The next president of the Amusement and Music Operators Association likes to tell stories. But when it comes to industry politics, Donovan Fremin of Delta Music (Thixbodaux, LA) likes plain speaking. When we interviewed the third-generation operator about his plans, he said something that made our ears perk up.
As he travels the country this year, speaking to state operator associations and other groups, Fremin said he will focus on building AMOA's operator membership. But what caught our attention was how he plans to do that. He will employ a much more "political" argument than AMOA leaders traditionally use.
Yes, Fremin said he will certainly remind listeners of AMOA's laundry list of member benefits, as most association presidents do. But that theme will take second place to a harder-edged message.
AMOA is fighting your battles, Fremin will pointedly remind nonmembers. "We are the ones who have stood up and protected your interests all these years, on issues from copyrights to the First Amendment. If you want us to keep winning, join the battle. Join AMOA. Help us remain strong."
Fremin's political message has another important theme. He'll remind nonmembers that whatever policies AMOA opposes or supports, defends or attacks, often end up becoming the policies with which operators everywhere live -- or escape from -- usually to their decided benefit.
Therefore, Fremin will say, each and every operator has a direct personal and financial interest in getting aboard the AMOA ship and helping steer it in the right direction.
As we see it, these are strong arguments. But Fremin knows his message will meet resistance, if not outright opposition, even before he begins his term on March 2.
Some resistance will be passive: the classic "let George do it" slacker philosophy. These are the free-riders who say, "You're doing a fine job without me, AMOA. You keep up the good work and I'll keep reaping the benefits on your dime."
Some resistance will be pleas from small business owners who honestly believe they literally cannot spare the time or money to join a trade association, attend meetings or follow industry issues.
Often, this kind of operator is a one-man band who must do everything himself: install, repair, collect and rotate machines, as well as land new accounts, balance the books and keep the lights burning -- often working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. For these guys (and gals), association membership feels like a luxury they simply can't afford.
Some of the resistance to Fremin's message, however, will be quite different. It will come from a handful of successful, activist operators -- even some leaders of local or state trade associations -- who have privately criticized AMOA for not doing more to fight the industry's battles in the past.
These critics ask: "Why should I support AMOA when AMOA has failed to support me when it really counted? Where was AMOA when my state government banned smoking in bars and restaurants? Where is AMOA now that another direct-sales jukebox scheme has popped up? When is AMOA going to open its checkbook and spend some of that nearly $3 million reserve fund to defend my specific interests?"
Those are legitimate questions. We don't necessarily endorse the critics' complaints, but we do say that people of goodwill can disagree on these matters. We say these issues deserve calm, open debate and discussion.
In saying this, we are also explicitly endorsing Donovan Fremin's view: nonmembers can best make their case from inside the AMOA tent, as members and supporters.
We believe a full airing of opposing views makes an association -- and the industry -- stronger, not weaker. We believe AMOA is strong enough to withstand healthy controversy inside and outside its ranks. We believe, in fact, that AMOA is strong enough to profit by a lot more dissent than it usually shows much appetite for.
We are encouraged that in Donovan Fremin, AMOA may have the kind of leader who is willing to begin the open dialog the association and the industry needs on such questions.
As for those hundreds of small operators who say they can't afford to join AMOA, why not create an associate member category (token dues, no show passes)? Monthly Web conferences could bring these operators into AMOA's dialog without forcing them to leave their businesses for a single day.
For many small amusement vendors, this could be a baby step toward full-fledged membership, exposing them to business practices of more successful operators -- and eventually creating more and stronger AMOA members.
Donovan Fremin is right: AMOA needs all the members it can get.