Fly-in is valuable, participants say

Above: Jacqueline and Jesús Capó, Rob Davis, Mitchell Stiles and Matt Schultz at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

It’s called a fly-in, but Home Furnishings Association members traveled to Washington, D.C., by planes, trains and automobiles to meet with key government leaders May 14-15.

Subjects discussed included trade, taxes and regulatory matters.

The annual visit to the nation’s capital, arranged by government relations firm Dutko GR, gives HFA members the chance to hear from and express concerns to elected representatives and agency officials. The busy agenda featured a series of meetings all day May 14 with executives at the National Retail Federation, three U.S. representatives and four congressional staff members.

Combined forces with AHFA

The next day, HFA joined forces with the American Home Furnishings Alliance, whose participants included Ron Wanek of Ashley Furniture Industries, Doug Bassett of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture, Jeff Cook of A.R.T. Furniture, Alex Shuford of Century Furniture, Paul Toms of Hooker Furniture and other leading manufacturers. The combined group heard from three senators, two representatives, a White House aide, a Consumer Products Safety Commissioner and an Environmental Protection Agency official.

“The fly-in was a great experience to gain a better understanding of the inner workings of our government,” said first-time participant Matt Schultz of John V Schultz Furniture, who drove to Washington from Erie, Pa. “It provides us a rare opportunity to voice our concerns over current policy directly to the decision-makers. I would highly recommend the trip to anyone in HFA.”  

“It was wholeheartedly worthwhile!” said Jesús R. Capó of El Dorado Furniture in Miami, who flew to the capital with his wife, Jacqueline. Capó is president of the HFA for 2019. “No matter how slow the government gears turn, the HFA needs to be the squeaky wheel, as there are issues that affect us more than most. As the saying goes, ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’ And, yes, I would recommend this trip to other HFA members. In fact, every member should attend at least once, especially the Top 100.”

The double benefit of advocacy

“Political advocacy always has a double benefit,” said Eric Blackledge, owner of Blackledge Furniture in Corvallis, Ore., who has flown to Washington many times. “From the standpoint of your business and investments, learning what federal, state and local decision-makers are thinking helps you anticipate and adapt to potential future changes. But active advocacy can also help you change that future for the better, not only for your business, but for our industry, and for the economy overall.

“After 50 years of advocacy work at all levels,” he added, “I’ve learned that although you will usually never know whether your input was the key factor that resulted in a good governmental decision, you will always know that if you did not get involved, you have no one to blame but yourself for the poor decisions that legislators can make.”

Matt Schewel of Schewels Furniture in Lynchburg, Va., drove to Manassas, Va., early Tuesday, then caught a train into Washington – arriving in time for the first meeting at 9:30 a.m. He didn’t mind the travel.

“The HFA fly-in was a great opportunity to make our voices heard on the critical trade and tax issues affecting our businesses, as well as to gather intelligence on the next steps,” he said.

Another train traveler was Lenny Kharitonov of Emma Mason in New York City. While he didn’t think he learned anything that was “actionable” for his business, he said, he found that the event “provides a unique perspective into how laws are made and what’s happening in our country. It’s a very valuable experience not only for executives but really for everyone. Overall, I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the fly-in, advocate on behalf of our industry, and have exposure into the world of politics.”

“I applaud the efforts of the association and dedicated members that take the time to help the entire industry advance,” said Rob Davis of Diakon Logistics in Warrenton, Va. “This year we had a powerful group with a relevant and timely message, which will certainly make a difference.”

Davis not only drove into the city May 14 and 15 but used his political connections to take a few HFA members on a special tour of the Capitol dome on May 13. They climbed some 300 steps to reach the highest vantage point, which would have offered them the best view in Washington, Davis said – if, unfortunately, it weren’t such a rainy, foggy day.

IHFRA sends a delegation

John Pinion IV from Cedar Park, Texas, is the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association’s liaison on the HFA Board of Directors. He was part of a four-man IHFRA contingent joining the fly-in that included Executive Director Ray Allegrezza, 2019 President Jonathan Schulman and Marty Berk.

“As IHFRA liaison, I believe the GRAT (Government Relations Action Team) and the fly-in are the best things HFA does,” Pinion said. “You have to show up to legislators and staffers and help educate them on key issues. Even more important, it puts a personal face on the issues. I believe the testimony of Matt Schultz and Cynthia Heathcoe was especially compelling and impactful.”

Schultz doggedly questioned lawmakers about their commitment to fixing a tax error that is keeping John V Schultz Furniture and other retail businesses from improving their properties, while Heathcoe testified to the damaging impact of tariffs on her business, Contemporary Living in Lake Park, Fla.

Making sure HFA interests are heard

Other HFA members who attended the fly-in were Larry Zigerelli of FFO Home in Fort Smith, Ark., Mitchell Stiles and Clara Arrington of WS Badcock Corporation in Mulberry, Fla., and Bobby Leon and Charla Borchers-Leon of Chesnick Furniture in Victoria, Texas, as well as HFA CEO Sharron Bradley and HFA government relations liaison Doug Clark.

They made their voices heard, which is the greatest benefit of the fly-in. It doesn’t really matter how HFA members get to Washington, after all. What’s important is how well they represent the industry.

Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org.

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