There’s strength in numbers, as the old adage says. Joining forces with and sharing information and knowledge among like-minded individuals can be a positive and powerful channel for growth and development. This holds true not only on a personal level, but for any trade association and its members hoping to realize their full potentials and optimistic futures.
Being a member of an association translates into camaraderie and shared ideals structured upon a strong foundation that will support future endeavors. For members of such associations it becomes a matter of pulling their weight as a unified group for the benefit of the many.
As is often the case, the creation of an association arises out of a need to fill a void somewhere within an industry. Such was the case for Andy Ackerman, President, and Amy Ackerman, Vice President, cofounders of the North American Trailer Dealers Association (NATDA) established in 2007 and headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.
In 1995, Andy was a manufacturer’s representative for the trailer industry and had the opportunity to visit and learn about the operations of a number of dealerships. He realized that dealers in the trailer industry didn’t have the proper framework in terms of education and knowledge to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently – to make them better business owners. They needed a collective voice in the form of their own association that would see their needs and challenges addressed. That voice came in the form of the NATDA which represents light and medium duty trailer dealers.
Andy and Amy wanted to “support the trailer dealers while also creating a positive impact on the industry,” says Jesse Battle, NATDA’s executive director. “Our founders saw the need for a national trade show, magazine and training that was focused specifically on the dealer. We continue to serve the light and medium duty trailer dealers and bring them together as a unified team.”
The NATDA currently has 800 members comprising dealers, manufacturers and vendors with a large amount of Canadian members. The only criteria for membership are those dealers selling and servicing trailers in the light and medium duty trailer category. Light and medium duty trailers are utilized by tradespeople, sports enthusiasts (often for boats, ATVs, race horses, cars, and motorcycles), and for hauling livestock or building materials, for example. These classifications of trailers are capable of towing loads up to 26,000 pounds.
Although the NATDA currently doesn’t offer a certification program, “We are currently working on implementing a certification program that supports the three core segments at most dealerships,” says Jesse. These segments include sales, service and retail parts. “The new program would tie in with our trade show,” he says, explaining that the NATDA is working on “the first nationally recognized dealer certification program, and hope to have a version of this at our 2018 NATDA Trade Show and Convention,” to take place in Indianapolis, Indiana from September 6th to 8th, an event not open to the general public.
NATDA’s first trade show was held in Fort Worth, Texas, a show that covered 100,000 square feet. In 2017, the NATDA’s biggest achievement, according to Jesse, was the celebration of its tenth anniversary with a trade show held for the first time in Indianapolis in a space occupying over 300,000 square feet. In attendance were 492 dealerships and over 200 additional exhibitors including manufacturers, vendors and those exhibiting for the first time. “Our most utilized tool is by far our trade show,” shares Jesse. “It was great to step back and see how much we’ve accomplished over the past ten years and honor all those that have supported us throughout the years.”
Like most successful organizations, the NATDA acknowledges the intrinsic value of trade shows to showcase new products and services to a target market while instilling brand awareness and knowledge. Such shows facilitate opportunities such as those between the dealers, manufacturers and vendors, and substantial tradeshow visits result in increased customer databases, one of the primary incentives for any tradeshow. “Our show allows dealers to network with companies and meet one on one with their current manufacturers,” explains Jesse. “It’s an opportunity for the industry to be under one roof.” Each year the NATDA has seen significant growth in markets related to the trailer industry, particularly those of truck accessories and recreational vehicles, according to its website.
Aside from trade shows, there are a number of additional resources available to NATDA members. These include newsletters, conferences, the popular NATDA magazine, published bi-monthly, indicating highlights of new products and services available to the industry, press releases, and relevant timely information for parts and services and sales and marketing departments.
In addition, the association provides surveys and reports, specifically its Dealer Analysis Report (DAR), indicating statistics such as market trends for dealer specific areas. The organization’s Trailer Manufacturer Buyers’ Guide also proves to be “very popular among our members in the industry,” shares Jesse.
Launched in 2017 was NATDA’s first trailer dealer national training program. This program includes Dealer Performance Training and Dealer Success Groups, both of which “are managed through our partners at Bob Clements International (BCI),” says Jesse. BCI are experts in building successful businesses for dealers and manufacturers through the implementation of best practices that subsequently enable success.
The Dealer Success Groups “connect dealerships with industry experts and other dealership owners through regularly scheduled online meetings for each dealership’s departments,” continues Jesse. “We continue to make a huge impact in the industry by providing dealers with free dealer education and free technical training.”
And like most associations, the NATDA does not operate in a vacuum. It has established a number of partnerships since its inception, some of which include insurance companies and financial institutions. Such partnerships “are crucial to our success because they’re critical to our members’ success,” affirms Jesse. “As a dealership owner, it’s important to understand the different facets of running a business and providing options for your customers.” By doing so, the NATDA views itself as a facilitator and a trend-setter, one of its goals being “to stay in front of the industry to realize what kind of services our members are going to need and, hopefully, we’re able to provide that to them.”
NATDA’s affiliation with the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM) was part of the conversation and Jesse notes that the NATM “primarily serves the manufacturing segment, [although] we operate in the same industry. While there is some crossover for our members, there isn’t a lot that applies directly to dealership owners. Both associations believe in federal compliance among trailer manufacturers and we support their mission to improve this within the industry.”
Expanding further upon the need to keep abreast of constantly shifting rules and regulations within the industry, Jesse notes that, “We all make a conscious effort to keep our hands in the industry,” and that the association is “in the center of it all, including receiving press releases from industry leaders and collecting statistical data… NATDA continues to work with industry leaders so nothing ultimately trickles down to the trailer dealer,” referring, for example, to the recent tax bill, “which could have a negative financial impact with dealers who use floor plan financing.”
As always, there are trends in any industry of which associations must be mindful. Referring to some of these trends, Jesse notes that, “The NATDA has really tried to play an active role in providing the right resources on ways that we can keep in line with the auto and RV industry.” He also noticed that demand has necessitated the expansions of some manufacturers and that “manufacturers [are] reducing their overall dealer count and focusing more on improving their current dealer base.”
From a technological perspective Jesse relates that, “The trailer industry is behind both auto and RV industries,” and that, “Website design, dealer management software, SEO (search engine optimization), and social media marketing are all things that have developed a little slower in our industry. For a long time, dealerships relied on smaller print marketing and that’s getting tougher and tougher to utilize.”
He does note, however, that while these were concerns in the past, “It has definitely been trending up. Companies are becoming much more aware of the changing landscape of marketing for their dealerships. Our partnerships with website creators and various consultants are things that we’ve implemented to help that transition go as smoothly as possible.”
Asked to sum up his sentiment for the NATDA and the various advantages of membership, Jesse concludes that, “Our goal is to unite trailer dealers within a professional business association by providing you with the very best benefits, programs and education. We tackle the needs of our members by creating new and improved programs to help market your business to be even more profitable.”