George’s Corner: December 2011
By George OlahFeatures Business Intelligence
I am always impressed by the zeal of independent rental entrepreneurs.
I am always impressed by the zeal of independent rental entrepreneurs. They are a group of special risk takers in our society. These are the trailblazers who present new products to the market when no one else dares or even thinks to do so. They serve thousands of customers with a hugely diverse inventory. Yet at the same time this group can be most exasperating regarding their level of knowledge about changes in government and influencing the regulations imposed upon the rental industry.
Governments and cabinets are forever changing. There are elections at given periods that bring in new administrations with different policy perspectives that impact all of us in one respect or another. And governments can change on three levels: federal, provincial and municipal. It seems like there is always some election at some level going on. Looking at governments in action is like viewing a three-ring circus presenting different acts happening independently of one another yet at the same time.
Civil servants do not change jobs as often, but many civil servants today are the victims of the numerous cost-cutting exercises experienced everywhere. Thin out and change the civil service and you change the policies they research and implement. When this happens, senior politicians get less professional support and advice. In turn, businesses, customers and even government field regulators are often confused regarding the myriad of government policies and concomitant regulations they must endure or enforce. Many issues are left to interpretation and to personal emotion. My own experience has been that you are bound to get at least a dozen different points of view from a small group of 10 rental industry stakeholders, and that’s just on the quality of the coffee being served.
So what can be done to get a level playing field?
The reality is that those with the greatest power to bring about change are often the least vociferous or known. Ironically, those who actually know the right government official to contact become just as sought after as the very government individuals with the power to effect change. One reason for their success, and there are many, is that they work very effectively behind the scenes.
There are several ways to try to influence regulatory change in government. Yes, you can hire the professional lobbyists. This is a service that quite often only larger businesses can afford. There are industry associations that can help promote an industry with similar issues by spreading and sharing the cost amongst their members for the necessary lobbying, meetings and writing of position papers. In most cases, an association is only as good as the association fees you remit.
Relying on volunteers in an association to do government relations is limited and often shortsighted. Remember what business you are really in. Use experts, not just talented amateurs. But do explore government contacts identified by your business peers who can advance your industry’s needs.
Don’t keep calling your friends and colleagues for advice. In most cases the advice you receive is the same you would give yourself. After all, you are in the same situation.
Do buy and read the acts and regulations to get your facts straight and verify the stories in the media. Having your own up-to-date manual of regulations will go a long way to help clarify many misconceptions and misinterpreted requirements leading to needless hand-wringing and sleepless nights.
Keep government contacts engaged with the real issues impacting the rental industry. Definitely promote the positives about our industry, not just the negatives.
Most entrepreneurs sorely underestimate how much time and energy it takes to influence governments and their agencies. In government relations, patience is truly a virtue. Never lose your temper or use threats that prove to be counterproductive.
Finally, no matter how eloquently your bar-tender may wax about the state of your industry, at the end of the evening he is still a bartender and not a political decision maker.
George A. Olah has more than 35 years of experience in the training, marketing, and renting of commercial appliances and equipment. He is presently the general manager of operations at ABCO Equipment & Supplies, a family-owned rental company located in Weston, Ont.
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