposed business models. They hired a consultant who held one-on-one telephone conversations with industry members, conducted research, and spent a weekend leading a strategic retreat.
The not-so-surprising result:
- • IRgA member customers are primarily those in the AEC industry, but a growing share of members are diversifying their businesses into multiple areas outside of AEC.
- • Members know the design and construction of new buildings will go on and are seeking new ways to participate in the workflow/process. However, reprographers have not been able to replace the amount of revenue they once earned.
- • Reprographer’s role is changing. No longer is the reprographer as integral a part of their customers’ workflow as before.
- • As a result, many reprographics companies are selling new services to existing customers. At the same time, new markets are being identified for the same services.
As for the IRgA:
- • The association has been viewed as an AEC/printing association with a trade show. People are not feeling that this is what they need right now.
- • The IRgA has been struggling to deliver a consistent value proposition.
- • Strong industry associations are where the leaders and successful people “hang out.” Declining membership interest is evidence that this connection is diminishing in favor of the affinity organizations.
- • A successful association needs engaged, passionate members. The survey that was recently conducted attracted less than a 10 percent response. This and other evidence points to a declining level of engagement industry-wide.
- • The demographics of our market mirror that of the Baby Boomer generation. We’re not getting any younger, and there are not many new firms entering the industry.
- • Members are looking for new revenue streams in areas where the IRgA does not have expertise.
- • The small shop defection rate is high; they are not seeing value. Likewise, half or more of the larger companies that belong to the affinity organizations also do not see value from the IRgA.
During its strategy session, the IRgA Board of Directors and a number of past presidents identified several possible outcomes that could redefine the association. Wilbur made it clear that running an association is not about one individual. Instead, it’s about a lot of individuals and companies coming together.
Bob Roperti agreed and said the biggest challenge for the IRgA is relevancy—its value proposition. “While we’re not there yet, we’re listening to you and working on finalizing a product that will ensure this association endures,” he said.
The IRgA has always had a passionate group of leaders, but this group is getting older and smaller. “We are going to have to seriously assess whether there are enough people who want to see the IRgA carry forward,” Roperti noted.
No More Trade Show
“Another thing we know is that there are not enough vendors to justify putting on a trade show in the future,” said Roperti. “We also know that there is great value in providing opportunities for members of this industry to get together in the future.”
There are lifelong friendships that have been developed as a result of this association. It has served the careers of thousands of people. There will always be competition, and therefore a reason to sharpen our knowledge and skills. People want to be a part of a community and value hanging out with others like them. “We know there is a need, but is there a want?” Roperti asked.
During its strategy session, the leadership concluded that the existing IRgA business structure as an association is unsustainable, and that continuation of the association in its present form would be an unsuitable use of member funds, the efforts of staff, and volunteer leaders.
At the same time, they identified the goal to transform the organization into one that exists to maintain a senior contact network within the industry, to improve cross-industry communication, understanding, and networking.
“This network is an important asset,” Roperti stated “While not directly linked to products, services, or markets, networking is an important reason for existence. With that in mind, the IRgA will continue to serve as an independent, unbiased, and neutral resource for sharing information between segments of the industry.
A Glimpse into the Future
The reconfigured organization will focus on producing an annual or series of events designed to provide a venue for networking and senior-level education. The operations of the association will be restructured as follows:
- • Remaining financial resources will be managed as an endowment that will serve the governance needs of the association. Preservation of principal will be an essential financial goal.
- • Staff will fulfill an administrative role.
- • The existing membership database will be updated annually and used to help promote a successful networking event.
- • Events will be produced on a break-even basis.
- • The new Board will annually evaluate the usefulness of maintaining the senior contact network and the success of the annual networking event(s), relative to the resources of the association.
“What is certain is that the Board of Directors you elected cannot do this alone,” said Roperti. “We need a core of at least 20 to 30 industry leaders to become involved in the IRgA for it to be sustainable.
For anyone who is interested in seeing that the IRgA continues, contact Roperti at 727/442-7125.