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Building a Better Remodeler

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Building a Better Remodeler

By By James F. McClister February 7, 2020
new headquarters for the national association of the remodeling industry
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of Pro Remodeler.

Any industry that supports an industry association also supports a debate about the value of that association. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry knows this. It’s why, even though you can trace NARI’s beginnings back to the mid-’30s, the association is revamping itself in 2020. 

To learn more about how specifically the group intends to reinvigorate itself and its membership, I sat down with NARI CEO David Pekel and its newly hired director of marketing, Megan McCullough, to hear first-hand what the association has in store. 

A Facelift 

This February, NARI moved into its new 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Wheeling, Illinois. “We bought this building in cash, from reserves,” says Pekel, anticipating my quesiton on cost. “And we did it without affecting our association’s reserves structure.” That is to say, NARI did it without compromising the budget. The remodel of the new space was paid for using proceeds from the sale of the old building. The cost was further offset by material donations from Industry Partners.   

But why a new building at all? “Our new workspace is designed to inspire not only those who work with and for the association, but to elevate the surrounding community as well,” says McCullough, a veteran marketer. “Our goal was to create an innovation hub where committees come together; where Industry Partners can exhibit their products; and where new ideas can come to life.” 

It’s part of a wider effort to not only attract better talent, but to instill a stronger sense of pride in its members. “We want our members to see we’re investing in the quality of the people that support them,” Pekel says. 

Expanding Membership 

NARI also wants to expand its membership. “If you look at our association, you see a lot of guys that look like me,” says Pekel, a man in his 50s who helped run a successful remodeling company for decades. “Those are the people that 30 years ago brought NARI to where it is as an association today.” There is a big place in NARI for those types: the veterans. “But we are not the future of NARI,” he admits. 

There is an educational aspect to increasing membership that includes outreach to both high schools and middle schools. But there is also an effort to more immediately expand membership. For Pekel and McCullough, that includes an existential expanding of who a remodeler is thought to be. 

Throughout 2020, NARI plans to reiterate its offerings to its members through media partnerships and more aggressive marketing.

“Anyone in the industry can be a member of NARI: designers, a showroom sales rep, a customer service person,” Pekel says. “Part of our role is to show those people a path to ownership. To build a better remodeler.” In emphasizing this mission, NARI has been assembling a staff to reflect it. The association is hiring younger professionals, and more women, and giving them a chance to advance within the verticals they work. “When we look in the mirror, we want our staff to reflect the makeup of our membership.” 

Over the course of 2020, NARI plans to create more opportunities to give a voice to underrepresented populations in the industry, like young professionals and women. It plans to use platforms like podcast and video (the new building has a recording studio) and committees run by young professionals.NARI is also specifically seeking out women leaders in the industry to help fill the group’s leadership roles. “We hope other women will see them and aspire to be them,” Pekel says.

Articulating Value 

Step one in getting out the message was bringing marketing in-house: Enter Megan McCullough, a marketer with more than 20 years’ experience, who’s specializes in associations and membership programs. Her ultimate vision for the future of NARI is as ambitious as its CEO’s. She wants more outreach, more education, to grow membership, and to improve and expand offerings and opportunities. In the short term, though, she imagines small, calculated steps to lay the foundation for those more ambitious, future changes. 

“The low-hanging fruit is making sure we’re communicating value clearly,” she says. Currently, that includes rewriting welcome emails and updates to better articulate what Pekel calls the “pillars that support NARI”: certification, education, and accreditation. Throughout 2020, NARI plans to reiterate its offerings to its members through media partnerships and more aggressive marketing, because as Pekel and McCullough see it, NARI hasn’t done a great job explaining its offerings nor the benefits from them. That’s particularly true for accreditation, which NARI introduced relatively recently. It’s a measure aimed at improving a business’s standing in “a particularly crowded marketplace,” says Pekel. “When we talk about creating pathways for the younger generation, having accreditation sets up all the policies and procedures that a business needs to ultimately succeed.” NARI’s also found through early adopters that it’s made their businesses more sellable.

Building Exit Strategies  

The fact that accreditation makes a remodeling business more sellable is important because, as Pekel sees it, one of the major challenges facing a big chunk of NARI’s membership—the chunk that looks like him—is the lack of an exit strategy. 

NARI is also specifically seeking out women leaders in the industry to help fill the group’s leadership roles. “We hope other women will see them and aspire to be them,” Pekel says.

“There is a section of our membership that is looking at what to do next with this business enterprise they’ve built over the last 30 years,” Pekel says. “Do they sell it, turn off the lights, and just take the sign off the door? We’re looking at that segment of owners and realizing [they have] unique needs and characteristics.” 

As a former remodeler himself, NARI’s chief executive empathizes with the aging owner looking to get out. And while he acknowledges the younger generation is the future of NARI, it’s his intention to still increase educational opportunities for older members on retirement planning and strategizing on how to exit the businesses they’ve built. 

Making Mistakes 

NARI’s overarching goal for 2020 is to innovate. It’s the key to change, Pekel says. The association plans to build more partnerships among industry groups, manufacturers, and relevant media outlets—like Pro Remodeler. It’s embracing tech in new ways: telling member stories through podcasts and videos, and partnering with industry tech companies to provide better solutions to its members. The association recently brought on a database analyst so it can better understand, and therefore address, its own membership. “If we’re looking for women in remodeling, ages 25 to 35 and in supervisory roles—that’s the kind of segmentation we’re trying to achieve. We’re not there yet, but that’s what we’re building towards.” 

The takeaway? NARI wants to try new things in 2020. “When we’re not making mistakes, be worried,” Pekel says. “Because it’s then that you know we’re not innovating.”

written by

James F. McClister

James McClister is managing editor for Professional Remodeler.

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