Let's assume I knew nothing about your organization, Lew. From your respective level of current involvement as either a principal or member, please describe in a nutshell your view of the organization, how you participate (i.e. your job description and associated responsibilities) and/or how you and your company currently benefit from and support the organization as an active member. Describe all tangible and intangible benefits your association has created on and for your business as a member. If you can, be specific on its impact on your bottom line as it has manifested from year to year since you first joined CEA.

Conrad-Johnson has been a member of the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) and then the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) for 10 years. (EIA continues to exist and CEA is affiliated with EIA - a story for another time, perhaps). CEA is a "Big Tent" organization encompassing pretty much all of consumer electronics from the manufacturing side. Audio is just one part of the association and "High Performance Audio" (HPA) a segment of that one part.

There is no question that what one gets out of membership in this kind of organization is proportional to what one puts into it. I am presently a member and vice-chair of the HPA Board and a member of the Audio Board. These boards guide CEA policy with respect to the industries that they represent, and my participation means that I have an input into the decisions. CEA touches on our industry in numerous ways.

1) First and perhaps most importantly, CEA owns and operates the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). As I understand, this is CEA's most important source of revenues, significantly exceeding revenues from membership fees. My company's interest is predominantly concerned with the operation of the HPA segment of this show (currently at the Alexis Park). CES has been highly responsive to the expressed needs of CEA's HPA community. Many of us were actively involved in assessing the suitability of the Alexis Park in the first place and have provided guidance regarding alternative sites that have been proposed from time to time. In response to direction from the HPA Board, CES has purchased and installed canopies over the walkways at the Alexis Park, organized and funded the opening night reception, dramatically lowered the rental rate for exhibit rooms, lowered the share fee on exhibit rooms and arranged and funded the free cookout lunches to name a few things. The HPA Board is continually seeking ways to improve this show segment, and CES staff is remarkably responsive to our needs.

2) CEA staff have been alert to impending institutional threats to our industry and have assisted us in dealing with them by lobbying efforts and educational endeavors. The most significant to us was guidance in compliance with the European "CE" marking requirements. The organization's assistance on this saved us literally tens of thousands of dollars and certainly many months if not years of being locked out of the European market. CEA/EIA has also been involved in lobbying (successfully) against a luxury goods tax on audio equipment; against a clumsy power consumption standard for "standby" modes of operation; and on behalf of allowing a more realistic rule for "Made in America" labelling (a battle that is still being fought).

3) CEA is involved in setting standards, both voluntary industry standards (eg. color coding on A/V products) and mandatory standards (power ratings on amplifiers). Members with an engineering background can choose to become involved in the standard-setting process.

4) CEA is involved in education of sales staff and installers. A program is about to go on-line to provide basic training in audio for sales staff (at present, this is aimed at a very basic level but we are discussing adding a High Performance component).

5) CEA undertakes industry promotions. The most recent effort is a travelling show (techknowoverload) to demonstrate audio. It is taken to about 40 college campuses around the country. Conceived by the Audio Board as a way to expose young people to the idea that audio is still cool (a dated term, I know), and initially subsidized by CEA, this show is roughly self-financing for 2004 (participants pay a fee to have their products featured). HPA is focussing promotional efforts on reminding dealers about the importance of doing compelling demonstrations (something that many dealers seem to have lost track of).

6) CEA does a great deal of research into consumer's attitudes and motivations. This research has been presented with specific analysis and advice for consideration in product design.

7) CEA sponsors an annual conference that includes informative and educational programs and great opportunities for networking. Because of the broad reach of the organization, those of us from small companies have a great chance to meet and exchange ideas with representatives from much larger companies both in the audio industry and in other consumer electronics industry segments.

8) Recently, we created a Small Business Council to provide business guidance for small companies on matters ranging from marketing to accounting.

If I were a US-based dealer or distributor/importer or manufacturer, how would joining the organization benefit me? If there are different levels of membership, how are they distinguished by membership fees and associated privileges?

Immediate tangible benefits include discounts on CES exhibit space and VIP parking at CES. Less easily quantified but much more valuable are the benefits implicit in my comments above.

How are membership fees used?

CEA has a highly professional staff which must be funded in addition to the various programs and promotional activities already mentioned. CEA is involved in every aspect of our industry. The areas I have touched on are just the ones that are most immediately noticeable to me and conrad-johnson. No doubt others would focus on different aspects of the organization. I hope some of this will prove useful.

Lew Johnson

To learn about CEA, I had sent out a round-letter invite to 10 key players in the organization and as identified by Tara Dunion whom Kathy Gornik of Thiel had connected me to as the lady who could make this discussion happen. Lew Johnson's submission is the first I received, and as the other CEA members find time in their very busy schedules, we will publish future views and perspective on the very same questions already posed. Thanks for participating, Lew!
CEA website
conrad-johnson website