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NRF, RILA Call Off Merger

Retail Industry Leaders Association and National Retail Federation will keep operating as separate organizations.

WASHINGTON — The retail industry’s two largest trade and lobbying groups have called off merger talks and will continue to operate as separate organizations with their own memberships and agendas.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association and National Retail Federation said Wednesday they were ending merger discussions and declined to provide any further details.

“Following a deliberative process, RILA and NRF have ended discussions aimed at merging the two organizations,” the two boards of directors said. “NRF and RILA will devote all resources to continuing the work they are each doing to address the serious issues that America’s consumers and retailers are facing in today’s economic environment.”

Sandy Kennedy will remain as president of RILA, and Tracy Mullin will remain as president and chief executive officer of NRF until her contract expires in January. The association could renew her contract if the board requests it, according to a spokesman.

A RILA spokesman said its board voted unanimously to end merger discussions. An NRF spokesman said its board did not hold an official vote, but was involved in discussions with RILA’s board and reached a joint conclusion to end the talks.

RILA and NRF said in April that they had agreed in principle to merge, bringing together the memberships and financial clout of the industry’s two powerful lobbying groups against a backdrop of a shrinking retail landscape struggling to survive the recession.

The NRF’s annual budget is $35 million and RILA’s annual budget is an estimated $13 million.

Both groups declined to comment on why the merger talks fell through, but the composition of their memberships was vastly different, which often led them to focus on disparate sets of policy and issue priorities.

RILA represents 65 retailers and 200 members, including most major discounters and mass merchants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Target Corp. Its membership also consists of product manufacturers.

The NRF includes 2,500 members such as Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney, J. Crew Group, Levi Strauss & Co., Limited Brands Inc., Liz Claiborne Inc. and Neiman Marcus Inc.