Firm Finds Its Niche in Obscure Trade Associations
Pop quiz: What do birthing classes, spice sellers and crematoriums have in common -- besides bracketing the cycle of life?
Give up? They all have trade associations run by the quietest and fastest-growing company on K Street, SmithBucklin.
The Chicago-based firm (with a major Washington office) is the world's largest trade association management company. Its more than 200 trade associations and professional societies include Lamaze International, the American Spice Trade Association and the Cremation Association of North America.
These are not what you'd call high-profile entities, but that's the way SmithBucklin likes it. The company has stayed in the background, helping obscure but useful organizations, since 1949.
"People say, 'My God, there's really an industry for this?' " said Henry S. Givray, SmithBucklin's chief executive. "They don't fully grasp what we do."
What it does is operate full-time trade associations on what amounts to part-time budgets. It hires professional managers -- or develops them from within -- and assigns them to run one or two trade groups. Then it backs them up with teams of experts in accounting, training, marketing, event planning, human resources and, here in Washington, government affairs.
Voila, instant trade association! And the associations' members are none the wiser. Independent associations, however, are not always pleased with the competition. "Stand-alone association execs can sometimes get a little nervous about what we do," Givray said.
But clearly it's working well. SmithBucklin has grown at a compounded annual rate of 11 percent over the past five years and has 750 employees. Its industry (yes, it is an industry) comprises 676 companies, up more than 40 percent from 10 years ago.
Washington is, of course, a major hub for associations. Of the nation's 86,000 trade associations and professional societies, 3,500 are located in the D.C. area, more than in any other locale.
So SmithBucklin has a large and growing office here. In May, it hired Russell Snyder, 45, as senior vice president for its 160-person Washington office. Snyder, who last worked at SmithBucklin's largest competitor, Kellen Co., is a third-generation association executive.
Snyder's grandfather Calvin Snyder worked for the predecessor of the National Association of Realtors. His father, Dick Snyder, was the top executive of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association. Dick Snyder was also responsible for roping his son into supervising associations for a living.
Russ Snyder has had responsibility over a weird and eclectic collection of groups: the National Candle Association, the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association and the Greeting Card Association, among others. He now helps oversee three floors of a building on M Street NW that house 25 associations and a six-person lobbying shop. The associations include a few that you might have even heard of: the Pet Food Institute and the Regional Airline Association, for example.