It’s been a major week in politics.
On Tuesday, while America waited with bated breath for primary results in winner-take-all states, Florida and Ohio, nearly 90 floral industry professionals assembled in Washington, D.C., to meet with their representatives during the Society of American Florists’ 36th annual Congressional Action Days.
During CAD, florists visited their state’s Congressional offices, where they spoke with representatives or their aides. The day before, they received coaching from SAF’s director of government relations, Shawn McBurney, and professional speaker, Stephanie Vance, of Advocacy Associates. McBurney briefed participants on issues impacting floral businesses, namely immigration reform and the STARS act. Vance demonstrated how personal stories create more powerful pitches and had participants role play with each other to test their lobbying skills.
A few of those florists took the time to tell F20 about their experience.
Jessica Cosentino, AAF, of Cosentino’s Florist in Auburn, New York, went to Washington for her fourth (official) CAD. (As a teenager, she tagged along with her father, Carmen.)
“I place a high value on my business. And as any tax-paying citizen, rules and regulations can affect your daily bottom line,” she said. “If I don’t speak up about my needs, who will?” Going as a group (florists lobby in state delegations), “makes our message more powerful,” she said. “Plus, having SAF let us know what’s going on with these issues and day to day on the Hill makes lobbying much less intimidating.”
Cosentino shared with her representatives how the definition of “seasonal worker” has a major impact for a small business “that deals with a roller coaster ride of employee work hours” with holidays and weddings and how E-Verify legislation could impact the price of flowers she buys.
Although she noticed a pause on Capitol Hill as the 2016 election siphons most people’s attention, she’s pleased she participated in the relationship-building exercise.
David Boulton, AAF, PFCI, a 20-year CAD veteran, echoed this sentiment. “It’s all about relationships,” said the owner of Flowers by George in Arlington, Washington. “I have taken advantage of the contacts from our district’s offices several times when we needed help with issues within our businesses.”
Jo Buttram, AAF, of Shirley’s Flowers in Rogers, Ark., feels confident her trip to D.C. was worthwhile.
“There is no replacement for sitting down with your senator or congressman, looking him or her in the eye and saying, ‘I need you to support this issue and it affects my business this way.’ It just so happens My senator, John Boozman, and my congressman, Steve Womack, are both from my hometown (Rogers, Ark.), so after we talk about the issues, I can ask ‘how is your wife and kids? How is your daughter’s new real estate company going?'” she said.
Buttram has no doubt that she’ll have further communications throughout the year when her representatives are home in Arkansas. Additionally, “it is exciting just to be in those historic buildings,” she said. But most of all, “I love my floral industry and always want to tell our story!”