Industry trade associations are built on the premise that there is strength in numbers. Individuals or companies with similar interests group together in a formal, legal setting to build consensus and to then combine and amplify their collective voices to affect change on issues important to them.

As such, PMI was founded in the 1960s first as the Plumbing Brass Institute, later the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute and since 2010, Plumbing Manufacturers International. PMI’s “wins” are wins for the industry and our membership. For example, collectively PMI worked to pass federal legislation, which goes into effect January 2014, to limit the maximum allowable lead content level in plumbing products in the name of harmonization. With something in the neighborhood of 44,000 plumbing jurisdictions in this country, harmonization is the key to streamlined, efficient manufacturing and inventory management.

People are often surprised to learn that PMI operates with a staff of only four. Our efforts are maximized through the work of our members, a stable of consultants and through the partnerships we have formed in this country and around the world. PMI has been an active member of the Get The Lead Out industry coalition dedicated to educating the industry about the previously mentioned, impending legislation. We are charter supporters of The Storehouse of World Vision and its initiative to repurpose excess and obsolete inventory for the benefit of individuals who need the products the most. In April, PMI received the organization’s Crystal Vision Award for its charitable work in bringing people and products together for the ultimate win-win!

PILC

Last April 30 saw the inauguration of the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition (PILC), the brain child of Russ Chaney, CEO of IAMPO; Jim Kendzel, executive director of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE); and me. Although the first meeting was organized by the three of us, the vision of the PILC is to be a collaborative effort among all plumbing industry membership organizations, to discuss high level strategic issues impacting our industry and to help shape our future.

PILC’s stated mission is: To provide a forum for the leadership of USA-based plumbing industry associations representing manufacturers, engineers and design professionals, labor, contractors, distributors and other stakeholders having an influence on policy for the purpose of seeking common ground on plumbing industry issues and then addressing those issues as a unified coalition and sharing ideas to promote public health and safety, water efficiency, quality and sustainability of the plumbing industry while maximizing consumer choice and value in a fair and open marketplace.

Thirteen associations participated in the first meeting with others expressing interest. The associations were represented by the chief executives and their volunteer leadership. Our next meeting is June 6, 2013, and will again be held at the headquarters of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) in Washington, D.C.

While the list of attendees reads a bit like alphabet soup, the message is loud and clear: there is great interest in exploring ways in which the various groups within the plumbing industry can work together. Attendees of the inaugural meeting included representatives from: Plumbing Contractors Association (PCA), Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), Water Quality Association (WQA), Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE),  American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA), United Association (UA), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA), Copper Development Association (CDA), National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS), American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and PMI. Guest speakers included: Henry Green, Hon. AIA, president of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and Dr. Chad Moutray, Chief Economist of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Before the conference, a survey titled “What Keeps You Awake at Night” was sent to attendees to prioritize issues for discussion. The lengthy list will provide rich content for future meetings in the years to come! Outcomes of the meeting ranged from administrative, a pledge to develop a comprehensive industry calendar to catalog all of the various and sometimes conflicting activities, to strategic, addressing the proliferation of unnecessary and duplicative legislation and regulation.

There was a great deal of discussion also on the barriers created by preconceived and erroneous notions about the plumbing industry which prevent our messages from being heard by legislators, regulators and the general public — especially youth. Our important messages about water efficiency, public health and safety, and the importance of the plumbing industry are sometimes not taken as seriously as they should be. It was agreed that work must be done to improve the reception of these messages by enhancing the perception of the professionalism of plumbing.

Recently at the last two PMI conferences, panel discussions were held to probe strategies for improving our industry’s image in order to enhance the receptivity of our messages. Panelists included brand experts from noted advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi, the National Association of Manufacturers and representatives from ASPE, Green Plumbers, the United Association, Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors and Wisconsin’s Gateway College. Relationships built through this exercise have blossomed in interesting and unforeseen ways. As an example, proposals are in the works to collaborate with students on training and research. The byproduct of the outreach to youth is building strong relationships early with young people as future legislators, regulators and employees.  

New mission statement

Just last month, PMI adopted a new statement — Safe, Responsible Plumbing. Always. — to more clearly outline its vision. This is an important aim but we can’t do it alone. It is through our membership and the company we keep, that PMI will maximize its reason for being and see this vision brought to life.

In addition to a robust resume of domestic partnerships with groups like AWE, ASPE and NAM, PMI has Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with various international groups to formalize the informal relationships that have growth over the years.

PMI currently has formal agreements with the Canadian Institute of Plumbing Heating (CIPH), the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA- UK) Plumbing Products Industry Group (PPIG-Australia) and IAPMO. PMI is a member of the World Plumbing Council (WPC) and participates in meetings of the CEIR (the European Valve Association) throughout the world. In May, I will meet for the first time with FECS (the European Ceramics Industry Association) with the intention of building ties to that group. The conversations with these groups range from information sharing on important topics of the day, early warning of issues arising in specific areas that may come to rest here at home, and even ‘best practices’ related to the administration of our  associations.  It is these connections that make PMI truly “international” — a benefit which serves our members well.

Barbara C. Higgens is executive director of Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) and oversees the international trade association representing manufacturers of most plumbing fixtures and fittings used in North America. Since joining PMI in April 1998, Barbara has served as a respected spokesperson for the plumbing industry, sharing and advocating the views of PMI members.