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August 29, 2019

BY MIKE BOBER

When it comes to running a successful retail operation, there’s no shortage of demands competing for your attention. Whether it’s finding, training and retaining staff; monitoring trends to keep your product mix competitive; or planning and implementing a marketing strategy to increase your visibility, it’s all essential to your continued success. It’s no surprise that few business owners find time to engage with their elected officials—even though failing to do so can have disastrous effects on everything you’ve worked to build.

With a pen stroke, lawmakers can change the rules under which you operate, for better or for worse. Local and state officials across the country have added and removed constraints on business practices, banned or restricted plastic bag use and set mandates on employment practices like scheduling. At the federal level, recent and even merely prospective actions on tariffs and trade have had significant and unexpected impacts on the price and availability of everything from toys to live fish. Ignoring these is simply not an option.

Fortunately, you already possess many of the skills and tools needed to make legislative engagement a regular part of your routine—and we at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) can help with those you don’t.

Here’s how some of your existing managerial responsibilities can translate to positive engagement practices:

Build the Best Staff

Your employees represent your business—of course you work to find and keep the right people. Lawmakers are elected by constituents’ votes. The first step in legislative engagement is your vote, in every election. You wouldn’t hire someone sight unseen, and you shouldn’t enter the voting booth without researching the candidates first.

Once your lawmakers take office, develop a relationship with them. Introduce yourself and your business to officials and staffers, and stay in touch regularly. Invite them to visit your store. Offer input, both positive and negative, on proposed legislation relevant to your expertise and interests. The time you invest now will affect the reception you get when you reach out on issues that impact you and your business.

Unfortunately, all that effort is futile if you have to start over with every election. Just like you work to retain your best employees, do what you can to help re-elect officials with whom you work well. PIJAC can help you identify appropriate ways to do so.

Monitoring Trends

You’ve got limited display space, so you watch trends both in your store and in the industry to ensure your product mix aligns with the demands of your customers and your business. If you could be forced to carry products that could change your bottom line, you’d want to know about it in advance, and do what you could to negotiate the terms under which you carried them.

In many ways, legislation and regulations are exactly that. PIJAC’s Legislative Action Center lets you monitor what’s being proposed—and by whom—at all levels of government, whether it’s across the country or in your own backyard. When you see something of interest, PIJAC staff can help you determine the best action steps.

Marketing Strategy

To earn the business of prospective customers, you tell your story and try to make a positive impression, while your competitors do the same. The same thing happens when a law or regulation is proposed. Supporters and opponents work to convince officials that their position is better—for pets, for people, for the economy. When a proposal would have a negative impact on your business, that means there are people telling a story critical of your current practices. We at PIJAC and other allies work to counter that effort, but it’s most effective if you’re telling your own story as well—and we can help.

These are just a few of the ways your current business practices can be used to integrate governmental engagement into your operations. To learn about others and to access a wide range of tools and resources, please contact us at info@pijac.org or 202-452-1525, and consider becoming a member.

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