“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”

So said Groucho Marx, and we must admit, he may have had a point.

Membership of any club or association is a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts, not so good in others. There will always be decisions made on behalf of members that don’t find favour with everyone and it can appear that the larger companies, or individuals of influence get their way most of the time. In any club or association it will probably always be that way – after all, bring any group of people together and finding common ground isn’t always easy, not to mention managing diverse personalities and interests.

Where membership of a good trade association pays dividends is its ability to get the voice of the membership heard in the right places, on key topics that will affect the industry. Take the surface finishing sector as an example, over recent years it has faced major changes in the way chemicals used in our industry are registered, evaluated, authorised and restricted within the European Union, with the REACH directive undergoing numerous iterations on restrictions of substances, additions of substances and changes to the tests required. The Surface Engineering Association played a major role in drafting sensible, workable legislation and has continued to facilitate the UK’s ability to keep pace with REACH.

Without the involvement of the SEA, it is likely that legislation would have been passed that had swingeing effects on the companies that work in the surface finishing sector – the anodisers, the electro-platers and finishers – to the point where they were unable to comply because of cost or capability, so the only option was to close.

A strong trade association must be many things to many people and the SEA is no exception. Its members are as diverse as the services they provide, so it’s important that the association is knowledgeable on all relevant topics, up to date with current legislation, understanding the requirements of the manufacturers in the chain, and of course keeping a finger on the Brexit pulse.

At the heart of the surface finishing industry is the small to medium size companies which provide manufacturers with innovative coating solutions that help make the end products lighter, faster and thinner. A great deal of pressure is put on these companies at the end of the chain and making a commitment to researching new materials and processes and finding innovative solutions is extremely onerous. Membership of a strong trade association helps make these demands less onerous, as knowledge can be shared, assistance given to help with the cost and time dedicated to health and safety and environmental compliance, research costs amortised, and Government funding uncovered.

These are the important benefits of being a member of a relevant trade association, but let’s not dismiss the importance of being able to meet and network with like-minded people who share similar goals, and the material suppliers and original equipment manufacturers who buy the products. Association-led events such as seminars, regional meetings and conferences provide suppliers with a golden opportunity to be part of the surface finishing landscape, talk directly to potential customers and learn about what is driving their supplier demands.

Most trade associations offer professional business support – usually provided through an expert 3rd-party provider – on such key corporate matters as VAT and PAYE, employment, public liability and insurance. If the sector relies on technical knowledge and expertise, then members should expect that a competent technical service be provided to answer questions or resolve issues.

Then of course are the commercial savings that contribute to the cost of membership; the help with marketing and promotion opportunities, discounts that your trade association negotiates on behalf of its members, such as discounted car hire, hotels, energy brokerage and private healthcare, all of which can yield considerable savings every year.

In our experience, membership of a quality trade association pays for itself very quickly, either through using the business or technical support service, enjoying discounts on popular or regular items or that chance meeting at an event that results in a new customer.

Here’s a summary of the benefits of membership for SEA members:

  • Marketing support on the SEA website to promote your business
  • Networking opportunities to joint-venture and win new customers
  • Business support services to save money and to make business life easier
  • Access to knowledge and support to help solve technical problems
  • Assistance with H&S compliance to free up time, protect your workforce and to stay compliant
  • Help with environmental compliance including REACH and COSHH to free up time and to stay compliant
  • Materials science support to help solve application issues
  • Representation at local, regional, national and international level to ensure your voice is heard post-Brexit
  • Gala dinner and awards to relax, unwind and network
  • Industry awards that recognise, reward and promote businesses of excellence.

Check out the full list of benefits of being a member of the Surface Engineering Association at https://www.sea.org.uk/membership/