The NEWS sat down with Barton James, interim president and CEO of ACCA, to talk about what he has experienced in his time as leader so far. The association’s relationships, the direction of ACCA, and what has been accomplished were discussed as he detailed what ACCA and its leadership team is working toward for contractors in 2019.


The NEWS: You were named interim president of ACCA on Sept. 5, 2018. What has been happening since you took over this leadership position?

James: I don’t have a tattoo, but it definitely left a mark in terms of the opportunity the executive committee of ACCA presented me with. I was already a member of the team here and came into that job with a decent grounding in the industry, having married into an HVAC family and an ACCA family. This made everything a little easier, and it helps me with the lens I use for everything. I think probably the biggest thing is working with an amazing team and board and getting to know them beyond government relations as we work to figure out where ACCA can be stronger. It’s not just about us being stronger as an association, though; it’s also about how we’re stronger for our members. We had some relationships that were broken and some just not as strong as they needed to be. But it’s a process, and we all hit the ground running on that front, and I feel like we are making some real and measurable progress.

I have been on the road a lot — so has our current board chairman, Steve Schmidt, and other members of our executive committee. We actually just got back from a strategic planning session, and one of the many things we decided on is that we’re going to be true to ACCA and our members. That’s going to be what we do, and that’s easier said than done when you’re always worried about money and keeping an association afloat.

This is becoming tougher and tougher these days for all associations, especially ones that don’t have a dedicated income stream from an insurance product, a certification, or something like that. We are focusing on making it about us and our members. That will be evident as we move forward; we’re even working on rebranding our magazine. Our show, the other meetings we have, our magazine, everything is about ACCA and those members we represent.


The NEWS: How are you addressing the challenges of leading ACCA and its membership?

James: We have so much low-hanging fruit. Everywhere we look, we are making sure ACCA stays focused on that and not going down bunny trails. The leadership and I are also making sure that we stay focused and that we have a board that has that long-term vision. We don’t want to flip-flop from year to year with the association’s priorities.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is the amount of relationship opportunities that are available to ACCA and the fact that we haven’t really even scratched the surface of partnering with these. To address this, we’re going and being a part of conferences we haven’t been to before. We are doing interviews with our corporate partners and letting them help tell our story as they explain why they are part of ACCA and, ultimately, how they’re supporting our contractors.

We’re very different than ‘you name the for profit group that contractors are part of,’ and the price point for those guys — whether it’s a buyers group or just a business service group — and those are $5,000-plus a month. Our membership is $575 per year. We’re at a price point where every contractor should be a part of this organization, and that’s intentional, but it happens because of our corporate partners.


The NEWS: Describe the major accomplishments for ACCA in the past six months?

James: We’ve been going through a review exercise internally, trying to put together an annual report. It’s something we haven’t done in some time, and it’s kind of a fun exercise because it’s our chance again to tell our story. These are some of the highlights.

  • ACCA was just recognized nationally by the association for trade associations for our new process of how we onboard people. Every time we get a new member, there is this recipe of how we onboard them, and social media is a big part of it. We’re also doing it with our corporate partners. This process gives new members instant benefits and a connectivity to ACCA, which is key to making someone feel part of something bigger.
  • We’ve rebuilt some of the relationships with the former ACCA chapters. There was bad blood from how the chapters and ACCA national broke up five or six years ago. In the past six months, we’ve been rebuilding those relationships and hitting the restart button with some of those stronger associations out there.
  • We’re working on a lot of government relations programs at the state level, where ACCA can support the state and local associations. They can’t afford the advocacy system that ACCA brings to the table. We make use of that and do collaborative advocacy alerts and grassroots programs with the state association.
  • We just launched a six-month calendar of business training, mostly focused on digital marketing and social media training through our exclusive corporate sponsor, Blue Corona. They are going to be doing a lot of our digital marketing training for contractors, and we are launching more training. We’re going to work a lot with our corporate sponsors on webinar-based training for contractors. You will see a lot more business training coming out of ACCA.


The NEWS: What is the one thing you would encourage every ACCA member to do in 2019?

James: Get engaged. I think it goes without saying with any group you are part of, and that’s what we are, that’s what an association is. It’s bringing folks together that are like-minded. There’s so many opportunities, but this group and all the things we assembled are only as good as the people who are a part of it. Our strength comes in numbers.

For those who aren’t in ACCA, get involved, and then stay involved once you’re there. We need new blood. We need people who want to be a part of the bigger picture. Whether we want to talk about it or not, our industry is under attack. If we are not careful, it is going to be different, and the contractors aren’t going to have the seat at the table that they need in order to be successful. Between online sales and the changes happening in refrigerants, there’s a perfect storm brewing — and ACCA is there as that voice — but we need people engaged. They’re the ones with the finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and they are our best resource of making ACCA able to plan for the future.

Publication date: 3/4/2019

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