This month’s Corner Office Spotlight shines on Liz Richards, executive vice president of the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association. MHEDA is the only trade association dedicated solely to improving the proficiency of material handling equipment distributors worldwide.
Association Adviser: Liz, what was your path to the helm of MHEDA? Do you come from the manufacturing, distribution or material handling industries?
Liz Richards: Interestingly, none of the above. I was hired by a search committee composed of MHEDA Board Members and followed in the footsteps of an individual I worked with previously who recommended me for the job. I came to MHEDA with a fresh set of eyes, no material handling industry experience (I came from the health care field) and no preconceived notions of how to manage an association. I guess it all worked out for everyone because here I am, 18 years later.
AA: What are the biggest challenges facing the material handling and logistics industries and how is MHEDA helping members in those industries?
LR: The challenges are much the same as they have been over the years–a highly competitive industry driven by customers who are seeking solutions that provide them with a return on investment.It’s a partnership-driven industry in which the manufacturer and distributor must be engaged in a symbiotic relationship to serve a customer who will scrutinize the value being provided for the most competitive price.
AA: So, how does MHEDA help?
LR: MHEDA provides an ideal forum in which to network with industry peers, to learn about current trends and to learn how to address these trends. MHEDA also provides educational offerings to improve the operations and efficiencies for associates within an organization.
AA: What is the best way for associations to keep their pulse on the wants and needs of their members? Is there anything working particularly well for MHEDA?
LR: MHEDA developed a strategic planning process that serves as the organizational engine for everything we do as an association.Each year, the MHEDA board of directors engage in our “home grown” planning process that allows us to analyze the environment in which we and our members operate. It defines what we call the “critical impact factors” facing the industry and we build programming around these [factors] to help our members address each of these challenges or “factors.”
AA: How do you assess those factors?
LR: The environmental analysis is conducted by gathering information from many different sources through surveys of members, surveys of related trade associations, internal committee reports, economic data, and general member feedback we solicit throughout the year.This process has served MHEDA extremely well over the years and numerous members have used MHEDA’s model to develop a similar process within their own organizations.
AA: How has The MHEDA Journal evolved over the years to stay current with member needs and changing media consumption habits?
LR: The MHEDA Journal has always been rich with member content, for members, by members. It is often cited as one of the most trusted publications to reference because it is very focused on the current best practices of members. Naylor has the tools to deliver the journal in many formats and we spend a lot of time and effort sharing the articles through social media and other digital means.
AA: MHEDA has a robust portfolio of member communication vehicles (magazine, website, e-newsletter, MHEDA-TV). How do you keep all the content fresh and unique without being duplicative?
LR: It’s difficult today for someone to read a magazine cover to cover, so we have the unique ability to share snippets so a reader can take small bites when their schedule permits.We also spend a lot of time interviewing members, which allows us to stay current on what’s happening in the trenches.
AA: What is the average age of a MHEDA member and do you have any specific programs or strategies for attracting the up-and-coming members of the industries you serve?
LR: It’s difficult to determine an average age because we offer programs for the seasoned veteran, the young professional and everyone in between. MHEDA offers conferences and content geared toward the “emerging leaders” in the industry, which doesn’t necessarily focus on age, but instead provides information and educational tools for someone who is newer to the industry and is looking to learn more.
AA: Do you notice any significant differences between your younger, mid-career and longest-standing members?
LR: Sometimes a member will joke about how getting into this industry is a “life sentence” (in a good way!) because once you join the material handling industry it becomes part of your makeup.The material handling industry is a great career choice because you are exposed to so many other industries looking for solutions that our members provide.It’s a rewarding place to be involved with hundreds of unique and interesting opportunities.
AA: What prompted MHEDA to integrate video into your member communications platform and what has been the initial member reaction to MHEDA-TV?
LR: We have been thrilled with the results of MHEDA-TV.It’s a perfect way to communicate a quick tip or best practice in a way that involves minimal interruption and can be entertaining as well.Like the concept of The MHEDA Journal, many of the recordings we produce on MHEDA-TV are member focused so members have a chance to learn from one another.We are extremely grateful to our members who are willing to share their advice and best practices all toward the end of raising the bar of professionalism for the entire industry.
AA: What are the biggest communications challenges that most association face today and how can they surmount those challenges?
LR: In today’s [age] of “information overload,” you really need an integrated approach that serves the needs of a diverse audience.We try to integrate our communication in all facets of media, print, email, social media and video.
AA: MHEDA seems to have many different channels for generating non-dues revenue. Do you have a specific strategy for growing NDR that you can share with association leaders (i.e.) our readers?
LR: We try to keep our revenue stream evenly divided so we aren’t too reliant on one specific area. Our revenue stream comes from an even mix of dues, convention/trade show, education and other non-dues revenue including publications, investments and discount programs (i.e. affinity programs). Again, our strategic planning process helps us to analyze and make changes as needed.
AA: What are some of the biggest mistakes that associations are making today with respect to their NDR strategies?
LR: Be sure you don’t keep your eggs all in one basket.
AA: MHEDA has a reputation for having very proactive member/customer service. What’s the key?
LR: We are 100 percent driven to serving our members as they represent our reason for existence.Recently someone suggested we add direct phone lines for our staff members and we are very much against doing this.When the phone rings, anyone on our staff (including me) can and will answer the call. We are all in tune with what our members need and what they want and this helps us to better serve them.
AA: MHEDA has a strong culture of innovation. What is the best way to get good ideas to the surface—and out to the membership/marketplace?
LR: We are always open to new ideas and the staff at MHEDA lives and breathes this every day.We have a very engaged and working board of directors who know right from the start what we expect from them and vice versa.The board provides the insight and direction through lots of interaction with us. We handle the administrative details to make a program happen. Again, the strategic planning process we have in place really drives this.
AA: What is the best way to keep staff, volunteers and other stakeholders motivated and enthused about their work?
LR: Before a member is nominated to serve on the board, we share a lot of advance information with them about the expectations of service.Our board members are extremely engaged and have fun working with and for MHEDA. If they simply attended a couple of board meetings each year, they would not have the same rewarding feeling about working on behalf of the association.This has resonated with our members; we have a long list of interested, prospective board members and not enough seats for all who want to serve.
AA: MHEDA seems to have a high proportion of long-serving staff members and volunteers. How do you achieve retention like that?
LR: We have a small staff of six full-time and three part-time employees and together we represent over 130 years with the association.The environment here is very friendly and casual and we all share the same desire to serve our members. Our focus is on working together as a team to achieve our goals.Again, the strategic planning process is structured in such a way that we all know the end game, but it’s flexible enough that new ideas are always considered. It’s a fun place to work.
AA: Overall things seem to be going pretty well. Is there anything keeping you up at night (work related)?
LR: I have such a great team working with me so not much keeps me up at night. Together, we figure it out!
Email Liz Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org.