By Jaclyn DeFeo
The existence of state retail associations may be common knowledge, but the importance of being an active member of these associations remains to be thoroughly recognized. While many state retail associations were founded decades ago as a force in fighting and rewriting legislation, today they have added a long list of member benefits to coincide with their lobbying activities. State retail associations push retailers, big and small, to band together and invest in their overall bottom line and future success. Benefits include cost saving group buying services, insurance programs, credit card processing, networking, and technology marketing education. “Retailers decide how active they want to be, and what benefits they want to use,” explains Edward Borowsky, a full-time advocate of state retail associations.
Borowsky, the son of an independent retailer, is a well-known ally to the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association (CRMA), which is looking to evolve its offerings to brick and mortar retailers. He works with CRMA in its daily efforts to help local retail businesses thrive. As a managing partner of Dovetail Alliance, a retailer association consultancy, Borowsky has helped state retail associations in the creation and implementation of technology education advancement, such as smartphone marketing and credit card processing. “I’m aware that retailers are hyper focused on running their businesses, especially those independents operating brick and mortar locations in this fast evolving Internet world,” Borowsky notes. “Small to mid-size retailers can find great value in joining their state retail associations, and in the benefits they offer. They are at the heart of the ‘Together We’re Stronger’ campaign.”
The more merchants that join state retail associations and stand together on issues, the more proactive change will occur, Borowsky points out. “Membership makes each individual retailer’s voice, and retailing’s collective voice, more powerful at each state capitol. This, alongside important elected officials such as members of the General Assembly, commissioners of state agencies and the Governor’s Office, helps shape policy.” Regarding Internet sales tax legislation, for example, Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, has stated: “The retail community is unified in our commitment to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act and make it law.” For that very reason, the U.S. Senate voted 75 to 24 in favor of proposed nationwide Internet sales taxes, a move that several major U.S. retail groups applauded. “The amendment is a clear victory for Main Street retailers, and those who believe in free and fair competition,” Borowsky notes.
Strength in numbers does not stop with this legislative victory. “Price tagging protocol has also been among the big legislative changes retail associations have helped implement,” Borowsky adds. The once mandatory practice of pricing items individually, even during a sale, proved to be an expensive and time-consuming activity for big and small retailers alike. “Unity among retailers brought change, and now consumers find it customary to see racks and displays with one general price sign that can be easily changed during times of markdowns,” Borowsky explains.
In a retail business, certain services such as powering up the store, accepting payments and obtaining business insurance are necessary, and retail associations can help negotiate costs. Take for instance the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. Its 25 years of operation and increasing membership has led to one of the best workers’ compensation programs available to retailers, according to Jon B. Hurst, president. “Working together, we have earned a savings of 50 percent compared to what retailers will find shopping on their own.” Other savings can be found in insurance and energy programs, and credit card processing available to the association’s members. “Retailers think they are doing well on their own, but they may not realize the increased buying power they have as a group,” Borowsky stresses.
Most state retail associations require dues to join and remain a member, which can depend on volume. Many times the costs begin low, and may be hardly noticeable after members bear witness to the overwhelming benefits they receive. “Our first year dues are around $50, but it is not long before retailers realize this cost is merely an investment in their bottom line,” Hurst says. In addition to overall savings on daily operational expenses and the acquisition of new skills, retailers receive the greatest asset in driving success: a network of fellow retailers walking in their shoes, and sharing lessons and top tricks of the trade.