Posted on Jun 23, 2008
John M Grau
In case you missed the news, the Men’s Dress Furnishing Association (MFDA) is shutting down after 60 years. MDFA is the trade group for American necktie manufacturers.
The group decided to close its doors when its membership dropped from 120 to under 25. Their leaders blame competition from manufacturers outside the U.S. and, more importantly, the fact that fewer men are wearing neckties. They claim they saw the writing on the wall a couple years ago when, at their annual luncheon in New York, a good number of members showed up at the event tie-less. Oh my!!
Just another example that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business or how successful you have been; it’s how you adapt to change that’s important. I wondered if there were any insights for NECA and its member contractors in this story.
While neckties may be on their way to obsolescence, I don’t think the same is true for electrical contracting. Electricity running through wires should be with us for a long time to come. Of course, it’s possible that some huge technological breakthrough will create a new universal source of power or some new way to deliver that energy to buildings. But, even if that were the case, it would take many years to retrofit our current building infrastructure to the new energy source. And who’s to say that electrical contractors wouldn’t be doing that work?
Competition is the most likely force impacting our future. While we tend to focus on the competition within our own trade, we might consider some other sources of competitive pressure. Could another type of contractor come to dominate what is traditionally thought of as the electrical contractor’s realm? The mechanical/technical contractor, for instance? At one time, general contractors considered hiring all the labor on a site. Today, they don’t want to hire direct labor at all.
A change in construction technology may be more of a threat to traditional electrical contracting. While manufactured homes and buildings have been talked about for decades, they have not become the norm in construction, but prefabrication of assemblies off the jobsite is a hot trend. A natural extension would be to prefab or manufacture even more of the building offsite and then assemble it onsite. Whole modular sections of a building could be manufactured in a foreign country and shipped to the building site. The only task left for an electrical contractor may be to connect the electrical systems in the modular units together. It could be the ultimate version of the “plug and play” concept.
While we might dream up a number of scenarios where the electrical contractor may fade from existence, we have to consider that as a whole they are a pretty resilient bunch. After all, the industry has evolved in many ways over the last one hundred years, and resourceful electrical contractors have learned to adapt and grow.
What about NECA as the association of electrical contractors? Well, we are a reflection of our members, and if they adapt, so will we. The association has lots of resources and bright people to draw on. My bet is that we will be here for decades to come. Different. Hopefully better. But here, nonetheless.