CEU: Turning Education Into Specifications

by Autumn McGarr

I’m going to start off with some statistics we found from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). According to the 2017 survey reported by National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, there were 113,554 registered architects in the U.S., and that number is increasing every year. Based on the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) website, the organization has more than 20,000 registered interior designers. All of the combined members (based on the individual association average state requirements) need a total of 2,143,972 hours of continuing education annually. That’s an average of 8,214 CEUs issued per working day in the year 2017.

What are CEUs? CEU stands for Continuing Education Unit. A CEU is a unit of credit equal to the time of participation in an accredited program designed for professionals with certificates or licenses to practice various professions. Certain professionals like architects, interior designers and certified kitchen and bath designers are required to earn a specific number of CEUs per year to ensure that they are up to date with current practices in their field. Proof of credits earned is necessary in order for these professionals to renew their licenses or certifications.

If you are a showroom, representative or manufacturer, ask yourself: How many CEU events have I hosted in 2018? It’s likely that the answer is: not enough. The good news is, there’s a great opportunity for your business to shine and to build relationships with trade professionals, especially in the kitchen and bath industry.

Data from the AIA 2018 conference shows that in 2017, 68% of all Learning Units obtained were by members attending in-person CEU presentations. If we assume that percentage is similar across other associations mentioned above, that’s an average of 5,586 hours per working day or 1.4 million (aggregate) hours per year that trade professionals spent attending and receiving credits for CEU events in the U.S.

If you’re a manufacturer, showroom or representative in the kitchen and bath industry, take note of these numbers. There’s great potential for growth and awareness in the kitchen and bath industry and for you to get involved in offering additional benefits to trade professionals. In exchange, you will have many opportunities to build better business relationships.

Why host or conduct CEU events? Based on a 2016 report, “The Architect’s Journey to Specifications,” almost 60% of the time, architects already know which materials manufacturer they are going to use. And the same is likely true for kitchen and bath designers.

Additionally, more than seven in 10 architects choose suppliers with whom they have an existing relationship. And this is why it’s so important for representatives and showrooms to get involved in continuing education. The reason is relationships.

What materials end up getting specified for a project depends primarily on who you know. Trade professionals rely primarily on existing relationships they have established over the years with building product manufacturers, their representatives and the showrooms they are comfortable with. As the old saying goes, “People do business with people they know,” and they also do business with people they like and trust.

When you look up the word “relationship,” you will find synonyms like connection, association, bond, alliance and involvement. In order to build a successful business relationship, you need to be consistent with the other party. You cannot simply visit someone once, neglect follow-up, maybe send them a catalog and expect to have a business relationship with that person. Instead, you need to connect with them, you need to be consistent and you need to build trust. What better opportunities are there than CEUs for showrooms, representatives and manufacturers to be able to regularly visit design firms and educate them about products and/or technologies your company provides? Trade professionals need you more than you think! They need you for 1.4 million hours a year. Imagine you, a manufacturing representative or showroom owner, getting a call from the firm that you have a relationship with: “When can you come in to tell us what’s new in the kitchen and bath category? We need CEUs!”


Your audience is made up of educated professionals who make their living by billing hourly for their services. They don’t like to waste their time. Make sure to have the best visually appealing presentation with a strong educational script on a relevant topic. Have clear learning objectives that leave them excited enough at the end of the presentation that they will be talking about your products and/or technologies around the office.

Consider offering follow-up materials so they can keep you in their minds. And, please, keep the history part to a minimum as your audience probably learned about that in school. Follow the association rules and stay brand neutral during the accredited portion of your presentation.


You want to look professional and be efficient when it comes to coordinating CEU events. Start by having access to software that will enable you to swiftly create electronic invitations with an option for an RSVP. You want to send a professional-looking invitation, be able to capture the RSVPs and, in most cases, use that invitation to promote your event via social media. This is also important to keep branding consistent for all of your instructors.


Typically, you will be doing a lunch-and-learn or after-hours event. Make sure to plan and provide a meal for the event. You don’t need to be extravagant, but please don’t serve cold hot dogs with a two-liter bottle of soda. In the past when I conducted CEU events around the country, I catered Panera Bread since they are a national eatery with plenty of food options and will deliver while providing utensils, etc. You are putting on an event for trade professionals and you want to make a positive, lasting impression on them for you and the company you represent.


There’s nothing worse than a CEU event where the presenter is reading bullet points slide-by-slide. Be fully prepared for a conversational type of presentation. Have your story polished, know the material and engage with your audience while presenting. Be sure that your technology works before you begin your presentation. Connect your presentation source to a projector or TV, and if you need audio, make sure it all works before you begin. You want to minimize any possibility of experiencing technical glitches during your presentation so your audience doesn’t get distracted and lose interest.


As a presenter, you are responsible for taking attendance and recording the information with various associations. In addition, you will be asked by participants to issue their Certificates of Completion for attending your course. There’s a solution to making this process electronic and automated so you don’t have to spend a lot of your time writing them one by one. Additionally, make sure that attendance information gets reported to the associations right away so no one has to be following up with calls and emails six months after the event to figure out the credits.


The accredited part of the one-hour CEU event should take about 45 minutes and you should have 15 minutes or so at the end for Q & A time. This is where you can talk and show specific samples, displays or any takeaway materials that you brought with you. Remember, your audience is highly visual and they want to see and feel products. Don’t forget to follow up!

There are resources and technology available to help you with the logistics for your CEU events and guide you through the process in order to become a rock star CEU presenter. Bear in mind, building relationships and trust takes time and persistence. Keep expectations at a minimum and be passionate about the topic you want to educate these trade professionals about. If you keep educating and conducting CEU events, eventually you will become their advisor and expert in your product category. You can only expect to receive what you’re willing to put in when establishing a business relationship. Remember, we all should be focusing on turning education into specifications. ▪

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