Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Wonderful Story of the MHBA’s Rebirth

I love this story of how the MHBA grew from the Modular Building Systems Association’s near-death. Right after Tom Hardiman became the Executive Director of the MBSA he attended on of my Builder Breakfasts in Frederick, MD. His enthusiasm for the future of the association was quite evident and he signed up some of the first modular home builders at that breakfast.

From left: Tom Hardiman, CAE, executive director, and Steven Williams, operations director, of the Modular Home Builders Association.

Fast forward a few years and he and his staff’s hard work have created a very powerful and proactive association that every modular home factory, builder and supplier in the country should join. Visit the MHBA.

From an article in Associations Now


What does it take for an association to come back from a near-death experience? Following substantial declines in revenue and membership, the MBSA changed course and restructured its business model, leading to a more prosperous future.

To this day, Mike Clementoni calls it “the death spiral,” and he’s not being overly dramatic.

In 2009, as board president of the Modular Building Systems Association—now known as the Modular Home Builders Association—Clementoni was part of a skeleton crew: He led as one of four remaining manufacturer members that rode out the worst decline in the association’s 35-year history.

Related Article: The History of the MBSA

“Everything went downhill very fast,” he says, a result of something MBSA and many other associations didn’t see coming: the 2008 recession. “Because of the housing crisis, manufacturers were going out of business, and we were losing membership and revenue quickly. Suddenly, we lost our office space in Harrisburg [Pennsylvania], and then our staff had to be let go.”

At its nadir after the recession, the organization went from four full-time staffers to a single part-time executive director. No one was recruiting or serving members, and MBSA had about $3,000 left in its checking account.

“The writing was on the wall,” Clementoni says. “We were close to saying, ‘It’s over.’”

But it wasn’t over. His story, and those from two other associations, reveal common steps leaders can take in do-or-die scenarios to pull an organization back from the brink. By changing quickly, working to reestablish trust, and overcoming the fear of failure, these three associations successfully changed course. Now, each is on a new path of continuous improvement that’s leading to a more prosperous future.

“We’ve made major changes, and obviously the [recovering] economy had a lot to do with it,” Clementoni says, “but we’re still figuring out ways to support our staff, members, and profession in both good times and bad.”

MBSA’s Clementoni called in Hardiman-Williams, LLC, an association management company, to help diagnose the organization’s primary problems. Tom Hardiman, CAE, partner at the AMC, was hired as executive director in 2012 largely because he managed another association in MBSA’s space—the Modular Building Institute, representing the industry’s commercial builders.

“With no management fees and basically no expectations at all, we came to reevaluate and change the course of the organization,” he says.

Hardiman stopped the bleeding by updating the bylaws and changing the association’s name in 2013 to the Modular Home Builders Association. The name change was symbolic, signaling that the organization was opening full membership to additional stakeholders in the modular home industry.

“The original bylaws said that every manufacturer could serve on the board and had voting rights, but suppliers and associate members [home builders] didn’t. … We broadened the association to builders so that both the bylaws and name indicated this wasn’t just a manufacturer’s association anymore,” Hardiman says.

Within a year of making those changes, MHBA grew its membership from four to 28 companies. That initial rebound pushed the association on a path to change—first a new website, then a shift in advocacy focus, which historically had supported manufacturers but did little for suppliers or home builders.

Hardiman and his team took a two-pronged approach. They continued MHBA’s advocacy for manufacturers by monitoring state-level regulations. And in 2014, they introduced a consumer-focused Modular Home of the Month contest, which gave home builders a platform to promote their latest projects via Facebook and other social networks.

“As this program grew in popularity, so too did our membership,” Hardiman says. “We reached 50 members within a year.” Today, MHBA has more than 115 member companies.

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