Given that we are more connected than ever and as well informed as we have ever been, are trade associations still relevant in today's foodservice industry?

Joe-PierceJoe Pierce,President and CEO, Pierce Parts and Service Inc.That was the question I began to ponder earlier this year as I assumed the role of president for the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association, an organization our company joined 16 years ago. And upon reflecting long and hard on this question, I feel very strongly that we need associations like CFESA as much as we ever have.

That's because of the various issues members of the foodservice industry must address continue to become more and more complex. As such, our need to come together as a community, whether we are service agents, dealers, factories or operators, is as important as it has ever been. Being active in an association also allows us to discuss emerging trends with our peers and allows our businesses to be better prepared for future challenges before they are upon us.

But the one thing that continues to astound me about my involvement with CFESA is the way members truly come together to share experiences and ideas. I can only presume it is also that way with other associations. My CFESA peers are very open about what works for their businesses and what does not. They genuinely want to see someone else benefit from their mistakes. As a 34-year veteran of this industry, that approach really resonates with me and I try to share my knowledge and experiences as well.

To those who choose not to be part of a trade association, they may view these organizations as little more than a good old boy network. And that's too bad because they don't truly understand what they are missing. Associations like CFESA continue to recruit new members and grow participation in their events. The reason for this is simple.

Companies throughout the foodservice industry continue to face growing competition from low-cost providers as our customers look for ways to save money any place they can. (In the service segment, we call these companies trunk slammers.) But conversations based solely on price are difficult to win and they do nothing to elevate the performance of the industry as a whole.

So you have to look at yourself and your company as being part of something larger and seek ways to combat these price-driven competitors. You have to understand how to raise the overall level of the products and services you provide. Being part of an association allows you to tap into industry best practices that you can use to help change the direction of your company for the better.

Some people may question the value of participating in associations but I can say without hesitation that if our company had not joined CFESA we would not be the organization we are today.

Prior to my becoming a CFESA member, I was not an authorized service agent for any factories. But the education CFESA provided and the ability to network allowed me to build relationships with factories in the industry. So I went from representing no manufacturers to 62 today. I went from representing no parts makers to more than 50 today. So my involvement in CFESA shows how sincere we are about the industry.