Did you hear?...NRF and RILA agree to merge -- are association mergers a coming trend in these economic times?

The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association have agreed in principle to a merger, saying they will create a single trade association that will speak with one voice to advance the industry and its more than 15 million workers. Does this foreshadow other mergers to come among industry associations?
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The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association have agreed in principle to a merger, saying they will create a single trade association that will speak with one voice to advance the industry and its more than 15 million workers. Does this foreshadow other mergers to come among industry associations?

The two groups say the benefits of their coming together to their members include: enhancing member value; unified lobbying on policy, communications, and public affairs issues in Washington, D.C.; and focused educational offerings and operational services for independent retailers.

If both association memberships vote in favor of the merge, RILA and NRF expect the process to be completed by this summer.

Non-profits and associations are not immune to the current economic climate. As large and small retail doors close, coffers dwindle as dues dry up. Organizations that haven't shored up reserves could find themselves exploring mergers with like-minded groups to survive.

"OIA has a strategic reserve fund for dramatic changes in terms of revenue stream. It would take something dramatic like a cry or need for help from one organization to the other that we would get into discussions," Mike Wallenfels, chairman of the Outdoor Industry Association board of directors and president of Mountain Hardwear, told SNEWS®.

In addition to dues from retail and wholesale members, OIA's revenue stream also includes financial support from the Nielsen-owned Outdoor Retailer trade shows, which the association endorses. In 2002, Outdoor Retailer and SnowSports Industries America discussed merging or co-locating their winter shows, but, ultimately, decided against the move. (Click here to see the April 8, 2002, SNEWS story, "Joint Effort To Combine 2003 SIA/OR Shows Ended.")

Wallenfels sees OIA's merger with another association, like SIA or other niche group, as highly unlikely. OIA and SIA have around a 15 percent crossover, SNEWS was told.

"The SIA show is a trade show put on by the association; OIA is an association that partners with Outdoor Retailer to put on the show. You have two different species. (OIA and SIA's) business models are so incongruent with one another that they don't easily merge into one. It would take a significant change in either association structure or trade show structure to make such a merger possible," Wallenfels said.

"There is definitely crossover in brands and retailers, but it remains a minority of the total attendees," he added.

Since OIA is not focused on any one activity, it has association relationships with several entities, including SIA, BikesBelong, AFFTA, DEMA, Adventure Travel Trade Association, KOA, National Sportsman Foundation, among others.

"We will always keep any options open that best serve the industry. Events such as this prolonged recessionary period can always bring a new perspective," Wallenfels said. "OIA has a lot on our plate with new programs and strategic plan that is guiding OIA for 2009/10…making the immediate need for a merger not as urgent as serving the needs of our members that are being impacted by the economy."

--Wendy Geister

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