Pet retailers can build critical relationships with politicians by following five simple tips.
Rarely will a day go by when the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) staff does not review new pieces of federal, state or local legislation that could undermine pet businesses, pet professionals or animal wellbeing.
As a pet business or pet professional, you cannot afford to be left out of the legislative process; engaging politicians with our reasonable views is essential for advancing animal welfare, protecting pet choice and promoting continued growth for the pet industry. The bad news is that defending your way of life and what’s right for pets means navigating the federal, state and local political landscape—a challenge for any industry or individual.
Of course, you have PIJAC in your corner, but getting the attention of lawmakers requires building relationships, something your experience with pet owners and their pets has given you plenty of practice with. In fact, establishing and maintaining effective relationships is just as important when working with elected officials as with customers and colleagues. You must get to know your elected officials before there are concerns to address or legislation to support. Doing so will improve your value and help ensure your concerns are foremost in the minds of politicians when advocating for your interests in the legislative process.
As pet professionals and pet businesses, you are uniquely positioned to educate lawmakers on how an ordinance or piece of legislation will impact animal welfare, business constituents and other taxpayers in your community. Who else in your community is better qualified to comment on these issues?
And, believe it or not, lawmakers are ready to listen.
Legislators at all levels genuinely want to hear from constituents on important issues. Why? Because elected officials want to know how their decisions will impact those they represent. Will a pending ordinance hurt or help the community? Is the public supportive of a new law to address an issue? How might proposed legislation impact local businesses?
So, how do you begin developing a rapport? What can you do to maximize your impact? Here are five tips to help pet professionals and businesses establish and maintain effective relationships with elected officials:
Tip #1: Say Hello
Getting to know your elected officials, and their staff, at the state and local levels of government is an important way to have your voice heard. Look up your elected officials and get to know them by scheduling a brief meeting at their offices. Be friendly and informative during your discussion by focusing on how your business helps the community. Prepare a one-page handout with your top three issues, as well as facts and figures about how many individuals you employ, the number of customers you serve, and what community events or charities your business supports. The handout will help demonstrate your company is a vital part of their constituency.
Tip #2: Maintain the Relationship
Periodically schedule check-in meetings to maintain your relationship. During these meetings, facilitate open discussions about your business, so they know you run a sound operation—maybe even invite them to visit your store in person. Ask to be involved in any issues that would affect your livelihood and the livelihood of your employees and customers, and briefly address any relevant matters that may have arisen since your last meeting. Maintaining your relationship with elected officials helps keep your concerns top-of-mind when issues arise.
Tip #3: Keep It Brief
Keep your in-office meetings brief and to the point. Like you, lawmakers and their staff are busy. If they need to end the meeting early, be understanding, thank them for the willingness to meet, offer to schedule another meeting, and be sure to leave any handouts you have prepared. It’s often good practice to follow up with the principal staff members via phone call and email if a shortened meeting should occur.
Tip #4: Collect and Organize
Organize and maintain a folder with information highlighting the quality of your business and customer satisfaction. This folder should be ready at all times, in case you have an immediate need to share with legislators. You never know when elected officials will address an issue you care about or when the opportunity to showcase your business is at hand. This folder will save you time, improve the effectiveness of your relationships, and increase the impact of your message. Remember to include letters from customers, training certificates, inspection reports, testimonials from business associates (e.g. groomers, trainers, suppliers and veterinarians), press clippings, and other documentation highlighting your community involvement, superior staff, and animal care facilities.
Tip #5: Host an Event
Elected officials are often happy to visit local businesses and discuss issues with your staff and customers. Hosting a meet-and-greet event is an excellent opportunity to give legislators first-hand knowledge about your company and how it impacts your local economy. Invite by phone or email, and keep the event to one hour or less. Designate someone to introduce the legislator and guide any discussion, and select additional employees or trustworthy customers to discuss pertinent issues.
Contact PIJAC for more information on how to become a member and how to develop effective relationships with your lawmakers. PIJAC staff can guide members with tips and suggestions on what to say and how to say it, so your views better resonate with elected officials.
Joshua Jones is director of legislative and regulatory engagement for the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Visit PIJAC.org for more information on how to become involved.