What Is the National Retail Federation (NRF)?

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is a retail trade association, founded in 1911, that is made up of members from all phases of the retail industry, including department stores, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet and independent retailers, restaurant chains, and grocers, as well as businesses that supply goods and services to retailers. The NRF, formerly called the National Retail Dry Goods Association in 2011, forms an umbrella over many state, national and international retail associations.

Key Takeaways

  • The National Retail Federation (NRF) started in 1911 and continues to be the leading and largest group of retailers worldwide.
  • Its lobbying arm is long and it is actively engaged in advocating for legislation and setting policy agenda around issues of labor, commerce, healthcare, and workforce development.
  • The NRF Foundation offers scholarships, grants, and training to those interested in working in the retail industry.
  • Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer. Approximately 52 million Americans work in retail.
  • The Big Show, NRF's annual convention, with over 40,000 attendees, will take place in NYC in 2022.

Understanding the National Retail Federation (NRF)

The National Retail Federation states that it is the largest association of retailers in the world. It represents a wide variety of retail segments in the United States and over 45 countries. It also holds a large annual convention dubbed “The Big Show,” held in New York City over multiple days.

Based in Washington, D.C., the NRF offers memberships to retailers, industry partners, universities and students, and distributes retail-focused publications such as newsletters and STORES magazine.

The NRF has several divisions dealing with different aspects of retailing, such as technology and education. Known as the “Voice of Retail,” the NRF prides itself on representing the merchants that impact and connect with the everyday lives of the American consumer.

The NRF is also a lobbyist group that spends its time, energy, and money lobbying for and supporting legislature that impacts the retail industry and labor practices. For example, in July 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, the NRF lobbied that all retailers adopt a mask mandate for shoppers and employees in all stores.

The NRF Foundation

The NRF created the NRF Foundation, a nonprofit, to provide resources and experiences for those interested in jobs or long-term careers in retail. Its main goal is to support the next generation of potential retail leaders. The NRF Foundation’s offerings include a career center, job boards, and training. It also provides scholarship programs for retail employees and students.

The foundation's RISE UP training and credential program offers skills and practical hands-on opportunities for students at over 900 high schools, career, and technical education centers, and workforce boards in the United States. RISE UP's curriculum and exams are industry-recognized. The foundation created this program in collaboration with major retailers, including Walmart, The Home Depot, Burlington Stores, Macy’s, BJs Wholesale Club, and Nordstrom.

According to its website, over 400,000 people received RISE Up credentials. In addition, the NRF Foundation has awarded over half-million dollars in college scholarships. It provides in-person and virtual programming to help interested young people and others learn more about the retail industry and gain introductions and insights from industry experts.

NRF Membership

The NRF offers memberships for retailers, industry partners, universities, and global membership, the Federation of International Retail Associations (FIRA). Depending on the membership, NRF offers member-specific networking and event opportunities, access to curated online content, like research reports, and provides opportunities for advocating on policy issues. University members gain access to exclusive events and content designed to benefit students studying the retail industry, plus access to NRF-supported scholarships for students at member universities.

The cost of membership varies depending on the category. For example, a university membership's annual fee is $1,000, FIRA's annual dues are $1,400, and membership dues for retailers and industry partners vary.

The National Retail Federation focuses on the strong representation of the retail industry and advocates for policies that support and protect the retail industry. The NRF Foundation works to educate the public about innovation in the industry and educate and encourage those interested in working in the retail market.

Retail's Big Show

The NRF's Big Show is the oldest (over 100 years old) retail conference and expo in North America. It typically takes place over four days in January at the Javits Center in New York City, where it hosts tens of thousands of guests (over 40,000 in 2020), with over 700 booths, lectures, classrooms, industry gatherings, networking opportunities, guest speakers, new tech demonstrations and innovation labs, and a gala.

In 2021, the Big Show moved to a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be back at the Javits Center in January 2022 for its usual four days, plus an opening party the night before the conference hall opens.

NRF FAQs

What Is the Purpose of the National Retail Federation?

The purpose of the National Retail Federation is to act as an advocate for public policy that impacts retailers, to educate lawmakers and the public about the role of retail, to train young people for successful careers in the retail industry, and to provide opportunities for fellowship, networking, and provide insights to NRF members, like universities and associate retailers, among others.

Who Runs the National Retail Federation?

The National Retail Federation is run by a board of directors and an executive committee. Its chairman is Mike George, president and CEO of Qurate Retail, Inc.

What Is the NRF Certification?

The NRF offers a Retail Industry Fundamentals credential program that you can earn by enrolling in the 10-lesson certification course. The program offers a broad overview of topics in the retail industry, including workplace safety, economic impacts, customer service, and sales basics.