Pugh & Tiller’s Megan Bozman, spoke with Maryland Retailers Association (MRA) President, Cailey Locklair, about the impact of COVID-19 on retail businesses and Maryland citizens.
The MRA is the retail community’s major statewide trade association. MRA encompasses all segments of the retail industry and includes both local, independent merchants and national and regional chains.
MRA lobbies at the state and local levels on behalf of membership, which includes businesses on designated main streets, chain drug and grocery stores, large retailers such as Home Depot and Macy’s, and various small businesses. They also hold events, and offer members free legal advice as well as cost-savings benefits on the things they need to do business, such as insurance and office supplies.
Frequent Communications During Crisis
Previously, we communicated with our membership via a monthly email. Of course, that changed as the pandemic progressed. At one time, we were emailing every-other day as info came out that membership needed to know urgently. Now it’s down to one day a week.
Helping Lead in Maryland
MRA helped lead the governor’s advisory group on retail and tourism. I’ve been asked about business practices and how to reopen businesses. I’ve also been frequently asked by small business groups, and government entities to talk about various topics.
Providing Helpful Resources and Sharing Nationwide Best Practices
We have national partners that got together and convened groups of businesses all over the country. There are retail associations in every state, and some were way ahead of us in terms of reopening. MRA looked at best practices nationwide and went through stages of reopening and what’s needed at each stage to not only comply with the CDC, but go above and beyond to make customers and employees comfortable.
Based on the governor’s retail advisory group, we produced a major document that runs through anything and everything you can think about. Our task force had identified some priority areas, and we broke down stages of reopening.
You can spend hours on websites such as the FDA and CDC and suffer from information overload. We filtered all of the info for our members. We also worked to include multiple categories such as food-safety, and we standardized health and inspection forms. While our larger members had this info, for some small businesses, we were the only resource they were hearing from.
MRA created a resource page on the website that serves as a one-stop shop for COVID-19 resources. It goes through everything, including grants and loans. While not every county came out with grant programs, about one-third did, and some of the info can be tough to find, but we have it all right there.
We also compiled a business supplies page to help our members find things like floor decals, sneeze guards, and hand sanitizer. Some members really wanted to support Maryland companies, so we’ve included that information as well.
Frustrating Patchwork of Regulations
We started to see a crazy patchwork of local executive orders, and our members really got frustrated, and rightfully so. So, we put the latest orders from the state, enabling members to click and read for themselves. We also tried to include news from different localities. Otherwise you’ll have to Google a while to find some of these items. It can even be tricky to navigate the executive orders.
The Value of Expansive Buy-In
It’s nice to look at other states and best practices, such as how to mitigate problems while remaining open. We’re also commiserating, as we’re going through the same thing.
I don’t think I’ve ever talked about the state of Utah so much in my life! They put together a comprehensive public/private sector group which created guidelines for opening businesses and keeping them open. From the get-go, industries in Utah were pulled in and included on regular calls. That seamless integration really helped, and it was so well put together. They had buy-in from all of the industry, which is really important. A lot of businesses are tired of being told what to do – it’s been exhausting.
Symbiotic Relationship Benefiting Marylanders
Over 750,000 people are employed in the retail industry in Maryland, directly or indirectly. Businesses might get a bad rap, but they create jobs and pay taxes and create neighborhood stabilization. Additionally, many businesses have donated money to help food banks and recovery efforts, particularly those that have stayed open.
Recruiting New MRA Members
A lot of our membership growth during the pandemic has been organic. The MRA has been working diligently to help and guide people through this. For a while, we couldn’t physically meet with the majority of businesses we typically talk to about membership, which impeded membership growth. We’re now marketing ourselves by talking to people on the phone or zoom.
Coping with a Potential Second Wave?
Many have raised concerns about a second wave and the possibility of needing to shut down again. At this point, we see how devastating that economic shut down was to every industry and the economy, unemployment insurance, mental health, and obstacles to accessing healthcare. I remain optimistic that we’re going to find a way forward through it where we don’t shut everything down again. There are so many things in place now where we have a better understanding how to operate should that happen again.
With regards to other states, I have access to my colleagues with both state and national organizations around the country, so we info share as much as possible and our national partners are advocating at the federal level. Yes, we’ve seen increases in states such as Texas, Florida, and Arizona. But there are some states, such as Idaho and Wyoming, that still haven’t seen major spikes, and they never shut down the way Maryland did. Initially, businesses could offer curbside delivery, but then was taken away, which was upsetting. For many smaller businesses, that cuts off their entire ability to sell or do anything. Even if they have a website or products on a marketplace platform, that’s not going to get them through this. But it also caused supply issues for consumers. Consumers needed items and couldn’t access them because other vendors were sold out.
Stream of Weird Surprises
There have been many weird surprises and strange side-effects of COVID-19. The most recent of which is the national coin shortage, something many are still not aware of. I wasn’t yet aware when an MRA member contacted me. I spoke with bankers and discovered that the U.S. Mint’s production of coin decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees. Additionally, people aren’t using cash because they’re afraid to be touching anything physical. Finally, coin isn’t moving the way it previously did since people aren’t doing things like playing arcade games and taking public transit.
Everybody needs groceries and some families don’t always have a credit card to use, so if we don’t have coin to make change, what are we supposed to do? That’s not a situation we want our members to be in.
I spoke with the Maryland State Commissioner and Attorney General’s office to suggest they inform people and to encourage consumers to bring in coin. When the message comes from government, it’s more serious. There’s now a hashtag, “#GetCoinMoving.”
Cailey Locklair, President, Maryland Retailers Association
Cailey Locklair is the President of the Maryland Retailers Association, Maryland Chain Drug Store Association, Maryland Food Industry Council and Tri State Jewelers Association and has worked in Maryland State politics for the past fourteen years. She attended the University of Delaware where she received her Bachelor of Arts in political science and Towson University where she received her Master of Science degree in integrated homeland security management with a focus on security policy. She also holds a Certificate of Security Assessment and Management from Towson University. Previously, she worked at the Baltimore Jewish Council as their Deputy Executive Director overseeing both operations and government relations and for Speaker Michael Busch at the Maryland House of Delegates. Cailey is a member of the State’s Unemployment Insurance Legislative Oversight Committee, is Treasurer/Secretary of the Council of State Retailer Associations, sits on the board of Goodwill of the Chesapeake, serves as the Financial Advisor to the Phi Theta Chapter at Towson University and sits on the Executive Directors Council to the Maryland Tourism Development Board. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering with animal organizations, boating, playing softball for the Department of Legislative Services and is a proud “sponsor” of Naval Academy midshipman. She resides in Annapolis, MD.