By  on January 14, 1994

NEW YORK -- Retailers will head into the 83rd annual convention of the National Retail Federation next week buoyed by decent Christmas results and the NAFTA victory, but troubled by weak apparel sales and the specter of new taxes.

Despite being plagued by economic uncertainties, however, the industry, as represented by the NRF, seems more united on key issues and more politically motivated than usual.

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the expected liberalization of world trade under the Uruguay Round of GATT are "two major victories," said Tracy Mullin, president of NRF.

"The industry did more letter writing than ever before, the administration is willing to meet with the NRF and our ceos, and we think it's having payoffs," Mullin said. "There are 20 million employees in the retail industry. They've got to pay attention to us."

According to Mullin, major themes during the convention will be interactive shopping, international expansion and the tax implications of national health care reform. "We're looking at about a $15 billion dollar tax increase for our industry for the first year, principally because we are an employer of part-time and seasonal workers [who aren't covered]," Mullin said.

"The goal is really education -- so retailers understand the impact and are prepared to make decisions," Mullin explained. "The President's health care proposals are not necessarily final, so it's premature for us to cut deals."

The convention, being held Sunday through Wednesday at the Hilton and Sheraton hotels here, traditionally focuses on the uneasy relationships with suppliers. Now retailers are pressuring them to ship "floor-ready" merchandise and on Tuesday will hold an invitation-only meeting with three dozen department store ceos, according to W. Thomas Gould, ceo of Younkers Inc.

"We are seeking 90 percent or better floor-ready merchandise by spring 1995 -- merchandise that is UPC bar-coded, with the price on it, and with standardized hangers in cartons that are labeled for scanning," Gould said. This could cut the time merchandise sits in distribution centers from four days to one, speeding deliveries to stores, he added.

"We hope to draft a program and implement it over the next year," said Gould, who will be honored at the Green Thumb luncheon Tuesday. Gould said the ceos will also consider developing a standardized procedure for chargebacks to manufacturers for damaged merchandise. It could involve prearranged deductions based on a percent of the overall volume shipped, and giving defective merchandise to charities, instead of shipping it back to suppliers, Gould said.

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