Resolved to Be Heard

Retailers should make a New Year's resolution to be more politically engaged in order to protect their bottom line from onerous legislation.


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January marks the start of a new state legislative calendar for 46 states that hold annual legislative sessions, as well as the remaining four states, which hold biennial sessions—Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas. With most states’ legislatures expected to consider thousands of bills before they adjourn, and more than 6,500 bills “pre-filed” for 2015 by the beginning of December, it is safe to say this January will kick off a busy new year. The amount of legislation aimed at the pet industry is increasing steadily; we could see as many as 1,000 bills with the potential to affect pet retailers’ bottom line over the next two years. 

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) is resolved to track these bills, engage its sponsors and protect the pet industry—and ultimately your business. So, what is your resolution? What can you do to be more engaged and defend your bottom line? 

Here are a few New Year’s resolutions for pet trade executives who plan to lead the pack this year.


Get to know your representatives.
A simple way to be more politically engaged is to start a dialogue with those elected officials who wield power in your state, county and even your local government. This may sound antiquated, but taking the time to develop a relationship with those lawmakers who will vote on bills that affect your business is a prudent investment, and one that will likely pay off tenfold. Start now, at the beginning of a new year. Reaching out before legislation is pending will give you time to establish rapport before making specific requests.


Share your story.
Later this month, President Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union Address. Even though this column is being written in early December, we can guarantee that there will be several instances during the speech where he will stop to acknowledge guests in attendance.  Their stories will serve to humanize otherwise impersonal issues.

Your story is unique to you and can be a powerful tool to influence policy. Resolve to take the time to explain to your legislators all the positive ways your business impacts the local community. Share your own experiences and insights: What led you to a career in the pet trade? What about your business makes you most proud? How will your business specifically be impacted by proposed legislation?


Vote.
This may seem obvious to some readers, or futile for the political pessimists, but exercising your right to vote is the single most important way you can influence legislation. Voting allows you to elect legislators whose business ideologies and sentiments reflect your own. Not voting is tantamount to inflicting harm on your own business—you could find yourself fighting dangerous legislation introduced by someone you didn’t bother to vote against. Voting is the first step toward protecting your business while staying politically engaged.

But don’t just vote. When deciding which candidates to support, think about doing more than just casting your ballot on Election Day. Spread the word about their candidacy via social media or good old-fashioned word of mouth. Volunteer to help their campaign by providing money, messaging or manpower—the three Ms that all candidates always need more of. Politicians remember those supporters who were there for them when it mattered most.


Attend local town halls, and stay informed.
An easy way to make sure you’re part of the dialogue is to attend local town hall meetings, where conversations about potential legislation can originate. Establishing positive connections with those who are actively engaged in your community can be incredibly beneficial, and making your voice heard early in the process can give you a chance to shape a bill instead of just reacting to it.

Not every bill will be discussed in public meetings, however. You should also familiarize yourself with the legislative calendar and sign up online to be notified of legislative updates. Once you’ve established a relationship with an office, they may give you the courtesy of contacting you when legislation of interest is introduced; until that time, your best bet is to pay attention.


Become a member of PIJAC and attend the Top2Top Conference in April.
While there’s no substitute for quality local contacts, we at PIJAC are also watching and working on your behalf. We track legislation and share Issue Updates and Pet Alerts when we see key legislation that you need to be aware of. Our Legislative Action Center helps mobilize people in your community who might be affected by harmful legislation, and our online legislative map will show you which pieces of legislation are currently pending in your state.

If you really want to lead the pack this year, plan to join us in Carlsbad, Calif., April 28-30 for the fourth annual edition of the Pet Industry’s Top2Top Conference. This is an opportunity to connect with other industry leaders, share best practices and gain valuable insights from our speakers. 

This January, when you are considering New Year’s resolutions, make sure your resolutions involve becoming more politically engaged and active on legislative topics that affect the pet industry. We all have to do our part to effect positive legislative outcomes. What better time to step up your efforts than at the start of a new year?


Rebekah Milford is director of marketing and communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). To learn more about the Pet Industry’s Top2Top Conference speakers and early bird registration, visit pijac.org/top2top. For information regarding sponsorship opportunities, email Mike Bober at mbober@pijac.org.

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