As some of you have no doubt seen, our theme for the 2016 AOA National Show & Auction is "Reimagine." The idea for this came about as our team was discussing the fact that so many things are dramatically different today when compared with just a few years ago. Clearly, the industry as a whole has changed, but those changes have also meant that AOA has also needed to adapt.
Three years ago, ARI and AOBA were still two separate organizations. Both were struggling to manage to a reality that no longer existed. As such, the industry made a decision to dramatically change the structure of the alpaca industry as a whole by approving the merger of the two organizations. Many articles, blogs, and updates have been written about the merger itself and the transition from two organizations into one. As such, I will not cover all of that material again.
Instead, I want to focus on some of the things that are different from just a few years ago. Through merging ARI and AOBA, the industry found a way to help sustain the national association for a few more years. This also had the effect of helping prolong the stability of the industry as a whole. Having said that, the merger was never defined as the savior of all. It was only ever meant as the first step in a much longer process (many years) that would need to take place in order to ensure the success of the industry for all-time. AOA and the industry would need to be reimagined.
Over the past couple of years, dramatic steps have been taken to ensure the stability of AOA as a national association. Services continued to be expanded, even while offices and functions were combined, expenses were dramatically reduced, and conversations were started which had not been previously focused on by the national association. With the changing industry, we realized that it was necessary to provide additional focus on fleece and fiber. While we are still nowhere near where we want to be on this issue, steps were taken. The conversation was shifted and focus was added to these areas in everything we do, including the website, promotional materials, advertising, and many other areas.
2015 marked the first time the National Fleece Show was held separately from the National Halter Show. It was a grand experiment and we were unsure if it would be successful. However, it was important to increase the focus on fleece in order to continue to expand that conversation. The separate conference enabled us to have a full education event which was primarily focused around alpaca fleece related topics. Because we were unsure how successful it would be, the event was intentionally kept a little-scaled back and was held in a space that had limited space in order to save costs. It turns out that the event was a huge success. Everyone had a great time and learned a lot and the National Fleece Show was the largest we have seen in many years.
Due to the high interest and the success of the 2015 event, the AOA National Fleece Conference in July 2016 will be a much larger event. We have more space and will be adding longer, more hands-on workshops on Friday. We will continue with general education on Saturday and Sunday and will be adding new things, like a North American alpaca fiber products store. Additionally, we have added a judge to the fleece show because the event was so large last year.
Fleece isn’t the only area that has been reimagined. We have also put a renewed focus on holding a different type of National Halter Show & Auction. Beginning at the 2015 show in Grand Island, Nebraska, you saw a return to having more activities centered around networking and generally having a good time. This is something we know everyone enjoys. The increased focus on the Thursday evening meet-and-greet, along with the fun of dueling pianos at the Saturday night gala dinner have added to the experience of the weekend. We have also taken a different approach as we select facilities for the national show. We have also reevaluated space needs along with everything else that it costs to run the national show. This has meant a decrease in expenses which has helped ensure the future sustainability of the AOA National Show and has allowed us to decrease our stall fees and hold other costs in check. Additionally, we are working to plan these events much further out so that you know what is coming. We have been working to address facilities for both National Halter Show & Auction as well as the National Fleece Conference 3–5 years in advance. As we are able to secure these dates and facilities, we are excited to be able to give you that information so that you can plan well in advance.
We haven’t stopped there. At an operational level, we have reimagined everything we do in order to continue to find the most efficient ways to accomplish things in order to provide great customer service to our members and to reduce or control our expenses while continuing to expand services to you.
In the past 14 months, you have seen the release of an entirely new website and online software system. This system now allows paid members to access more data than ever before! AOA is the only site that has everything at your fingertips. You can look-up an alpaca and view the alpaca information, pedigree, BVDV tests, DNA markers, show wins, EPDs, and even a photo of the alpaca. You can also easily list that alpaca for sale, print off an information sheet, print off a promo sheet to hand out to people interested in your alpaca, and you can even print off a copy of the alpaca’s certificate. The new system now allows paid members to access an online archive of all Alpacas Magazines back to the very first issue in 1990. How’s that for history? We also now allow you to access and download the Show System Handbook for free, directly on the website as well as purchase marketing packages, leads, and eBlasts to be sent to the AOA membership. Additionally, we added the option for all paid members to have their farm listed in the public Farm & Ranch Locator; something that had not been done in the past. We have worked hard to make this site user-friendly and to give you access to a lot of information all in one place. By all accounts, this has worked.
Not only have we seen in increase in the use of the website; we have also seen an increase in the use of the various services and programs that you now have access to. The system makes it easy for you to find the information you need and participate in all of AOA’s programs throughout the year. The good news is that from the time of its launch 13 months ago, we have seen a steady rise in unique visitors to the site. This is both from members and public. We now average 80,000–100,000 unique visits to the site each month and our ranking on the three major search engines is excellent with most alpaca related terms.
We are continuing to reimagine all areas of the organization and are always evaluating programs, membership levels, and much more. The board is working to focus on key areas outlined in the strategic plan and you are going to soon see some new things coming from them as well.
These changes take time and our list of ideas is constantly growing. We have come a long way in just the last 14 months, but are excited about the coming year as we continue to reimagine ourselves and make further changes that you all desire.
Having said all of that, I want to issue a challenge. My challenge is this…reimagine yourselves as well. Everyone needs to look at where your alpaca businesses are and evaluate your goals and priorities because I guarantee you that they have changed. If they haven’t, they probably should. Every successful business constantly works to reimagine themselves. What worked 5 years ago may not work today, and even last year could be dramatically different from the reality of the present. It is imperative to your future success and that of our industry that we all constantly work to look at ourselves from outside and make the changes necessary to ensure long-term success. This industry isn’t the same as it was 5 or 10 years ago and as such our businesses cannot be the same as they were 5 or 10 years ago. We have to reimagine their success!