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February 18, 2015

By: Darby Vannier

What if we never existed?

DNA TestingParentage ValidationAOA - General TopicsAlpacas MagazineAOA National Show/ConferenceNational MarketingMember Marketing

Have you ever stopped to think about how things might be different if you never existed? What would be different? What effect has your life had on this world and the people around you? Sure...obviously your family would be totally different, but I am speaking more about other people you have come into contact with, companies where you have worked and organizations you have belonged to.
Looking back at my career, I believe I have had a significant impact on the companies I have worked for. When I started my career, I worked as a manager for AMC Theaters at a 22 screen movie theater in Kansas City. I'm not naive enough to think I impacted that huge company, but I did impact the theater I managed and those people who I worked with. I changed the culture at that theater, which was experiencing 300% turnover when I took over the HR role at the theatre. When I left, that had been reduced to less than 50%, which is excellent for a movie theater and considering I did it in about 9 months. I later worked part-time for a failing restaurant doing accounts payable and accounts receivable. When I started, they were several hundred thousand dollars behind on paying bills. Within about 6 months, that was cleaned up and the owner was able to finally sell the restaurant, which is what he wanted to accomplish. In my career, I also turned around a failing Kinko's store and built long lasting relationships.
In my ten years with ARI/AOA, I have probably had the opportunity to impact people, the organizations, and the industry, more than any previous time in my career. Many things for the better and many things I am sure some of you might argue, for the worse, but there is no doubt that I have had an impact.
It is truly amazing to think back at everything that I have been involved in. While I don't think I majorly altered the destiny of any company or person, I guess, that is really something that we never really know. What might have been different at a company, a job, or with a particular person if I never entered their life? I've trained a lot of employees and managers over the years. If I had not been there, how would their lives be different? Perhaps they would not have advanced in their careers as quickly since they weren't trained by me, or perhaps they would have met someone way smarter than I and would be even better off in their lives today.
As we have been working on the new strategic plan for AOA, we have we talked a lot about the past, to be sure we use that information in planning for the future. This got me thinking about how the industry might be different if ARI and AOBA, or some similarly formed organization, had never existed. What if a scientifically validated pedigree registry never existed? What if a world renowned show system and judge training system were never developed? What if a national marketing program were never put in place? How would the industry look today? How would your lives look today?
I can tell you that my life, and that of my family, would be significantly different. Perhaps I would still be working at Kinko's (now FedEx Office) or perhaps I would have moved on to other things. Maybe I'd be worse off, or perhaps I'd be some powerful CEO of another company; who knows? What I can say is that the alpaca industry would look significantly different if ARI and AOBA had never existed. It would be significantly smaller or perhaps even non-existent in the United States. The alpaca population would be insignificant and the industry would have virtually no recognition in North America. You would certainly not be seeing alpacas featured in television commercials or on national television programs and there would be virtually no North American made alpaca products. Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA) and Alpaca Research Foundation (ARF) would not exist, and most of the world’s alpaca DNA markers would likely never have been developed.
ARI and AOBA and the leaders of the industry over the years had significant impact on achieving the growth of the industry thus far. We have achieved great things together. With the newly merged organization, many changes have been faced as we have been working to adjust to a shifting industry. In our discussions during strategic planning, we have discussed how AOA will influence the future of this industry, just as ARI and AOBA influenced it up to this point.
In the strategic planning retreat, I asked a question to those in attendance. I said, “What would happen to you and your business if AOA and all of its programs and database went away tomorrow?”. I was surprised and disheartened at the answer I received from several people. They said 'nothing'. Nothing would happen to them; they don't feel AOA provides enough to them or they felt another organization would easily take its place.
First, let's get this out of the way...AOA is not going away tomorrow. I also acknowledge that if such a thing happened, another organization may start up in its wake. However, what do you think happens to the industry in the meantime? With no judge training program, no show rules system, no pedigree database, no national marketing, and no national show, it is likely to be a tough time for many years and the industry would certainly suffer.
As I listened to the answers I got very disheartened. Not in the people who gave those answers, but in the fact that we have failed to communicate, as an organization, what it is that we bring to the industry. We work very hard to ensure we listen to members and we execute new programs and enjoy the success of many of those programs. However, for some reason we aren't communicating well enough what our value is. We aren't 'tooting our own horn' enough. There is no easy answer for this because communicating is very difficult with an organization our size. Short of sending out a hard copy notice to each of our more than 9,000 active members about each and every thing we are do, there is no way to reach all of you. Mailings such as those are not possible due to extreme printing and postage costs and our eBlasts usually have lower than a 30% open rate. As such, communication is a constant battle.
Getting back to the original comments that I received; I would challenge anyone in the alpaca industry to say that AOA, or previously ARI and AOBA, has brought them no value. Even those who run alpaca fiber mills and those of you raising fiber-only herds have benefited tremendously from AOA and its predecessors. Imagine if a DNA validation pedigree database wasn't available to help make breeding decisions. Genetic improvement, in the form of smaller micron counts, would have been extremely difficult and the national herd would reflect that. What if there had been no national marketing or promotional effort done? Without it, the alpaca population would not be big enough to support the livelihood of the many mills that we have available today. What if a national, organized, show system did not exist? Do you believe that county fair shows would have garnered the interest in alpacas that a professional show system does?
AOA functions have huge impact on this industry and everything associated with the industry. Even those who chose not to support the organization are benefiting from the efforts of AOA and the financial support of the members who do participate.
This blog isn't meant to be a lecture. Instead it is meant to encourage you to question what it’s going to take for the industry to continue to thrive in the future. We need your involvement and support. We need all hands on deck as we work to move into the future.
It is more important than ever that you consider the value you gain from AOA, and consider participating in and supporting the organization. Whether this is just a $15 membership, $110 membership, a marketing package, a benefactor package, support of the Student Design Competition, support of the national show, or some other area that you are passionate about; AOA needs your support. The reality is that revenue is not what it used to be and as such we need everyone's support on some level, if you want the industry to be able to sustain itself for the long term.
I was going to apologize for 'begging for support', but I deleted that because I am not ashamed of asking you to support the largest alpaca organization of its kind in the world; an organization that has the most respected alpaca judge training and show system in the world and the most accurate DNA validated pedigree database in the world. AOA is you. As a member and someone in this industry, it is your responsibility to support it, guide it, and encourage it. Only that will secure the future growth of the industry.
No one person or organization has all the answers, but together, collectively as AOA, we will be able to achieve great things in the coming years, but it will take us all working together to do it, so suit up, because we are all in the game. The question should not be, “Why should I join AOA?”. The question should be, “Why would you not?”.
Have an excellent day. - Darby
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