New leadership at Maryland Retailers Association

Patrick Donoho to take over as president of the trade group

  • Patrick Donoho, the new president of the Maryland Retailers Association, is pictured outside the organization's headquarters in Annapolis. se
Patrick Donoho, the new president of the Maryland Retailers… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
May 30, 2010|By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

For nearly a quarter-century, the same man has guided the legislative agenda and business interests of area retailers including Macy's, Target and Walmart as head of the Maryland Retailers Association.

Now Tom Saquella, a familiar fixture in Annapolis, is ready to retire and will pass the reins in July to Patrick Donoho, also a veteran lobbyist who has done extensive work with retailers. Donoho, 58, takes the helm of the trade group as retailers are starting to recover from one of the worst economic times in decades.

Some of the state's longest-running retail institutions have shuttered their doors, and just about every retailer has cut back on hiring. National retailers also have downsized, leaving vacant spaces in shopping centers around the state. MRA's ranks have dropped to about 350, down from more than 600 before the recession.

Businesses that sell any kind of merchandise are eligible to become members of the organization and pay dues based on their sales. MRA lobbies the legislature, offers discounts on services such as insurance, and holds an annual conference as well as networking events.

Donoho acknowledges the industry's economic challenges but believes this can be a time of renewal. The vice president for government relations at the Alexandria, Va.-based International Bottled Water Association said his 30 years of experience in government relations will help him help lead Maryland's retailers out of the recession.

He has also held positions with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the Tobacco Institute and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. He also worked for Revco Discount Drug Stores, the large chain that emerged from bankruptcy in the early 1990s to be sold to Rite Aid a few years later.

Donoho takes over as president of the association in mid-June. Saquella will stay on and help with the transition before retiring. Donoho recently talked to The Baltimore Sun about his new role.

Question: Why do you think you're a good fit for the job?

Answer: One is my experience. I worked in very large organizations and small organizations. I've done almost everything it takes, from meeting planning to member recruitment to lobbying to communications throughout my career. Secondly, I guess retailing gets in your blood. I started with a national association with chain drug stores and spent five years with them and 10 years with Revco drugstores, and it got in my blood.

Q: What is your first priority for the association?

A: One is to get a solid plan that the members support and are actively involved with in terms of the direction of the association and where they want to be in the next five years. The second thing is membership — to recruit members, retain members, all those type of things.

Q: Can you expound on membership? I know that it has dropped recently.

A: From my understanding, the last couple of years have been particularly difficult, specifically for the independent retailers. We've had a number of retailers go out of business in all different shapes and sizes. The economy had a very direct impact on the livelihood of the retail industry in Maryland, as it did every place in the country. I think we need to start and build that base again and help that base get back on a better economic footing.

Q: What do you think will be your biggest challenge?

A: Getting to know people in a short period of time. The General Assembly starts in January. We've got an election in between. And I've got a whole bunch of members to know and elected officials and interest groups and association people and lobbyists.

Q: MRA has been largely a lobbying group; do you plan to keep it that way or expand to different areas?

A: When I look at MRA when it was located in Baltimore years ago, it had a credit bureau that provided services and had less of a lobbying function. For 120 days, the focus was on the legislature, and the rest of the time it was on service. In 1985, they moved to Annapolis and hired Tom [Saquella]. And I think they've still got a pretty good mix of services and provide to members a legislative effort. I think a challenge for me is going to be selling both to the current members and figuring out what would be the value in that whole mix.

Q: What kind of changes will you make to the organization?

A: I don't know of any changes right off the bat. I believe in evolution and not revolution.

Q: Have you ever run a retail store and, if not, why do you think you best represent retailers?

A: I have never actually been in charge of running a retail store. But the 10 years I worked for Revco drugstores taught me a lot about running retail stores.

Q: Such as what?

A: Everything from how to run payroll to the influence of costs on profits, to operational issues that make a real big difference.

Q: What happened to Revco?

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