By Mark Springer

In the first half of this article, I discussed the need for a platform for collective advocacy in the restoration industry—a way to deal with the problems we face but never seem to overcome like pricing issues, consultant and TPA issues in claims, and government regulations. But how do we accomplish this? How can we make our voice heard?

As restoration contractors, let’s stop wringing our hands in anxiety over the existential threats we face. For a minute, let’s imagine that our industry, after carefully considering the most significant threats, is able to deploy its own lobbyist to speak in protest of laws and regulations that are detrimental to our businesses. What if we had representation that was able to convey our concerns about the aforementioned questions we have asked ourselves about pricing methodologies, repair guidelines, or hostile claim consultants? This wouldn’t stop with merely conveying our concerns. The other players in the property repair ecosystem need to see that we understand our position, that we are mobilized to affect change, and that we will stand united for our collective rights as contractors, under the law, to uphold equitable policies and practices.

The property insurance repair industry faces many unique challenges. These challenges are not necessarily common among non-insurance-related general contractors, specialty trades, or the general service industry. Many of these other industries don’t face the sort of challenges that are described above. However, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to advocacy for our trade. Many other industries demonstrate examples where effective advocacy and government affairs, including lobbying elected officials, has been tremendously effective. In researching the subject for this article, I spoke with representatives from the auto repair industry (which has many parallels to the property repair industry), local contractor associations, the National Demolition Association, the Window and Door Manufacturer Association, and others.

Each of these industries shares a similar playbook from which I’ve learned and suggest the following plan for our industry.

Step 1 | Create an RIA Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee

Trade associations are driven by volunteers. Volunteers are busy running their businesses in addition to their volunteer work. I try always to be sensitive to being critical of the work of volunteers, the work they have accomplished in the past, or the decisions they have made in their tenure. With that qualification in place, I think we as an industry are fighting an uphill battle, partially because our voice has been absent for such a long period of time.

It’s unfortunate that, in 2019, we are just now taking steps to implement a committee of such importance and bearing on our work. But, to this end, the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) has developed its Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee (AGA), which was formally announced in May. Attorney Ed Cross, known to the industry for his restoration acumen and success in defending restoration contractors, is currently serving as chairman of the committee. The committee is populated with successful restorers from regions across the United States who are willing to dedicate some of their time to the critical work on which this committee has embarked.

Work from the committee is well underway, with restorers from throughout the industry contributing financially and intellectually to the cause. The mission of the AGA is to develop and implement strategies to help create and maintain a fair and level playing field, financially and legally, for restoration contractors by advocating for their interests while working collaboratively with stakeholders involved in the restoration process. They will accomplish this using the AGA Blueprint, a seven-step plan, which aims to address the ideas laid out in this article.

Read more about the AGA’s ongoing work.

Step 2 | Prioritize issues and solicit member feedback

We must focus our efforts with laser-like precision. It would be exciting to start speaking and advocating the positions of restorers on the myriad issues that impact us. As impressive as this would be, the sugar rush of this effort would likely be short-lived and the results superficial at best.

The first order of business for the AGA Committee is identifying the top issues affecting contractors in the restoration industry. This curated inventory will then be submitted to all of the RIA membership for feedback and a vote as to which issues will receive focused attention at the outset. If you are reading this article, take a quick mental note of this and be on the lookout for the survey. Traditionally, surveys get little feedback and response. This is a big one, folks, because here you have a meaningful way to impact the future of your industry and your very livelihood if you respond thoughtfully to the survey.

Step 3 | Develop position papers and position statements

The purpose of a position paper is to succinctly organize an argument or opinion on a matter that can then be utilized to generate support or a specified course of action. When we have clear direction from the AGA Committee and our members as to the most pressing issues that have bearings on our future, we will develop position papers to unequivocally state where we stand and what we see as a path to resolution for a specific issue.

While the committee may seek industry experts and various stakeholders for input on the work of these position statements, it will be their ultimate responsibility to ensure that the positions taken are strongly aligned with the best interests of industry members. It’s essential to understand that RIA’s constituents represent a wide base of contractors who obtain their customers and execute their businesses in a variety of fashions. The official RIA position statements will necessarily incorporate the comprehensive needs of our membership based on the direction of our contractor members who are engaged with the committee.

Step 4 | Hire a restoration advocate

In the isolated cases where RIA is currently advocating for contractors, this role is often relegated to a volunteer who is either a restoration company owner or high-level employee in a larger company. This individual might then be put into a predicament if they speak candidly to the issues they are facing. There may be a fear of retaliation, especially if the contractor is advocating on an issue relating to an insurance carrier or TPA.

This, I submit, is why RIA must have a non-contractor representative to speak on our behalf. What we need is a tough-as-nails diplomat who understands our industry and has the oratory skills to articulate and advocate for our position. This is not an administrative wallflower or a policy wonk but, perhaps, someone with a background in lobbying at the state or federal level or with executive experience or a background in law.

Step 5 | Monitor issues, advocate for positions, build coalitions

Our restoration advocate would report on a day-to-day basis to the RIA executive director. However, this person must also have a key level of involvement with the AGA Committee and their work. They will monitor issues based on our position statements and then speak, argue, and lobby on behalf of our members for these positions wherever there is an opportunity to do so, including venues such as the Property Insurance and Restoration Conference meetings. It may also include setting meetings with leaders in companies or organizations where our voice is needed such as Xactware, individual contractor networks such as Crawford and Alacrity, or with significant consulting companies such as JS Held or Young & Associates.

The challenges that restorers face are not always unique to our industry. There are often allies that we can engage with specific areas where we have common ground. Our advocate will also be tasked with identifying and potentially forming coalitions where a larger group can impact the outcome.

Step 6 | Inform and engage membership

The engagement of our membership is key to our success. Again, due to the challenges and headwinds that restorers face, this is not a time wherein successful restorers can sit on the sidelines and do nothing. If we alert our members to specific threats, there will likely be an accompanying call to action that may include response to surveys, letter-writing campaigns, outreach to congressional representatives, or other actions that further the cause.

As we proceed, we will need your feedback; we will need your time in helping to craft policies and positions; and we will need your financial commitment to execute this plan.

Step 7 | Hire a restoration lobbyist

Just because this step is last in this proposed plan does not mean that it is least important. Hiring a lobbyist will be a monumental step for RIA. It will be costly, and the results will likely only be evident over a greater period of time. Initially, we will need to decide where to focus our efforts: federal or at the state level? Here, coalitions will be vital.

What’s next?

the greatest need infoIt is very clear that the restoration industry currently faces immense challenges. It is my hope that this plea for advocacy is received enthusiastically. Anecdotally, the discussions I have had about the need for advocacy with numerous restorers across the various spectrums of revenue size, location and service demographics have been met with a great deal of positive feedback.

We are at a point in which we need much more than platitudes about the need for change. We need a strategic and operational path forward. This plan would require consensus and a strong mandate, not only from RIA contractor members, but it also should be driven by other potential partners who have a stake in our industry to help us in this massive task. These partners include other restoration industry organizations such as the IICRC or IAQA and potentially a significant level of involvement from the franchise groups and national restoration providers.

While a focused strategy is important, I also believe that time is of the essence in this effort. Associations can tend to get mired in the details and encumbered by the availability of volunteers’ time. I would suggest that we don’t have three to five years to get this figured out. And, as General George Patton said, “A good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan next week.”

This effort will require significant quantities of three resources: time, talent, and treasure. Without the time investment of restorers at all levels, we will not be able to move in a direction that impacts key issues. Without the talented thinkers, strategists, and individuals who are gifted with execution skills, nothing will change. Without financial resources, we won’t be able to hire staff, monitor issues or travel to the locations where our voice is needed. The initial cost isn’t staggering—a suggested minimum investment of 1/100th of 1% of each restoration company’s annual gross revenue (e.g., $100 per one million in gross revenue)—and would provide the catalyst to move forward and get started.

We need you if we’re going to make a difference and positively change our industry.


*This article previously appeared in C&R Magazine, Q1 2019.

Mark Springer, CR, is the CEO of Montana-based Dayspring Restoration. He is an RIA board member, serves on the Executive Committee, and chairs the Education Committee. Mark welcomes your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions on this article. He can be reached via email at mark@
dayspringrestoration.com
.