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Show Me State Grocers Have A Trusted Friend In The State House

Dan Shaul on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives.
Dan Shaul on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives.

by Terrie Ellerbee/associate editor

Dan Shaul is state director of the Missouri Grocers Association (MGA) and last year added another impressive title: Missouri State Representative, 113th District.

The experience has given him, in his words, the opportunity to see “how the sausage is truly made.” The knowledge he is gaining and relationships he is building will benefit not only the grocery industry, but also business in general in the Show Me State.

In fact, the impact of his very first bill will be tremendous for business. It began as a bill to prevent local municipalities and governments from banning paper or plastic bags.

“If that it were just that, it would have been awesome,” Shaul told The Shelby Report. But when the bill went through the state senate, language was added that prevents local governments from increasing the minimum wage above those set by Missouri or the federal government, as well as preempting mandatory benefits such as vacation time and sick leave.

The freshman representative’s bill landed on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk in Jefferson City on May 27. Shaul fully expects him to veto it. But as of press time, the scuttlebutt was that there would be enough votes to override the veto.

Not bad for a first-timer, but Shaul is humble about it.

“I don’t want to say that because of me the grocery industry is better in Missouri, but I think we were able to pass some things that will help all businesses in Missouri,” Shaul said. “I’m only one vote in the capitol, but it’s a vote that is able to explain some of the issues that came before us to other members. And when you’re on the inside, you have a whole different perspective on things.”

As the bill moved along, Shaul and the MGA became high-profile targets for the likes of the The Huffington Post, The New York Times and Mother Jones.

“Missouri Grocers had a blog post that went to eight countries. It just went all over the place,” Shaul said. “It’s a little overwhelming, being a little boy from the Midwest and seeing your name in the Drudge Report. It is a little intimidating, but at the same time, you realize you are doing the right thing. It’s fun.”

The MGA would have pushed for prohibiting bag bans without Shaul in the state legislature, but “it makes it a little easier when you’re talking to legislators as a fellow legislator,” he said. “Your passion is able to come through without looking like a sales pitch.”

Another positive for Missouri grocers was a change in unemployment benefits. They have been reduced from 20 weeks to 13 and also are tied to the jobless rate. The lower the rate, the fewer weeks benefits will be received, and if joblessness is high, benefits will cap out at 20 weeks.

“That is below the national average, which makes it very favorable for business,” Shaul said.

In addition, the amount of time people may draw welfare benefits was lowered from 60 to 45 months. After that passed the Missouri legislature, the governor vetoed it, so Republicans, who enjoy majorities in both the state house and senate, were able to override it.

On June 4, Gov. Nixon vetoed another bill important to business in the state—right-to-work. It would have prohibited requiring all employees to pay union fees whether they belong to a union or not.

“It was the first time we have ever passed right-to-work out of either chamber. For it to get past both chambers and onto the governor’s desk is remarkable,” Shaul said.

Shaul said that due to some “questionable language in the bill that makes it not a perfect fit for business,” the legislature likely would not be able to override that veto. He strongly believes that right-to-work will not become law in Missouri until a Republican takes the governorship. Then it would be a “slam dunk.”



In groceries and politics it’s all about relationships

Shaul has brought the MGA new insight into government relations and says there are strong similarities between the grocery industry and the state legislature. Both rely heavily on relationships built on trust.

“The grocery industry is so consumer driven, it has a lot of similarities to being a state legislator or politician, because that is very much consumer/constituent driven,” Shaul said. “You’re constantly looking at feedback from your consumers, whether they be voters or whether they be shoppers.”

Without trust, Shaul would get nowhere in the capitol. That’s also true in the grocery industry.

“If you don’t have trust with your consumer to provide a good, safe quality product, people aren’t going to shop with you,” he said.

The MGA’s members have reacted favorably to Shaul’s new role.

“The engagement level is up politically. We had probably one of our best ‘Grocers Day at the Capitol’ this year, attended by probably near record numbers,” he said. “But the interesting thing was the level of engagement between the legislators and the members. It was just awesome to watch the conversations and the relationships continue to build. The relationships are the only thing that makes things go up there (in Jefferson City).”

Behind every vote, there are politics in play. A bill may seem to be nothing, but the lawmaker who brought it to the floor would see it differently. To gain the trust of that lawmaker, fellow legislators might vote with him or her even if the bill is irrelevant to them. Later on, they would expect reciprocation.

“On the surface it appears to be a game of checkers, when in reality it’s certainly a game of chess,” Shaul said. “There are three things that have to be weighed into each vote. How is it going to affect my constituents? How’s it going to affect my caucus? How is it going to affect my members?”

He also knows that not every vote he makes will be popular, and people may even scratch their head trying to understand why he would vote a certain way. Now that he is a state lawmaker, Shaul sees the difference between how people perceive politicians vs. the reality.

“People tend to think of politicians as kind of arrogant, knowing everything, but being in the capitol, working with fellow legislators every day, you realize that they are there for what’s in the best interest of their constituents,” he said. “You realize that they’re seeking knowledge just as you are.”

Shaul has the support not only of his members, but also his peers in the grocery industry.

“Association executives across the country have been incredibly helpful to me, not only in getting me elected but also during the time as well,” he said. “It’s a big family.”

The National Grocers Association (NGA) also was supportive of Shaul’s run for the statehouse, Laura Strange, director of communications and marketing, told The Shelby Report.

“I would say our members do view having relationships with their representatives as critical, especially in having a voice on the issues, whether that be on the state level or when you’re with NGA on the federal side,” she said. “It is so important, because the independents in the supermarket industry, they really have a positive footprint on our U.S. economy. I think sometimes representatives don’t always hear that story, and so that’s why we’re here and we rely on people like Dan and some of these other state association executives to relay that story.

“Dan is such a great example,” Strange said. “We have an association leadership award that we present on an annual basis to state association executives, and Dan was a recipient.”

Shaul received the NGA Association Leadership Award in 2012.


State’s future looks promising

Schnuck Markets Inc. will begin construction this summer on a new $100 million, state-of-the-art distribution center at NorthPark in Kinloch in north St. Louis County. It will give the family-owned company more room and a more efficient layout than its current 570,000-s.f. distribution center in Bridgeton. That facility was built in 1971 and has undergone several expansions.

“As we continue to grow, our goal is to offer customers an even larger selection and variety of quality foods, and the new NorthPark facility allows us to do just that. This expansion nearly doubles our distribution and warehousing capabilities,” said Todd Schnuck, chairman and CEO of Schnucks. “Not only is this project a big investment in the north St. Louis County community, it’s a major investment in the future of our company and demonstrates our commitment to our customers and to the St. Louis area.”

Shaul echoed that sentiment and said it is “the greatest thing to see a family-owned, Missouri-owned business expanding and making a commitment not only to St. Louis and Missouri, but to the Midwest to provide great, quality service and products to the communities it serves. “By doing that, they’re making a commitment to the future,” Shaul said. “We all know what type of commitment that is on a family-level business. Regardless of size, they’re making a substantial investment in their future. We couldn’t be happier for them here in Missouri.”

The 915,000-s.f. distribution center will be one of St. Louis County’s largest commercial developments in recent years. Schnucks expects the facility to be completed in summer 2016.

Shaul said people want reasons to expand, to grow their businesses.

“The smallest positive good news from the federal or state government is pushing those triggers to get them to expand, and Schnucks is a prime example of it,” he said. “People are starting to spend money again. I don’t know what the Federal Reserve says, but I think you go in the stores and see the traffic’s there.

“We’re going into summer and here in the Midwest we like to barbecue, and when we’re done barbecuing we like to barbecue a little bit more. So it’s going to be a fun summer, one with a lot of reasons to be happy about the way we’re going,” Shaul said. “I feel positive about what’s happening in the capitol. Now, it will probably take some time for that to trickle down to the individuals, but I feel confident about what we’re doing and the direction Missouri is headed.”

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