How retail helped 4 representatives build great careers

Members of Congress met with retailers to discuss the industry of opportunity

From first jobs to lifelong careers, retail launches more people into employment than any other, including some members of the United States Congress. On October 20, NRF hosted a Retail Advocates Town Hall with four members of Congress who built great careers from working in retail. The event theme was “From Retail to Representative” and highlighted retail as an industry of opportunity that contributed to the success of the lawmaker guests.

“Retail offers a variety of roles, from entry-level to executive,” said Representative Peter Meijer, R-Mich., whose family founded the Meijer supermarket chain. Meijer was joined by fellow lawmakers including small business owner Representative Elaine Luria, D-Va., McDonald’s franchisee Representative Kevin Hern, R-Okla., and Representative David Trone, D-Md., co-owner and co-founder of wine superstore Total Wine & More.

Retail Advocates Town Hall

Learn more about the NRF Retail Advocates Town Halls and how they give retailers an opportunity to share their stories.

The town hall convened nearly 100 retailers from across the country and was hosted by NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. Joining Shay as co-hosts were small business owners Marguerite Adzick, founder and CEO of Addison Bay in Philadelphia, and Erin Calvo-Bacci, owner of CB Stuffer in Swampscott, Mass.

The event kicked off with remarks from Luria, whose retail career began when she retired from the U.S. Navy after 20 years of service and founded The Mermaid Factory, a gift shop and “paint your own” art studio in Norfolk, Va. While her pivot to retail might seem vastly different from her military career, she said interpersonal skills developed in the military from “working with a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and experiences” helped her retail career.

“Franchising is like America,” said Hern, who spent 35 years as a McDonald’s franchisee. “It allows you, regardless of where you came from, to be extraordinarily successful.” After experiencing poverty in childhood, Hern pursued a successful career in aerospace engineering and saved enough money to buy his first McDonald’s franchise, eventually owning as many as 25 franchise locations.

McDonald's

“My first three Thanksgivings as a McDonald’s franchisee were spent eating Big Macs,” Hern said, reflecting on the hard work and sacrifice needed to run his franchises. He called his time at McDonalds “a tremendous experience” and called it “a real honor to be part of that system for 35 years.”

“Never write anyone off and always treat folks with respect and dignity” are the words of advice Meijer received from his grandfather Fred Meijer, former chairman of the Michigan-based supermarket chain. Meijer, who is serving his first term in Congress, shared insights from his first year in office.

“Always look for an opportunity” to make a difference, Meijer said. While it may be challenging to make headway on an issue due to “committee and partisan processes,” he said, “at the end of the day there are a lot of people in D.C. that want to get things done.”

Total Wine

Trone, co-founder of wine superstore Total Wine & More, said “Failure is the building block to future success.” Alongside his brother Robert, Trone started Total Wine as a single store in Delaware in 1991; it’s since grown into the country’s largest independent retailer of fine wine with more than 221 stores nationwide. His passion for philanthropic causes including ending the opioid crisis and supporting mental health and medical research motivated his run for Congress, and Trone encouraged retailers to participate in NRF.

“It’s so important to be part of a team,” he said, “and if we don’t stand together as one voice and we are all fragmented, we won’t have any power. That’s why it’s so important to be part of the NRF and why my company joined many years ago. You give your time and treasures, but you also get a lot in return.”

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