As the August congressional recess approaches, your members of Congress will soon be back in their home districts, reconnecting with constituents and preparing for the final stretch of campaign season. This is the perfect time to reach out to legislators and candidates and invite them to tour your yard. They are eager to get to know the employers in their districts.
Even if–particularly if–your legislator doesn't have a strong pro-business track record, showing him or her first hand the challenges you face as a business owner is a valuable exercise that may help change perspective on the issues. At the very least, it establishes a dialogue that can pay off over time.
As the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) continues working to garner cosponsors for the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 989), we frequently hear that legislators want to know how lawsuit abuse affects their constituents. By showing them how you operate, you can help them understand that abusive lawsuits take time away from running your business, particularly in these challenging times.
We liken building relationships with legislators to cultivating new customers. Many building materials dealers have had the opportunity to supply materials to their legislators. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) proudly boasts that he only shops his local independent hardware store when at home. Carl Tindell of Tindell's Inc., Knoxville, Tenn., supplied the materials for a home that Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) recently built. You can bet that when the congressman sees his list of phone calls to return, Tindell's name jumps out.
Diana Perenza of New York's Florence Corp. makes sure to keep information on hand to share when local legislators, like Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.), stop by the yard. Lumber dealers provide excellent service, and that can pay off in spades when your customer also represents you in Washington.
If you're interested in hosting your legislator for a yard tour, NLBMDA provides a "Yard Tour Toolkit" at www.BuildtheVote.org. It includes sample invitations and all the supporting materials you will need. Also, consult the NLBMDA Voting Guide to see how your legislators have voted on key issues this year, then thank them or ask them to explain their votes. And be sure to download an "Innocent Sellers Cheat Sheet" with key talking points to help make the case for their support of this important measure.
If you can't find time to plan a special event, consider simply inviting your legislator to attend an event you're already staging, such as a summer picnic. Just send an invitation to the legislator's district office. You can find contact information under the "Your Elected Officials" tab on www.BuildtheVote.org. If you need help getting started or preparing, don't hesitate to contact NLBMDA at 800.634.8645. After the event, be sure to send a photo to NLBMDA to be featured in a future publication.
–Colleen Rocha Levine is NLBMDA's director of government affairs. 800.634.8645. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org