The Association Lament ­- A Commentary

My first experience with MH associations came when my company, the MHB Group (formerly known as the Mobile Home Board), was involved in trying to create a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for manufactured housing. Our idea was to expand on the MLS we had run in Santa Clara Valley for almost 30 years into a national service. To that end we joined CMHI, WMA and MHI.

We dutifully attended meetings in California via WMA and CMHI. We penned articles for publications and made our case in regional meetings. We attended many MHI meetings over the course of 3+ years. We joined the MHI Resale Task Force and championed that cause to the best of our abilities. We penned articles for the Merchandiser on the topic. We shared our expertise and knowledge with the task force.

The end result was wasted money and effort.

When it came time to make some decision on a MLS we felt as though our information was readily valued and used but we were never allowed the opportunity to participate in any decision. In the end we were politically out maneuvered and essentially shut out of the process. To say that we were not happy was an understatement.

To say that we soured on association involvement is also an understatement.

From this limited experience we have an opinion or two to share.

It seems to me that to belong and participate in an association has an expectation attached to it. That expectation is that some positive result from our effort, time and money would accrue to us.

In our case that was not true. No one promised us anything nor did we have the right to a


However as a dues paying member we assumed our experience had value to the industry we are part of. That may have been the case for our industry but for us it did not.

A bigger downside was the cost of this activity. Traveling up and down California, traveling across the United States, having display booths at Expos and Conventions is expensive.

For our company, it ran into tens of thousands of dollars over three plus years. It is one thing to spend this kind of money to see a return. It is wholly another thing to spend this money and realize, after the fact, what a waste of time and capital it was. We will never participate with an association to this degree again. We may choose to join again locally, but we won’t extend ourselves like that again given the miserable ROI.

An equally important drawback in my view is the limited membership. During our time we always saw the same faces. No one new. Same people and companies, doing the same thing over the course of two or three days.

To grow an industry one needs to attract new blood. We were one such company but as you can tell we left the association world after a negative experience. How many others like us have had a similar experience?

Also having a limited, narrow membership base will get you narrow and limited input and outcomes. To me this means that our associations are attempting to achieve goals and outcomes for a selected few.

I don’t know about anyone else but my view has been that a trade association is looking out for an industry as a whole and not just the biggest dues paying members. Fool that I am.

Finally, where are the residents who pay rent every month (which makes the community business an attractive investment) in the scheme of things?

It would seem to me that we have a vested interest in their view and input. By their inclusion and participation we have an opportunity to better understand each other. There can be no harm in that right? How can it hurt us to hear from folks who love living in their community? Love their home? Have positive stories to tell?

Another issue is the same bemoaning and complaining about government.

I am not advocating that all government is bad (or for that matter good). Instead what I am saying is it gets boring and irritating to spend a great deal of money to attend a conference where meeting after meeting all you hear is how this agency or group is ignoring us or being too tough or they don’t understand.

This all may be true, but it was my expectation that these obstacles were all part of the game and had to be overcome. Also, we don’t have the best track record and to think that the problems of our past are in the past and forgotten seems foolish. Of course the people who regulate us and legislate us have long memories. That is the way of the world.

Connected to that was the constant request for money to fund lobbying. I understand why the request is there, but why on earth would I consider doing that when we seem to lack progress in moving forward our agenda.

Also what is happening with our dues? Shouldn’t some of those $$ we pay support the lobbying effort?

In any case sitting in meeting after meeting hearing how our voice goes unheard why would I give money to folks who seemingly can’t get the job done.

I do think that local and national trade associations are valuable. They can be agents of change. But to be an agent of change requires one thing ­ the willingness to change.

Every month on this website, I read about legislation we hope to bring to fruition or regulatory changes we hope to have enacted. Then lo and behold I read about the failure to achieve those goals.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Do we

need a new association? I don’t know. Do we need to rethink what our association is, who it

represents and how it functions? Yes!

Otherwise we will keep the wheel churning, doing the same thing, making the same complaint and getting the same outcome. In short we will get what we deserve.

Insanity. ##

Image credit – is a composite from the MHB Group website.

Boe Davis
Vice-President of Sales
MHB Group and Mobile Home Park Magazines
1240 C Mtn View Alviso Rd
Sunnyvale CA 94089

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