How small business owners can change the future of retail

A small business owner wears countless hats — supervisor, merchandiser, marketer, buyer, entrepreneur, coach, community leader and many more. But there’s one powerful role many small retailers may not even realize they’re perfect for — retail industry advocate.

Whether it’s trade, tariffs, sales tax, healthcare or any number of other issues, the decisions made in Washington impact retailers on Main Street. That’s why it’s so important that lawmakers understand the issues facing U.S. retailers big and small. While NRF works on behalf of retailers every day, the most effective way to reach decision makers is for retailers to talk with them in person.

At the Retail Advocates Summit, September 5-6 in Washington, D.C., retailers of all sizes will gather to advocate for the industry by meeting with their elected officials and learning about the policy issues that could affect them now and in the future.

Bob Jones III (right) with father Robert Jones, Sr. (left). Take a closer look at an American Sale store.

Bob Jones III (right) with father Robert Jones, Sr. (left). Take a closer look at an American Sale store.

To learn more about what inspires small retailers to come to Washington to share their story, we talked with NRF’s Small Business Retail Council Chairman Bob Jones III, owner of American Sale in Tinley Park, Ill. Read on to learn more about his business, why he is a retail advocate and why he encourages all small business members to attend RAS.

Tell us about American Sale.

My mom and dad started American Sale 59 years ago as an old-fashioned toy store in Roseland, a Chicago neighborhood. Each year, my dad would take a trip to New York, to the toy building at 23rd and Broadway to see what was new. While there, he was inspired by the vendors that had showrooms with Christmas trees and decorations. To stay busy in the summer months, he sold swimming pools and patio furniture.

In retail, you are in a constant state of evolution. In 1984, after 24 years in the toy business, we decided to stop selling toys and focus our resources on our other product categories. This decision created a retail concept focused on fun! We now sell pools, hot tubs, patio furniture, grills, trampolines, swing sets, Christmas trees and decorations that people love during the holiday season. Our focus is still on fun, but we also demonstrate how our merchandise contributes to wellness through products such as swim spas made by Endless Pools.

Certainly, we have been impacted by our customers’ new shopping habits, but we have shown that when you have a store filled with fun products, creative displays that show customers how to use products and an experienced staff, people will find it is worth their time to visit one of our nine stores.

"I found a lot of legislators and their staffs have many misconceptions about what retailers do and the challenges we face."

Bob Jones III

Why are you a retail advocate?

I have been a retail advocate for over 10 years. I found a lot of legislators and their staffs have many misconceptions about what retailers do and the challenges we face. Most legislators are surprised to learn the average profit on every dollar spent is about two cents. Few are thinking of ways to help retailers grow their businesses as a path to enhance their communities. Most think if they add more mandates or challenges for retailers to overcome they are helping their constituents. I once was one of those retailers who for many years tried to ignore this profound dynamic, but I realized if I didn’t take some time to help educate people about retail and the value we deliver, my job would only become harder and harder.

The Retail Advocates Summit is coming up in September. What is your favorite part of attending RAS?

My favorite part is meeting other retailers and sharing ideas. I try to come away with two things that I can implement to help my business. I always enjoy the presentations — and have found the speakers offer good insights — and finally, the opportunity to be at the Capitol and participate in what our founders created to hopefully make our corner of the world a better place to live.

What would you tell someone who is on the fence about attending RAS?

I’m confident you’ll find out how important advocating for retail is once you’ve participated. But if I am wrong, the worst-case scenario is you spend a couple days talking to other retailers, hear some good speakers and experience a great tour of the Capitol. I encourage you to find out how Washington, D.C., is affecting your business. Most are surprised by what is happening there and how much impact they can have by participating in the debate.

Are you a champion for the retail industry or do you know a deserving small business retailer? Nominations are open for America's Retail Champions, a program that sends small business retailers to D.C. to advocate on behalf of the industry during the Retail Advocates Summit. Learn more.

The Retail Advocates Summit is Sept. 5-6 in Washington, D.C. Learn more and register.