Unleash your inner lobbyist: Why it’s time for retailers to make their voices heard
The retailers who fly in for NRF's Annual Washington Leadership Conference (WLC), May 15-16, will be in good hands. David French, NRF's Senior Vice President for Government Relations, has been leading the charge on Capitol Hill for more than a year and was named a top association lobbyist by the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill last fall. But he really wants you to do the talking.
WLC is a two-day event that combines NRF's many committee and board meetings with an intense, full-court legislative press by retailers on Capitol Hill.
WLC carries a bit of clout. It's 77 years old this year, among the oldest of all Capitol Hill fly-ins. And with retail supporting one in four jobs in the U.S., retailers certainly carry some weight in Washington. NRF welcomes all types of retailers—independent brick-and-mortar retailers, national department stores and online retailers—to meet with lawmakers and tell it like it is.
But NRF has a team of lobbyists like David fighting to keep the world safe for retail. So why will retailers be coming to Washington? Because there are some things "real people" do better. Lawmakers shop like anyone else, but that doesn't mean they fully grasp what it means to be in the retail business. That's what WLC is all about—the reality of retail.
"As a lobbyist, I can change a word in a bill. I can change a line in a bill. But I can't change minds on bills," David French, NRF Chief Lobbyist said. "Voters, constituents—real people who are actually in business—are incredibly valuable in educating lawmakers on how what happens on Capitol Hill is going to impact them on main street."
The issues on deck for discussion include sales tax fairness, corporate tax reform, labor policy and organized retail crime. Before meeting with lawmakers, NRF educates retailers on policy and arms them with materials and tips to make their visits successful. No Capitol Hill experience is necessary. In fact, it's a retailer's real-life experience told in his or her own words that will break through the noise on the Hill.
"When it comes to participating in the public policy process, the most engaging and persuasive people are those who just go in and tell their individual story," David said.
Meeting with a senator or member of congress at WLC often kicks off a lasting relationship with leaders, making it easier to renew conversations and persuade lawmakers when an issue comes down to the wire.
Strong advocates with good relationships have influenced many legislative victories. For instance, debit card swipe fee reform – a rule that's worth about $14 billion to the retail industry—might not have passed if retailers hadn't been engaged in a long-term campaign to tell Congress how high swipe fees hurt them. When the banks stepped up to repeal the law, retailers drowned them out, helping the industry prevail.
There's also just something inspiring about representing your industry in Washington.
"You might be a little nervous at your first meeting, but after you've done it and once you understand how welcoming a lawmaker's office can be, how important you are as a constituent, you feel very empowered by the experience," David said. "This is your government in action, and it's great to be a part of it."