Back It with Facts
When retailers engage their local legislators and regulators, it is best that they do so armed with data about their businesses.
Every two years, we at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) eagerly await the American Pet Produc\ts Association’s National Pet Owners Survey. This gigantic tome represents a wealth of information on pet ownership, consumer habits and other statistics that we reference when discussing the broader pet trade with elected officials at the federal, state and local levels. It allows us to back up many of the arguments that we innately know to be true about the industry with data that supports them.
This isn’t just helpful—it’s essential. These national facts and figures help to paint an accurate picture of our often-underestimated industry. But all politics are local; elected officials want to know about the industry’s impact in their own backyard, and gathering that information is something that retailers should be doing for their own businesses, as well.
Some of this is just good business sense. Of course, you want to know your annual sales volume and which sectors of your business are profit leaders. Naturally, you want a better understanding of your average customer and his or her buying habits. It can also be helpful to visualize your relationships with your vendors and suppliers to determine ways to improve your bottom line. But compiling data on your company can have significant benefits when it comes to legislative and regulatory engagement, as well.
No matter what kind of business you operate, there is going to come a time when you need to tell your story. You may have the opportunity to sit down with an elected official face to face, either at your request or their invitation. You may want to speak at a public meeting or a town hall on an issue that affects your business. You may even be called to testify at a Congressional hearing someday.
When you reach out to request a meeting with your elected officials, whether in response to a piece of legislation or simply to introduce yourself and your business, it’s up to you what they take away from that meeting. Will it be a pleasant chat punctuated by anecdotes and generalizations? Or will it be a serious, focused discussion supported by specific facts and figures? If you are gathering and regularly updating statistics and data points about your business, the choice is yours.
How long have you been in business? How many people do you employ? How much do you pay each year in local and state level taxes? It’s incumbent on you to go into a meeting with a legislator or regulator armed with this information; even if their staffers do some research on you before the meeting, it’s unlikely to cover everything you might want them to know. By preparing this information in advance and presenting it in a format that they can take away from the meeting with them, you have the opportunity to influence their thinking about you and the points you’ve made.
When you show up to speak at a public hearing, you’re likely to have a limited amount of time to make your point. Choosing your key points carefully—and backing them up with relevant facts and statistics—will have a much greater impact on the audience. In these situations it’s also a good idea to come prepared with a fact sheet that you can present to those holding the meeting, as well as any media in attendance so they can review your information afterwards.
Of course, you’re also likely to need data to clarify misconceptions about your business, which is precisely the reason you shouldn’t wait until you need it to start gathering information. Having details about your business ready at all times ensures that you’ll be able to respond in a timely and decisive manner, and helps put negative impressions to rest. Uncertain, hesitant or vague responses, on the other hand, can reinforce them.
We at PIJAC are firm believers in the importance of sound science and data as the basis for legislation and regulation, and we frequently call out those who would base policies on hyperbole, anecdotal evidence and emotion. But we, as an industry, need to be ready to provide facts and figures to back up our positions whenever possible. Sources like industry economic impact studies, as well as the National Pet Owners Survey and the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative’s HABRI Central are helpful at the national level. At the local level, we’re happy to work with everyone in the industry to develop your own set of best practices to identify, gather and keep key data up to date so it’s ready when you need it.
Mike Bober is vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on how to get involved, visit pijac.org.governmentaffairs.