The Power Of The Group

Membership associations offer more than meets the eye

Most of us belong to some sort of shopping club or group, brandishing our membership cards as if they were golden. For Debra Williams, 48, belonging to AAA has been an invaluable experience. “I wouldn’t leave home without my AAA card,” says Williams, a proud member since 1975. In fact, Williams recently used its Home Store service, a partnership AAA has with the Home Store, to find contractors to replace the gutters and downspouts around her home.

The most successful organizations make members say: “I can’t get this deal anywhere else.” Organizations such as AAA, wholesale retail clubs, and credit unions often validate these sentiments with tangible savings on mortgages, hotels, and computers. Since these organizations are set up differently, the intent here is not to compare and contrast, but to provide alternatives to your consumption habits.

GOING BEYOND THE FIX-A-FLAT FEATURE
AAA, initially gaining its reputation as a roadside emergency assistance company, has carved out a loyal membership base. Although AAA continues to provide 24-hour emergency road assistance, this not-for-profit corporation now services its 46 million members in many other ways. “I’ve carried it all these years because I feel secure knowing that I won’t be stranded, and now they have all these other neat services and discounts,” explains Williams, a special events coordinator and administrative coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania.

Williams has used the emergency road service to fix a flat tire and get a battery charged. She has also used her membership privileges to purchase traveler’s checks and obtain discounted fares on hotels, train tickets, and car rentals. According to Jerry Cheske, an AAA spokesperson in Heathrow, Florida, members can save money whether they use AAA frequently or infrequently.

GETTING MORE BANG FOR YOUR BULK
Each day, shoppers flock to warehouse membership shopping centers searching for that “deal.” The big three, Sam’s Club (www.samsclub.com), Costco (www.costco.com), and BJ’s (www.bjs.com), which have annual membership fees of $45 — $100, all compete for the attention of the bulk-happy, deal-seeking shopper. “I’ve been shopping at Sam’s Club since the early 1980s,” admits Cheryl McFadden, a Philadelphia mother and high school English teacher. But beware, “consumers could find comparable prices at the supermarket on a wider variety of items,” says Cathy VonFange, the director of Ethnic Studies for Yankelovich, a consumer target marketing firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wholesale club members save an average of 25% annually in comparison to supermarket shoppers, according to an article titled “Warehouse Clubs Are a Hit” on www.money.cnn.com.

Aside from groceries, these clubs offer much more. For example, Sam’s Club links to a “Boat Buying Program,” where members can get the best prices on Genmar boats, including Aquasport, Crestliner, and Lowe. Sam’s Club members can also receive a free one-year Genmar First Mate membership with 24-hour live assistance.

NOT YOUR ORDINARY BANK
Unlike the sales tags plastered all over warehouses, credit unions use newsletters to sell their products. According to the National Credit Union Administration (www.ncua.gov), there are more than 10,000 credit unions across the United States. These unions serve over 79

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