Rent-to-own dealers and vendors from across the country met at our nation’s capital during the 2019 APRO Legislative Conference April 9-11 in Washington, D.C. This year’s conference hit its highest attendance in APRO history when there is not RTO legislation pending. The goal this year was to tell the rent-to-own story to lawmakers, so they could better understand the positive contributions of the industry to its employees, customers, and communities. The group of RTO advocates attended more than 150 meetings on Capitol Hill, representing 22 states and Puerto Rico, and included 13 state association presidents. “This year, a third of our conference attendance were first-time attendees,” according to APRO Executive Director Jill McClure. “One of the most rewarding experiences during the week was having conference newcomers connecting with our veteran advocates and seeing them huddle in the hallways together before heading into lawmakers’ offices side-by-side. That collaboration is what the future of our RTO advocacy requires to be effective.”
The purpose of the APRO Legislative Conference is to protect our industry and familiarize lawmakers with the rent-to-own industry. This will help ensure that Members of Congress have at least a passing acquaintance with how RTO really works for the continued safety and existence of the transaction. “We’re working to lay the groundwork,” says Robbie Kamerschen, APRO government relations committee chairperson and Aaron’s Inc. general counsel at the First-time Attendee Orientation. “We’re here to make friends, build relationships, connect to our local districts, and have fun.”
The highly attended Welcome Reception sponsored by Benefit Marketing Solutions was one of two new events that kicked off this year’s conference. Ample time for more networking and training was provided, including the annual Breakfast Briefing sponsored by TRIB Group before meeting face-to-face with lawmakers on the Hill, and the newly added First-time Attendee Orientation.
Special guests included James Butera and Robert Royer, nationally recognized lobbyists and attorneys who specialize in financial legislative and regulatory matters. They informed attendees about building relationships with legislative staffers who keep lawmakers up-to-date on the wide variety of issues they must deal with. “It can’t be underestimated the importance of meeting and following up with staff,” says Royer. “Write a note and follow up a month later so the next time you’re in Washington, the staff will remember you and the positive impact the RTO industry has on the economy and community.” Attendees can click here to find the mailing address for their Representatives or here for their Senators.
After a full day of successful meetings on the Hill on Wednesday, attendees were shuttled to the front steps of the Capitol building for a group photo, shuttles courtesy of Progressive Furniture. After assembling for the photo, attendees were then transported to the majestic Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center for dinner sponsored by RentDirect Nationwide.
The 2019 APRO Legislative Conference dinner, held in the rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Center, commenced with a few words from APRO Executive Director Jill McClure including a special thank you to this year’s sponsors: RentDirect Nationwide, TRIB Group, Benefit Marketing Solutions, Progressive Furniture, Garris Horn PLLC, Gemini Sound and PTS Financial Services whose financial support made the conference possible.
McClure recognized the dedication of the attendees for advocating on behalf of the industry and the importance of committing time and resources to the industry’s legislative efforts. She then introduced Bruce Manning, Director of RentDirect Nationwide, sponsor of the evening’s elegant dinner, who spoke to the group for a few minutes about why he comes to Washington and why RentDirect chose to support this event. “I’ve had a really great couple of days,” says Manning. “In our meetings, we talked a lot about integrity and customer service, and I think we built a lot of good bridges which is what this event is all about.”
Heather Kitchen, a store manager with Rent-2-Own and winner of APRO’s “What’s Your RTO Story?” contest, was also recognized at the dinner. Kitchen won a free trip to D.C. to attend the conference and personally share her inspiring RTO story with lawmakers on the Hill.
McClure then introduced footage of this year’s conference highlights produced by Nationwide PrimeMedia. The advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. on behalf of APRO and the industry, and on behalf of the thousands of people who depend on this industry for their livelihood, were documented by the Nationwide PrimeMedia film crew. Keep an eye out for the release of the final version of the video, coming soon.
APRO President Louis Garcia thanked the APRO board of directors and vendor advisory committee for their service. Garcia also recognized past board members in attendance before introducing Jim Brown, the 2018 APRO Ernie Talley Lifetime Achievement winner and sole surviving rental dealer who can claim original membership in APRO.
Brown addressed the group, giving accolades to APRO General Counsel Ed Winn and his longtime commitment to keeping dealers informed on ethical and legal issues affecting RTO. Brown also reflected on and shared advice from his many years of experience attending meetings on Capitol Hill.
The dinner concluded with surprise special guest Congressman Steve Stivers (R–Ohio, District 15). Stivers, a longtime supporter and friend of the industry, dropped in to commend the notable ongoing rent-to-own efforts at both the state and national level. “I appreciate the risks you take as entrepreneurs to drive the economy,” shares Stivers. “Employing local communities and paying your taxes is what contributes to this country.”
The 2019 APRO Legislative Conference was a success thanks to this year’s attendees and sponsors. “Historically, this annual event has worked well for building positive relationships with lawmakers, and it’s an investment we must continue to make,” says McClure. “We’d like to express our gratitude to all APRO members who traveled to Washington to advocate on behalf of not only their own businesses, but for all the employees and colleagues who depend on this industry for their livelihood.”
Please remember to submit all of your photos and meeting notes to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for more coverage in the coming weeks and the summer issue of RTOHQ: The Magazine.
Click here to view more photos of the 2019 APRO Legislative Conference.