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Can you hear me now?

CFA orchestrates many voices into one choir


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The Coalition of Franchisee Associations is not a group of angry franchisees, complaining about their franchisors. It's a politically savvy group of leaders from mature associations. We expected to find a room full of Democrats; we found Republicans.

OK, franchise pundits, see if you can name the franchise association that identified card check - that looming legislation that would eliminate secret ballots, therefore making it easier for employees to join a union - as its No. 1 2009 legislative issue.

If you said the International Franchise Association, you'd only get partial credit. The group we're referring to is the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, a franchisee association, that's just recently thrown its wallet into the ring to oppose card check.

Why? "If I want to organize a franchise with company and franchisee units, I'll go to the franchisee first," Rick Berman, president of Berman and Co., a D.C.-based public affairs company, told CFA members. "You should have a stronger dog in the fight than the guy in a job (the franchisor). If card check is passed, it could be catastrophic."

Getting a strong dog in the fight was the intent of CFA's inaugural political action forum, which brought together about 100 officers from its member independent franchisee associations, including Burger King's National Franchisee Association, Supercuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Pizza Hut and Dunkin' Donuts.

The association of associations was founded in 2007 and collectively represents more than 14,000 franchisees employing more than 1.2 million people.

"We started a PAC (political action committee) because we want to be on the Hill with dollars," said Frank Capaldo, CFA chairman.

The two-day event introduced members to Washington political insiders, such as William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Guy Harrison, executive director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as updates on the four issues that were identified as the 2009 legislative priorities: Employee Free Choice Act (card check), Credit Card Fair Fee Act, Arbitration Fairness Act and Paid Sick Leave. The CFA supports the fair fee act and arbitration fairness act, which would address mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts, and opposes mandated paid-leave programs, which they say would increase small-businesses' costs.

 

CFA Chairman Frank Capaldo called the gathering "a momentous occasion."

The Coalition's goal is to become the collective voice of franchisees - "advocating beyond brands." This first annual gathering was a "momentous occasion," Capaldo told the group.

Franchisee issues are franchisee issues, he said, so why not band together to have a bigger impact than any one association could do on its own?

"We have the same interest on certain subjects and we have the clout together to purchase anything we want," he said. "Together, we're bigger than a Fortune 500 company."

The group's focus will be on legislation, education and training, purchasing co-ops and shared research. But it will also use its collective buying power for large-ticket items. "The BK association has to buy hotel rooms (for meetings), so does Supercuts and Meineke," Capaldo said. So it only makes sense to band together to get a price break on items and services they all need.

Buying power also translates into political power, which is the message CFA wants leaders of the independent associations to bring back to their memberships.

It's one thing for the leaders of the associations to be active, but it will have even more impact if their memberships are also politically active.

 

CFA members gathered for a group photo before tackling lobbying duties during the association's first political action day in D.C.

"We need to get business-friendly representatives elected," said Loren Goodridge, a Subway franchisee and the CFA's government relations chairman. Goodridge introduced the CFAvotes.com Web site, which will provide action alerts and form-letters that can be customized to send to each franchisee's representatives to comment on the issues.

Attendees also heard from Grady Hedgespeth, director of the office for financial assistance for the SBA, and Giovanni Coratolo, executive director of the Council of Small Business for the U.S. Chamber, both of whom talked about the stimulus package, which at the time was still being debated in Congress. Hedgespeth's announcement that the SBA "will be moving aggressively to unclog the secondary (loan) market" was welcome news.

And while the other three bills were explained in detail by members, the one issue that took center stage was card check.

Political strategist Berman said he has been working on the card check issue for the past few years. "This will pass or fail in the Senate by one vote," he predicted. "Just a handful of Senators are undecided. We're trying to make it very difficult to vote yes on it."

Not donating money to defeat the bill, he said, is like putting your hard-earned money into the hands of the unions. "If you say you can't afford it," he said, "higher labor costs and lower sales aren't in the budget either."

 

Subway franchisee Loren Goodridge served as CFA's government relations chairman.

His ending note had an ominous ring: "You'd have to be a horrible labor organizer to not be able to organize the majority of businesses in this room."

Later in the day, card check was revisited by Ken McCarren, CFA's secretary and a franchisee with Pizza Hut. He pointed out that unionization of workplaces would create a nightmare for business owners, who might be forced to negotiate with multiple unions.

"In the commercials (aired by the unions in support of the law), we're pictured as fat cats," he said. "Do you see yourself that way?"

The big picture

Michael Dunn, chairman of Michael E. Dunn & Associates, a public and government affairs consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia, was as much fun as he was informative. He told the group he liked the entrepreneurial mindset: "You only get to eat what you kill."

He cautioned attendees to "think in terms of politics not party." There are myriad associations in Washington, he said - the association listing in the Yellow Pages is the largest section in the phone book - and more and more new groups jump into the fray every day. To get your voice heard requires numbers, he said, adding that the Coalition had the right idea of orchestrating smaller associations into one large, booming voice.

 

Committee member, Jim Harrison, and NFA Chairman William Harloe Jr. talk with CFA Day Forum keynote speaker William Kristol.

"For every issue there's an association putting their spin on the facts," he said, "so political power brings your facts to the forefront."

A changes in policy now means a voter can't buy their representatives a "lunch or a pop." Breaking bread together is the "gold standard of networking, and now it's not available," Dunn said.

What is available is becoming that thin sliver at the top of the influence pyramid that has a personal connection with the representatives through donating time and money to his or her campaign, convincing others to donate time and money and/or fund raising for the candidate.

"When you invest in a candidate, you invest in his personal career," Dunn pointed out. "You remember people who helped you on the way up. It's the same. He (or she) may not vote your way all the time, but 80 percent is better than none."

Dunn also suggested sending personal, not form letters or e-mails to representatives. "Relate it to your business and where you live," he said. "Keep it short and simple. Anything that can be read while it's being thrown away." Phone calls also work, as do faxes. Give personal stories and examples on how the law will affect your business, not just overviews. "Drill down to how it will affect your business on a personal level," he said. And, be someone they want to hear from. "I know nobody wants to make political contributions, but it's a reality you've got to accept," he said.

It's a state of mind

Politics also need to be monitored on the local and state level, according to Scott Ward, president and general counsel of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a caucus of Republican state leaders.

"All wisdom doesn't reside in Washington," he told the group, reminding them of the infamous phrase no local jurisdiction likes to hear: "I'm from Washington and I'm here to help."

 

Jon Hodge, center, took the lead as the CFA group talks to a staffer on Capitol Hill.

Associations need to track state and local issues that affect businesses, such as menu-labeling, architectural restrictions and higher fees. "You have to fight it in every state, because eventually it will make it to your state," Ward said, adding it's also important to support good legislation so that it too will be copied.

Getting to know your state representatives is important, he added, because they're the "farm team" for national offices.

"Five years ago, Obama was a state senator," he said. "Think about the relationship you'd have now with the President if you'd spent time letting him know your views then."

What's next?

William Kristol, a political analyst and founder of The Weekly Standard, was introduced as the "hottest pundit in town."

"This is a totally unpredictable, fluid moment," he said. "I feel we're in unchartered waters."

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