Retailers look to become lobbying force with $10M campaign

What’s good for retail is good for the country.

That’s the message the National Retail Federation (NRF) hopes to hammer home through an “unprecedented” nationwide advocacy campaign that will tap into grassroots activism, social media and old-fashioned lobbying in Washington.

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, said Monday the trade group plans to spend more than $10 million on the new campaign over the next year. 

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The centerpiece of the advocacy effort is a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by the NRF, that tallies up the contributions of retailers to the economy. The study says retailers provided close to 42 million jobs in 2009 while adding nearly $2.5 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product.

Shay said the study will be the foundation of the trade group’s advocacy campaign.

“We needed to validate the economic value proposition of the industry we represent. That was sort of the ante that was needed to just get into the game,” Shay said.

David French, the NRF’s senior vice president for government relations, said lawmakers need to consider whether every legislative proposal can create jobs or not — and be mindful of the impact on merchants.  

“We feel every single decision that is made on Capitol Hill needs to be looked at through the prism of job creation,” French said. The new study “will be essential to helping us make the case that what is good for retail is good for job growth.”

The NRF-sponsored study will be sent to every member of Congress on Tuesday. The trade group has also created a website, www.RetailMeansJobs.com, that breaks down the retail industry’s economic impact by state and congressional district. The site encourages users to Tweet their lawmakers and sign up for email updates. 

That will be coupled with grassroots activity by retail businesses across the country, encouraged by an open letter from the NRF; lobbying outreach to Congress; advertising in print, radio and online markets; a social media campaign through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; and a viral video campaign to highlight the “Faces of Retail,” which will begin in 2012. 

“It is certainly an unprecedented campaign in the history of the NRF,” Shay said. “The real purpose is to change outcomes on the policy issues that are so central to our industry and, we believe, to the overall health of our nation’s economy because of the significant role retail plays in our economy.”

Other business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, are consulted often by lawmakers and are significant political players in Washington.

Shay said retail is vital to the economy and deserves a seat at the table in Washington’s big policy battles.  

“When those conversations happen with policymakers and the phone rings, and four or five big trade groups in town get called to be at the table, we should get one of those calls. It’s important that the retail industry be there,” Shay said. 

There are a number of issues on which the NRF hopes to encourage action from Congress and the Obama administration. 

One is the Main Street Fairness Act, which would have online retailers collect sales taxes, just like brick-and-mortar retailers do. The NRF is also for passage of the pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, corporate tax reform and repeal of the healthcare reform law’s employer mandate, as well as making it easier for foreign visitors to obtain U.S. travel visas. 

In a letter earlier this month to the supercommittee that is tasked with reducing the national deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, the NRF asked the panel to consider three of these issues during its deliberations — corporate tax reform, the employer mandate and the Main Street Fairness Act.

Retailers have a presence in every congressional district and could be a potent political force. Shay said the group plans to be involved in congressional and Senate races next year as the election approaches.

“We have our finger on the pulse of the consuming public, so that when economic activity takes place or doesn’t take place in this country, our customers feel it first, and we know about it more than most other industries,” Shay said. 

Shay said recognition from as well as understanding by lawmakers of how important retail is to the economy would help the industry better lobby Capitol Hill.

“It’s like champagne. You can have too much, but you never can have enough. I think that the more we can get, the better for our members,” Shay said.