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Independent grocery and convenience stores in the state of Washington operate on razor-thin margins — so thin that even small changes to their expenses can put them out of business. Yet these businesses, which are often family-owned, play a vital role in their communities, sometimes as one of the only sources of fresh food and groceries.

With almost 400 members representing over 1,500 stores, the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) advocates for the interests of independent grocers, convenience stores, and their suppliers across the state at every level of government. Members are sometimes the only grocery store in their locality, so they become ingrained in the community and represent much more for the consumers than a big chain store.

Protecting Members & Consumers at the Hyper-Local Level

WFIA leverages technology to protect not only its business members but also the consumers they serve. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many municipalities across the nation proposed or passed hazard pay legislation for grocery store employees in response to the increased health risk these workers faced. 

While publicly traded national grocery chains saw profits increase during the pandemic, smaller independent chains struggled to stay afloat as consumers shifted to shopping online. For these smaller grocery stores, hazard pay wage increases could be enough to force them out of business, leaving some consumers without reliable access to food.

Keeping track and staying ahead of these discussions across municipalities is no easy task. But WFIA has a powerful tool on its side: FiscalNote’s local monitoring service Curate, which helps it track local laws, resolutions, speeches, hearings, and more in all local governments across Washington state.

“We were able to be proactive and get out in front of it because we had a heads up through Curate,” says Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association. “And that was just huge because then we could get boots on the ground, get those members engaged and talking to council members before it even got to a vote. We were successful in most jurisdictions in getting our independent grocers out of hazard pay by being able to get in front of this. We got stuck in a few of them, but not many because Curate helped us — I’m just a huge fan.”

We were successful in most jurisdictions in getting our independent grocers out of hazard pay by being able to get in front of this.

Tammie HetrickPresident and CEO, Washington Food Industry Association

Mobilizing Members Across the State to Affect Policy Decisions

When issues do reach the state’s capitol, Hetrick’s team relies on FiscalNote’s flagship advocacy solution, VoterVoice, to mobilize WFIA’s members, make their voices heard, and allow them to be part of policy conversations.

“It’s so much more impactful to have the legislator hear directly from people in their district,” says Katie Doyle, government affairs director at the Washington Food Industry Association. “We’re great at our jobs and we’re proud of what we are able to accomplish, but VoterVoice gives us the ability to share the unique perspective that independent grocery or convenience stores have on an issue.”

One example is when earlier this year, the legislature had proposed to repeal a 2003 “ergonomics” law, which would have allowed Washington’s Labor and Industries agency the authority to set new rules on working practices to address musculoskeletal injuries. There’s a lot of repetitive movement in the grocery industry so this was a huge issue for WFIA and its members as this bill would have translated into an important cost burden to these businesses.

“We had almost a quarter of [our members] respond to that action alert and send these messages to their lawmakers saying ‘please do not pass this, this is going to cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, we already do X, Y, and Z to make sure that ergonomic injuries aren’t happening in our industry, and we’re really cognizant of that,’” says Doyle. “Because of those messages, our industry was one of the business leaders on the issue. And VoterVoice was instrumental in making sure that our voices were heard and that that bill did not end up passing.”

VoterVoice gives us the ability to share the unique perspective that independent grocery or convenience stores have on an issue.

Katie DoyleGovernment Affairs Director, Washington Food Industry Association

Enabling Membership Growth

One of the biggest draws for an association is the advocacy work it does to protect members’ interests at the legislative level. Powered by VoterVoice, the Washington Food Industry Association has established itself as the best advocate for independent grocers and convenience stores, allowing it to continue growing its membership throughout the state.

“It’s really important that lawmakers hear from their constituents and people in their district about how the policy that they’re considering is going to impact them,” says Doyle. “VoterVoice has been huge for us in getting our members to engage because it’s so easy for them to do.”

But not all independent food businesses immediately get the big picture of the advocacy work; it might seem too far or foreign to them. That’s where the power of Curate becomes a big pull for WFIA to attract new members.

“With Curate, we were able to really track local government and … we had new members engage that normally wouldn’t be part of an association because they don’t understand the advocacy part of it and why it’s so important. But when things started to get local, then those members started to better understand the importance and value of membership,” Hetrick says. “We absolutely find Curate so invaluable to us.” 

Unlocking Future Expansion with VoterVoice and Curate

Over the last two years, digital advocacy went from a nice-to-have to a must-have for associations across the country. The global pandemic and the urgency of certain issues forced everyone to engage virtually in one way or another. Similarly, local governments have been emboldened to take a more active and impactful role in the policymaking process.

Given these new realities, the Washington Food Industry Association is well-positioned to take on emerging challenges and continue to grow, successfully representing food industry players in the state with Curate and VoterVoice on its side.

One of the association’s priorities is growing its membership around convenience stores. These small businesses might not be immediately drawn to the important advocacy work Hetrick’s team does, but they are attracted by the local government intelligence they can gain. Hetrick uses Curate to keep track of the trends and issues that are coming up and could affect this growing audience to show them the value of membership.

“Using Curate is key for us because it does allow us to track anything that might be coming up — because we know once it comes up in a hearing then it’s probably going to be legislation at some point,” says Hetrick. 

On the advocacy front, ease of use will continue to be paramount for WFIA. As it grows its membership, engaging and mobilizing members will depend on how easy it is for them.

“VoterVoice is a great tool because it’s an easy way for us to pre-populate messages, it’s super easy for [advocates] to personalize the message, and then send those messages directly to lawmakers on big issues that are going to have a significant impact on our industry,” Doyle says.

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