ASSOCIATION ADVISER: Patricia, the past several years haven’t been easy for retailers as both business and consumer confidence remains sluggish. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry since the downturn began?
PATRICIA DAMERON: No doubt about it, retail sales continue to decline and unfortunately, our analysts tell me the worst isn’t over. It’s probably not going to be a great holiday shopping season this year and there will continue to be retrenchment, consolidation, and extreme cost-control pressure. Add to that all the new competition from international players entering the U.S. market and the ongoing challenge of finding qualified help–yes, even in this job market–so definitely you could say it’s been a challenging time for our industry.
Fortunately, we’ve done a pretty good job of holding onto our membership base. The majority of our members see the value of our educational programs, best practices, and peer-to-peer networking. In tough times like these, members are really seeking answers to their day-to-day challenges. They look to their association to support them and they look to their industry brethren for help, too.
AA: Can you tell us more about how you reinforce your membership value proposition in this economic climate?
PD: We want to make sure members always think of us first as the place to go for answers and educational resources about facility management and maintenance. Our Best Practices resource section is a great example of this. Even in this digital, social networking age, facilitating member-to-member interaction is a big part of the value we bring. We’ve changed our dues structure. There’s also a sliding scale dues program now, so you earn progressive discounts for each additional member you bring in from your organization.
AA: There’s been a lot of buzz here [at the ASAE Annual Conference] about how tough times force people to innovate. Can you share any examples from the retail management sector?
PD: There’s been a big change with respect to the management and structure of retail properties. We’re seeing an increase in open-air “lifestyle centers” as opposed to just building more traditional strip malls. The lifestyle centers are designed to keep shoppers engaged at the retail venue before, during and after the actual purchase and bring the human aspect back to the retail experience. Expect to see more and more of this as the economy improves.
AA: How about the needs of your younger members, a.k.a. the industry up-and-comers? That’s also been a hot topic of conversation.
PD: Younger members are more distracted, less attentive, and more likely to be multi-tasking when we try to reach them through our various communications channels. They get easily 100 messages a day and they’re at the hub of all the stores in their area. They’ve got an awful lot of information coming at them all day long and we try to recognize that and respect that.
We’ve known for a long time that we have a diverse membership and you can’t be one-size-fits-all. We’re getting a lot better at building out and promoting our member sub-communities. For example, we have a Big Box Store Group and an International Operations Group. We want to have six to 10 active sub-communities all the time, but you have to realize it’s going to be fluid. Some groups will dissolve, some will splinter off and some new ones will evolve. You’ve got to be able to move with your members and keep up with them. Especially the younger, more tech-savvy ones.
AA: At many associations, the term “younger members” automatically gets lumped together with the concept of “social networking.” Is that what you’re seeing at PRSM?
PD: We haven’t fulfilled our social media strategy yet, but we’re launching a whole new Web site with a lot more energy and interactivity. You can already see at www.prsm.com that we’ve been pretty proactive about using video. We’re making a big push into polls, wikis, blogs and more LinkedIn pages. That’s how our members want to communicate with us and each other and that’s what we’re trying to give them from a 360-degree perspective.
AA: Has the economic downturn induced any other changes to your communications strategy?
PD: As I mentioned, we try to touch members in a variety of formats wherever they are and however they like to be touched. But, we’re not necessarily moving everything over to the digital side. We’re still spending the time to get smarter and more efficient about how we use our traditional communication channels.
AA: How so?
PD: In addition to all the digital channels we’ve talked about here, with Naylor’s help, we’re still getting a lot of bang for our buck from traditional media such as the member magazine (Professional Retail Store Maintenance), which will now have four “outserts” this year. And, unlike a lot of associations, we’re actually increasing our use of direct mail, not decreasing it, because our members’ inboxes have become so clogged. We’re finding that direct mail’s been a good way to get through to our members. The key is being more judicious about who we’re mailing to and how frequently we touch them.
AA: PRSM has a reputation for being a very nimble and agile organization. Can you tell us a little more about how you foster innovation?
PD: We tell members we’re going to empower them. We tell our staff we’re going to empower them. PRSM is a very fluid organization. Good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone in the organization and also from our members. If it’s a good idea, then we’ll make it happen. We always want to be nimble but steer in the right direction. Most of all you have to make sure any new idea enables you to stay relevant to your members. If you lose that relevancy, you’re essentially signing a death certificate.
AA: Can you tell us more about your non-dues revenue philosophy?
PD: We’re always looking at non-dues revenue opportunities. It’s not a formal process here in terms of systematically seeking opportunities. But, when opportunities present themselves, we do take the due diligence process very seriously. Whether it’s a new product launch, a spinoff, or a strategic partnership, you’ve got to talk to your members about how they’re going to react. You need to have a good sense of who you’re getting involved with if it’s an outside vendor or partner. Naylor was very patient and flexible during the RFP process and they still are today. That’s why the partnership works.
AA: So, aside from the economy, what’s keeping you up at night?
PD: Are we staying relevant with members? Are we anticipating a need that they haven’t specifically asked for yet? We’re only a 15-year-old organization. Our board is made up of active industry people. They are our members. They’re very good at anticipating the needs of members coming down the pike. I’m very thankful to have them.
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