Plumbing wholesalers call for marketplace fairness

For today’s plumbing wholesaler, specifically those that have retail and showroom components, the blending of the traditional and online marketplace has become the new reality of 21st Century commerce. We have proactively prepared ourselves for the arrival of our online-only competitors, often by reminding ourselves that at the end of the day, we’re an industry reliant on personal relationships, which cannot be easily achieved online.

In the plumbing supply business like others in the building material industry, giving the customer the opportunity to see and touch an item that will be in their home for the next decade is irreplaceable.  When a homeowner is ordering bathroom fixtures for their new home, they’ll want to see it firsthand.  But what happens when they’ve benefited from our showroom consultant’s product knowledge, determined that this is the right fit for their project and end up ordering it online at nearly a 10 percent discount?  They’re getting this so-called discount because online sellers without a physical presence are not required to collect and remit sales taxes. 

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Whether online or in person, one thing never changes—when payment is made in exchange for a faucet, water heater or sink, a sale has occurred.  For those states with a sales tax, all of these purchases are currently subject to a tax. However, out-of-state sellers are not currently required to collect the sales tax, which means that the responsibility falls to consumers to report it to their state department of revenue. The playing field isn't level for all sellers and states are unable to collect more than a fraction of the revenue that's owed, and that fraction is coming from brick-and-mortar businesses like members of the American Supply Association.

Today, brick and mortar business of Main Street, of all shapes and sizes are operating in a playing field that’s not been level for quite some time.  We need markets that are vibrant, viable and equitable for everyone. The reality is that what was adequate 20 years ago is no longer effective in today's marketplace and today's technology and services make collection possible for sellers of all sizes. That is why ASA and others are calling on Congress to pass federal legislation that empowers states to update their sales and use tax laws to level the playing field for all sellers, protect states' rights, and make life simpler for consumers.

Thankfully, the Senate has acted, and we are appreciative of House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) attention to this matter, but now it is time for the House to follow suit.  Small businesses across America are weathering the headwinds produced by our uncertain economy.  The right thing to do is level the playing field and bring an end to the disparity between brick-and-mortar businesses and the online-only marketplace.  We contribute to our communities’ tax base and we employ millions of workers, we are literally rebuilding the nation and its economy.  The time has come for Congress to act, and help states to enforce their sales and use taxes

Strong is president of the American Supply Association.