Interview by Sigrid Tornquist
What role do you see Divisions playing in the association?
IFAI began as a tent and awning association, but it’s grown to be a diverse group made up of both small and large companies in a variety of market segments. It’s absolutely critical that Divisions drive the value of this association. We see IFAI’s role as supporting them. We can provide a lot of help to existing Divisions and plan to develop new ones. The board went through the membership and identified groups that didn’t fit into existing Divisions. One that stood out was equipment manufacturers—and they had their first meeting at IFAI Specialty Fabrics Expo and Advanced Textiles Expo in October. We’re also studying the possibility of a military division, which is currently addressed within the Safety and Technical Products Division and the United States Industrial Fabrics Institute.
What is the state of the industry at large?
I’m encouraged. Macro-economic issues come and go—who’s president, what the tax laws are, what the health care situation is—there are always going to be better times and worse times for businesses. But it looks like the economy is coming back. You can see it from our membership starting to rise again. You can see it from trade show participation starting to rise again. Business is coming back and the industry is pretty strong.
However, as a whole, this industry has been affected by cheap labor worldwide. That’s the number one driving effect on the industry. To me, the solution isn’t necessarily about buying American. It’s about good business. It’s about innovating through technologies. IFAI is an international organization—one that stands on making good products at competitive costs—though it is largely made up of U.S. companies.
At TenCate we use a four-cornerstone business model: end-use marketing, innovative products, differentiated technologies (equipment and processes that are unique) and cost (managing costs as opposed to being a low-cost producer). The companies that do all four of those things really excel in the market. Companies that only do two well still do fairly well. But those that only do one well are going to get beat. I see it every day.
What is the strategy for increasing revenue and providing value to IFAI members?
We have three legs we stand on in the association—IFAI Expo and trade shows, the magazines and advertising, and member services. Revenue from events and magazines allows us to focus on member services, which is connected to the Divisions. This will be a main strategy moving forward and will allow us to focus on increasing funding to some of the Divisions, support consumer awareness programs, Division-related industry research and some lobbying efforts.
One of IFAI’s resources that we feel has been underutilized is our research area. Jeff Rasmussen is our market research manager and has more than 19 years of experience in market research analysis. We’ve begun making his services available to outside organizations to generate additional income in addition to the research he already does within the association.