Independent Trade Groups Meet in D.C. for Summit

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On November 29 and 30, several independent trade organizations, including the American Booksellers Association, met for an "Independent Trades Summit" in Washington, D.C. The gathering provided the associations with an opportunity to discuss common goals and challenges specific to independent retailers and businesses. Industries represented at the summit included bookselling, toys, gifts, bicycles, hardware, pharmacies, and office products.

"The summit was a good first step in creating a dialog among independent associations," said ABA COO Oren Teicher. "We believe there are multiple reasons for independents across different industries to cooperate and collaborate. Overall, it was an upbeat meeting, and I think everyone recognized there are issues we can work on together, as well as cross-marketing possibilities."

Other participants in the meeting included Jennifer Rockne, director of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), and Jeff Milchen, AMIBA outreach director, who helped organize and facilitate the meeting, where association representatives discussed, among other common concerns, states' enforcement of existing sales tax laws; affordable healthcare; competition from mass merchandisers, chain stores, and online retailers; and shop local initiatives.

"The summit was a very positive experience," said Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA), who said this was his first encounter with associations with a similar membership base -- independents. "We focus so much on a specific industry and its problems. I looked forward to interfacing with others with similar challenges."

Gina Schaefer of the ACE (hardware store) Co-op and owner of Logan Hardware in Washington, D.C., told BTW she was glad to be included in the meeting. "I was the lone retailer in the room," she said, "so I think I was able to provide a different perspective.... The thing that struck me was that all of the groups have similar challenges. We should be able to collaborate."

Schaefer noted that among the challenges facing independent hardware stores are "big Internet players who don't have to collect sales tax for online purchases" and the need to raise "consumer awareness and city hall awareness about how independents affect community."

Kathleen McHugh, executive director of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), echoed Schaefer's sentiments. "We need to be starting the conversation at the local level about buying local," she said. "Maybe you're in a small town and can't start an independent business alliance, but you can provide your customers with five great reasons to shop local. It may not be as effective as an alliance, but it's a great conversation starter."

Moreover, McHugh believes it's important to get on the media radar by providing reports on the state of independent retailing. "The media already has a nail in the [independent retailer] coffin," she said. "We should give them stuff to talk about by benchmarking over three years how things for independents are going." She added, "We have common threads and common challenges. We asked, are there realistic... areas we could affect as a group?" She noted that addressing e-fairness would be a "great first step."

"Independents have common ground," said NBDA's Clements. "It makes a lot of sense [to work together]. No one industry is big enough to tackle some issues on their own -- it's not as powerful as 12 industries making the point." He noted that, although the bicycle industry isn't as affected by mass merchandisers as some others, "something we have very much in common is fair Internet sales taxation. Internet sellers shouldn't be able to dodge sales tax." He said a group of independent associations working together is "potentially very powerful."

Based on the summit discussions, a letter similar to the one being sent by booksellers to state governors calling for the enforcement of existing tax laws regarding online sales by in-state affiliates is being circulated for endorsement by the independent retail associations. --David Grogan