Traditionally every May, members of HFA head to Washington for what we refer to as “The Fly-In.” It’s a chance to meet with key members of Congress both on the Senate side and the House side of the Capitol. Generally, it’s an effective way of introducing ourselves to key leaders, explaining our members’ concerns, and making sure they understand that we can be a resource to them when issues important to our industry come before committees on the Hill.
This year, flying into DC in May is unlikely based upon Covid-19 concerns, so we decided to take a new and different tact. Our emphasis is on virtual meetings on a quarterly cadence. While we temporarily lose face-to-face elements of a fly-in, this approach allows us to consistently put forward key messaging to support home furnishing retailers’ needs and concerns. It is important to note that our Government Relations Action Team (GRAT) did not schedule just anyone who would be willing to talk. Instead, we took part in Zoom meetings to make strong connections with key leaders on Capitol Hill who influence issues that matter most to our industry.
The concerns about current tariffs in China and the threat of new ones focused on Vietnam were part of our conversation with essential staff for Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-3rd/OR), a House Ways and Means Committee member and Chairman of the Trade Subcommittee.
Relief for small businesses was top of mind during talks with legislative assistants for the Senate Small Business Committee. Simultaneously, labor issues took center stage in discussion with Senator Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana. His small business background made for a terrific connection, and his role as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee means a lot to us.
Financial policy concerns were at the heart of discussions with Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3rd/MO), the House Small Business Committee ranking member who has a strong background in banking and financial services.
Then we focused on issues surrounding the supply chain disruptions with Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) team. He sits on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. We had a similar conversation with the policy team for Representative Peter Defazio (D-4th/OR), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
Were there breakthroughs that came out of these meetings? Not yet. However, we did achieve our goals of making sure each of these leaders knows about our industry, our members, and the struggles they face daily. GRAT members on these calls provided the big punch as they discussed their concerns in real, personal terms, helping us connect well with each influential guest.
For example, a single store owner in the northeast explained how he is waiting for nearly $2 million in product, and he can’t get paid until it is delivered. That was news to our Congressional guests. In another instance, fellow HFA members talked about the inequity of big box stores being allowed to stay open and sell appliances and furniture. Once again, this was eye-opening for our guests. There was also a chorus of comments from HFA retailers about the impacts of added unemployment benefits and how hard it is to bring enough people back to man stores.
One clear takeaway is that each Congressional office wants and needs more information and context behind statistics. In other words, they need your stories. They need to hear from you and about you. There is power in your testimony no matter where your business is or how big or small it is.
Reach out to us, and we can show you how to become more active and blend your voice with the GRAT as we crank up the volume a little bit more each day. We are being heard!