A community fixture for more than 85 years, independently owned Stephenson’s of Elkhart opened in downtown Elkhart, Ind., in 1931. President Danny Reynolds led a recent evolution of the fashion retailer, and today supervises three Main Street storefronts — over 15,000 square feet of fashion retail space — while staying informed on public policies impacting the business. After attending his first Retail Advocates Summit, Reynolds shares his perspective on the importance of meeting face to face with policymakers and being an advocate for retail.
How long has Stephenson’s of Elkhart been in business? Tell us how many employees you have and a little bit about your staff.
Stephenson’s has been in business on Main Street in Elkhart, Ind., since 1931 (86 years). We have approximately 20 employees, and are proud to have a number of long-term staff members. The most “floor” seniority definitely belongs to Connie, who has been with us, working in sales and merchandising, for over 50 years.
How did you hear about Retail Advocates Summit?
A colleague in New York first introduced me to the NRF weekly email newsletter (which I find a very useful and informative piece, by the way).
Which members of Congress did you meet with? After talking a little “shop” about Stephenson’s of Elkhart, what are some of the policy issues you discussed during your meetings?
I met with a number of members of Congress [including] two Senators. I discussed the BAT tax, swipe fees and tax reform with all. What impressed me was the level of genuine interest and concern that these policy makers actually had for us — and some of them weren’t even from my district. I especially enjoyed meeting with Jackie Walorski, who does represent my district, and is a personal friend. It was fun seeing her “on her turf,” and also seeing firsthand how that job works. She even showed us the Ways & Means meeting room!
Why are these public policy issues important to your business?
These issues, like BAT tax and swipe fees, have a direct impact on retailers, and then eventually consumers. Unnecessary fees and taxes only serve to drive up prices at the wholesale level, and then at retail. This slows consumer spending, and nobody wins.
Which parts of your Capitol Hill visits surprised you the most?
Probably the complex inner workings of the Hill — literally, with all the tunnels, and then logistically, with how things work and get done (or not, sometimes). Also, the friendly, cordial manner of everyone was great.
What lessons from your visit will you take back to your business? What advice would you give to other small business owners about being advocates for retail?
I brought a lot back with me (my staff and co-workers are already probably tired of hearing about it). One, I benefited greatly from the wealth of information shared during the NRF presentations. I also sincerely enjoyed all of the speakers. Vice President Pence was great, and even gave me a shout-out (woot!). Larry Kudlow's presentation was fascinating, and Representative Kelly’s breakfast speech was very entertaining and motivating as well. The biggest thing I took away, though, is also what I would share with other retailers about advocating: OUR OPINIONS REALLY DO MATTER! I never really thought these politicians would care what a little ole’ retailer on Mainstreet USA would think, but they showed genuine concern, and appreciation for our battle. You actually leave feeling like you can make a difference! Thank you again for the opportunity, NRF.