Q: Some Natural Products Association members blamed lack of retailer involvement for your recent branch closures in the West and Rocky Mountain regions. Why should retailers participate in the NPA?
A: We have a lot of challenges that remain in Washington. Retailers were very active during [the recent attack on the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act]. Tens of thousands of folks wrote to their members of Congress and to Sen. McCain telling him what a bad idea it was. Luckily, we got him to back off. But the ideas in that bill are still alive and can be picked up by others on Capitol Hill who still wish to overregulate the industry.
We need retailers to continue to be vigilant. I think the next attack is not going to be a full-frontal charge like the McCain bill was. It’s going to be quieter. It’s not going to be a raid or an ambush. It’ll be something that sounds better, especially to the untrained ear. It will be a little bit more cleverly written. Legislatively, we still have to be on our guard. I worry when I hear people say, “We won, we beat McCain, it’s over.” The battle is over but the war is still raging. I want to make sure that we as an industry don’t forget that.
Q: What should retailers be doing?
A: We ask retailers to be advocates—write to the local newspaper if they see a falsehood about the industry, contact their congresspeople with issues they’re concerned about, even host members of Congress, state legislators and mayors in their stores. This last one is a great way to get officials to focus on what our industry’s about, especially on the retail side. Retailers can participate in events like Lobby Day, where 150 folks from the industry come to Washington to meet with members of Congress. We all can do something where advocacy is concerned. We respond as the NPA, but individuals can certainly weigh in as well.
Q: What about the branches that have closed? What’s being done to ensure everyone has a voice?
A: We had to close some regions because not all were performing at the same level. We drew up 19 points that a region needed to meet in order to be affiliated with the NPA. Some of those things we included are a common mission, vision, bylaws and having an operational website. The other regions were able to do that. The Rocky Mountain and West regions notified us that they would not be able to. We feel an NPA membership should carry significance.
We’re hiring a dedicated state government relations person whose full-time job will be advocacy in the states that are not covered by a regional NPA. We’re also trying to involve more retailers by reaching out through the media and encouraging existing members to involve their colleagues.
Q: Beyond advocacy, what else do you offer retailers?
A: Being the voice of the industry is the most important thing we do, but we also provide discounted products and services such as health insurance for small businesses, and help with adverse-event reporting. At Natural MarketPlace, retailers can get the latest information on the industry and mingle with colleagues.
I think we’re fortunate in that we are in an industry that is growing. I know some retailers are hurting. It’s a tough economy, but we are doing better than most other industries. As the overall economy continues to improve, that’s going to help us even more.