As the voice of retail for over a century, the National Retail Federation has a long history of convening retailers. The annual Retail Advocates Summit, the industry’s premiere advocacy event, returns to Washington, D.C., July 27-28, giving retailers a chance to connect with lawmakers to share their stories and celebrating the contributions retailers make to communities across the country.
Those celebrations include recognition of small businesses that go above and beyond to advocate for the retail industry year-round. The America’s Retail Champions program features 34 small businesses, of which five have been named as finalists. On July 28, one small retailer will be named the 2022 America’s Retail Champion.
Honorees will be featured in a special Main Street exhibit at The Retail Experience and celebrated for their advocacy work at an exclusive dinner. This year’s program is sponsored by Affirm Inc., which is providing travel scholarships to Washington, D.C., for the five finalists.
It’s NOLA, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Margaret Barrow has spent most of her life as a vegetarian. Desperate for healthy snack options on the go, she founded It’s NOLA, a plant-based snack company designed to promote healthy eating and living. “I have a doctoral degree from Columbia University, and I thought that was hard, until I became an entrepreneur,” Barrow says. “This is hard.”
Barrow leans on her local community and other small businesses for encouragement and opportunities to learn. It was through that community that she found her way to NRF and has become an advocate and champion for other small retailers, especially Black-owned businesses. “I am also someone who represents the Black small business community and make every effort to let decisions-makers know what’s at stake for the community as they make decisions that influence our life dreams and lifestyles,” she says.
Barrow has distinguished herself as a confident and reliable leader and has spoken frequently on issues including small business relief and payments policy. She’s also a two-time cohost of NRF’s Retail Advocates Town Halls. “I strongly believe in small business retail advocacy and the mission of NRF as it courageously supports retail big and small,” she says.
Klem’s, Spencer, Mass.
“I have lived retail my entire life, “says Jessica Bettencourt, the third-generation owner of Klem’s. As child, Bettencourt watched her family build the 75,000-square-foot general store from the ground up while rollerblading on the cement blocks of the store’s original foundation. She has held numerous positions in the store including cashier, receiver, buyer, manager and now owner.
Bettencourt believes in the importance of advocating for policies that promote growth in the industry and has been active in many NRF advocacy initiatives. Most notably, she was a vocal advocate for NRF’s Save Our Shipments campaign, which called on Congress and the administration to address the supply chain crisis. Her story was featured on several major media outlets, including the “Today” show where she shared how Klem’s was being impacted by the supply chain crisis. Her advocacy work helped NRF complete all three measures in our Save Our Shipments to-do list aimed at getting America’s supply chains back on track.
Yedi Houseware Appliances, Los Angeles, Calif.
“There is no bigger or better tool than our voice,” says Bobby Djavaheri, owner of Yedi Houseware Appliances. For more than 40 years, Yedi Housewares has been known for its domestic kitchen appliances including air fryers, bread makers and small handheld tools. Djavaheri is a stand-out retail advocate who is always willing to share his story on issues including tariffs, pandemic-relief and the supply chain.
Over the last two years, Djavaheri has participated in numerous media opportunities and has developed strong relationships with his elected officials. He was featured on “60 Minutes” discussing the impact of the supply chain crisis on his small business. “I’ve always been there to push the message for a better America,” he says. “At the end of the day the fundamental backbone in my opinion of this country is the small business.”
Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, Homewood, Ala.
April McClung, CEO and founder of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, started her business using her grandmother’s 100-year-old pound cake recipe to raise money to send her two sons overseas as student ambassadors. McClung’s business quickly grew, and she now makes over 5,000 packaged slices of pound cake each month and hundreds of full-sized cakes.
McClung is a passionate small retailer who leads with her heart. In 2020, she was featured on QVC and HSN through the NRF Foundation/Qurate Retail Group Small Business Spotlight and has since answered the call to advocate for retail. She distinguished herself by serving as a cohost for NRF’s Retail Advocates Town Hall with the Congressional Black Caucus 2021. “Advocacy is important because we are the leaders and examples of our communities,” McClung says. “We are the ones that make sure we don’t get forgotten in Washington, D.C. We can’t take for granted that our landscape won’t change if we don’t speak up to protect it.”
McClung is excited to attend the 2022 Retail Advocates Summit to be a voice for small businesses like Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes. “Retail is an important part of my community because it gives me an opportunity to be of service, make an impact and enrich the lives of others,” she says.
Stephenson’s of Elkhart, Elkhart, Ind.
“Our community and customers have been so supportive of us for almost a century, and in return, we have been able to do lots of great things for our community,” says Danny Reynolds, owner of Stephenson’s of Elkhart. A formalwear store which opened in 1931 during the Great Depression, Stephenson’s has been in Reynolds’ family for over 60 years and draws in customers from hundreds of miles away.
Reynolds understands the impact policies have on small businesses and local communities and is always willing to share his story with a positive and upbeat attitude. He has distinguished himself as a dedicated retail advocate by hosting lawmakers on tours of the store, served as a frequent spokesperson on issues including COVID-19 relief and payments, and has been highlighted on NPR’s “Marketplace.”
For Reynolds, building connections is key to being a successful retail advocate. He has developed a personal relationship with his local member of Congress, Rep. Jackie Walorski, who shops at his store and wears Stephenson’s fashions on the floor of the House of Representatives. “We need to let our elected officials know what issues are important and matter to us,” he says. “If we don’t tell them, they don’t know, and then they can’t properly serve us.”