Small-Business Groups Band Together to Form New Coalition

Seven trade associations representing a variety of industries are launching a new coalition aimed at "bringing the conversation back to issues that matter" to small businesses.

When Advocates for Independent Business (AIB) was officially announced last month, it was essentially a formality, a logical next step for the group of seven small-business associations.

We feel that we understand small businesses to the point where we can be more effective for them.

“A group of us execs have been meeting for a number of years, talking about issues that all of our members share,” said Kathleen McHugh, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), one of the founding organizations. “We all banded together one year and went to Washington as an unofficial coalition of independent trade organizations. That worked out so well that we decided to formalize it and give ourselves an identity, so that when we talk to other organizations like ourselves, we would be able to explain who were are and what we’re trying to do.”

AIB—whose founding members, in addition to ASTRA, include the American Booksellers Association, American Independent Business Alliance, the Independent Running Retailers Association, National Bike Dealers Association, Professional Association of Innkeepers International, and Record Store Day—plans to focus on creating a “level playing field” for retailers of all sizes. Specifically, McHugh said, the group will push for passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act—which would require online and catalog retailers to collect sales tax—and state-by-state online sales tax laws. AIB will support better access to capital for small businesses.

“We don’t feel that there’s really anybody who is truly representing the small mom-and-pop businesses in Washington right now,” she said. “There are a lot of groups who you would think represent small business, but they don’t. We feel that we understand small businesses to the point where we can be more effective for them.”

Having a smaller, more focused agenda will help differentiate AIB from other organizations that support small businesses, said McHugh. AIB will be open to working with those groups on various issues. “We absolutely see opportunities to collaborate with other groups, especially if they share our core values,” she said.

AIB also hopes to change the conversation in the media about small businesses through a survey of its member groups’ members that will gauge the health of the small-business community.

“You always hear about how poorly independent businesses are doing and how they’re falling off cliffs,” said McHugh. “We want to help the media understand that there’s a lot of strong independent businesses out there, and some of them are doing really well. We’re just facing challenges just like any other business.”

For AIB itself, one challenge will be “just getting groups interested in what we’re doing and taking the time away from our regular association work to take on this extra added presence that we’re trying to create,” she said. “We could try and tackle things by ourselves, but we can only be so effective. So expanding our reach is going to be hugely important.”

The associations in the coalition have one big thing in common: They're focused on independent, main-street businesses. (iStock/Thinkstock)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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