The BIA: Rebuilding a Trade Association

by: BIA Board of Directors

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”
– Ben Franklin

To say that the 53-year-old trade association known as the Binding Industries Association (BIA) has, in the past several years, lost some steam is obvious by the apparent lack of significance it holds in the minds of a once very involved membership. The reasons for this rollercoaster-sized dip in interest is complicated, but the BIA Board of Directors, in cooperation with dedicated staff members at the BIA office, has already begun a mission to rebuild the association into a vibrant, involved, and meaningful organization.

The Challenge

With few exceptions, the BIA has been made up of three primary groups: trade binderies, loose leaf manufacturers, and the “Associate Members” who support them, including equipment dealers, and industry material and service supply providers.

As the bindery and loose leaf industries have matured, so have the members who once owned and managed them. This maturing has been a natural process, but has been influenced by competing binderies conducting mergers and acquisitions, and their traditional customers – printing houses – bringing bindery production in-house. The loose leaf segment of the BIA has fought big box retailers, offshore competition, and ever-shifting product markets. Naturally, the Associate Member segment of the BIA was caught in the middle – still dedicated to serving its bindery and loose leaf customers, but discouraged as the members from which they could build business dwindled.

Finally, and not to be minimized in this discussion, are the young people stepping into the management breach in each of the BIA membership segments. They’ve grown up in a digital world of electronic communication, powered by immediate online information available in the privacy of their offices, but they work in a mature industry… an industry where product samples are required, and where a production plan can be put together on a cocktail napkin and faxed back and forth a few times until everyone agrees – all on the power of a handshake. Many in this young pride of lions have not experienced the benefit of meeting, working, and sharing professional opinions within a group of industry peers.

Simply put, the younger managers and operators may not know what a rich and viable trade association like the BIA can do for them. Associate Member Mike Teske, general manager of Book Covers Incorporated, explained the dilemma: “It is often said that the benefits received from a trade organization are tied to the amount of participation one puts into it. In order to continue to reap the benefits of a trade organization, we need to continue to draw those that are new to the industry. Expanding the BIA brings new contacts and new benefits to all members.”

The History

Unconnected bindery and loose leaf owners from such disparate locations as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles founded the BIA in 1955. The new association affiliated itself with the Printing Industry of Illinois (the local affiliate of the PIA) and created the mission that still stands in the organization today – to foster, educate, and encourage its members’ and Associates’ businesses by offering a non-competitive, neutral, and common ground for them to come together. The BIA offered members the opportunity to share production problems, attend seminars and roundtable discussions, discuss emerging technologies and challenges, recognize fellow members for a job well done, and award the best work of its members for excellence. In modern parlance – they formed a support group, but a support group populated by their competition.

Bob Windler, president of Diecrafters and the current president of the BIA, believes in the benefits of peer support. “It’s been so nice to meet people who, without the BIA, I would have just written off as “the competition”. They’ve really become great friends who I respect and admire, and will let me call any time of the day to solve a bindery problem I’m having.”

One of the most popular annual events hosted by the BIA was the Mid Management Conference, which provided an action-packed two days where busy mid-level managers and owners could gather, share, catch up, learn something valuable, and get back to their jobs. The conference included an evening of tabletop displays and a cocktail reception sponsored by the Associate Members. Round-table discussions broken out by industry and topic were presented the next day, and a display of the many Product of Excellence Awards was available for members to review. For many, this display of product alone was worth the trip. There was an additional annual event – The Presidents Conference – a golf resort-type conference in an exotic locale where attendees and their spouses could mingle and vacation at the same time.

Over time, the Mid Management Conference disappeared and The Presidents Conference was merged with print professionals. As part of the association’s rebuilding efforts, the Mid Management Conference has been reinstated and will be held April 28-29, 2008, in Schaumberg, Ill.

Back to the Future

The BIA is determined to grow, determined to bring back what was best of the old, and accommodate the best of today so that it’s relevant in the future. It begins with a membership that wants a trade association. That is – young members, older members, experienced members, and those still learning the ropes. The BIA will become strong if its members want it to be strong.

When a trade association is operating well, individual members become better as managers of people and managers of their business. There is an intangible quality that greater and broader networking provides. Active members of the BIA deliver unparalleled opportunities for peer alliances, while BIA Associate Members deliver a wealth of information on products, equipment, and the latest advances in their fields.

Of course the BIA offers tangible benefits to members as well, including the following:

  • The Binding Edge magazine: The magazine provides an outstanding communication vehicle with lots of insightful industry information delivered right to a member’s desk.
  • The Mid Management Conference: Just like before, this popular event will allow members and associates to join together for two short days and return with many new ideas and possibilities to share with co-workers.
  • List-Serv: The list-serv is a 24/7 e-mail resource designed to address members’ needs and share online information quickly.
  • Credit collection services
  • Research and testing in the PIA/GATF laboratories
  • Political policy flow-thru by active Washington, D.C. lobbyists on behalf of the industry
  • PIA/GATF education program opportunities in areas like lean manufacturing, sales, and marketing
  • Regional trends in loose leaf and trade binderies: Unbiased surveys result in unbiased assessments of where the industries are and what to look for.

The BIA is a trade association in transition, but it is nonetheless dedicated to growth and expansion of its membership rolls. The BIA Board of Directors and BIA staff have worked hard to determine what important features were most valued by older members and finding ways in which to refresh the association for the all-important generations to come.

Please call Justin Goldstein of the BIA at (412) 259-1806 to learn more about the Binding Industries Association.