It is true that some organisations have more clout than others through their sheer size, and there is a question about levels of dedication. But, on the whole, they are a positive thing, bringing together an unruly membership of mavericks for the common good.
Some trade associations, such as the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), which campaigns on behalf of more than 33,500 local shops, certainly have teeth, as do the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Forum of Private Business (FPB), which both attract wide general membership. In contrast, groups such as the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters (NFSP) and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) are devoted to stores specialising in a single interest with bolted-on extras.
Some bodies are regional, like the Yorkshire Independent Grocers Association (YIGA), while others concentrate on country matters such as the Rural Shops Alliance (RSA), or on one country (SGF Scottish Grocers' Federation ).
The remit for them all is to lobby on your behalf, to get you a level playing field, to inform you of impending legislation, to strike deals with service providers and to be there for you to take up your problems either singly or en masse.
There are times when several of the groups join each other, either literally or figuratively, to increase their powers; for example, the RSA and YIGA are members of ACS.
John Drummond, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers' Federation, speaks of a "very strong relationship" with ACS. "For all matters Westminster we tend to support ACS and in all matters dealing with Scottish legislation we will take the lead. In our case, we put a kilt on it!"
ACS, which grew out of the ineffective British Independent Grocers' Association to become an impressive force to be reckoned with, has scored numerous successes on behalf of all c-store operators. Every time new red tape or onerous laws are proposed or threatened you can guarantee chief executive James Lowman will be there front and centre.
"Recent lobbying successes include persuading Justice Secretary Jack Straw to strengthen policy on Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs); and securing government funding to invest in security equipment," says Lowman.
Membership benefits include:
l access to professional legal and retail consultants, subscription to the bi-monthly ACS News keeping members up to date with news stories that affect retailers, from legal requirements to environmental issues
l subscription to the bi-monthly ACS Legal Update with easy-to-understand guidance on the latest law changes
l a dedicated news arm, the Association of News Retailing, focused on the news industry
l free attendance to a broad range of events where you can hear from leading industry and government figures about the issues that matter to your business and network with fellow retailers
l member discounts on events such as ACS Summit and the annual Association of Convenience & Petroleum Retailing trip. Membership fees are £148 + VAT for a year, and each additional store is £25 + VAT.
The high-profile FSB is non-profit making and non-party political. It is the UK's largest campaigning pressure group promoting and protecting the interests of the self-employed and owners of small firms. Formed in 1974, it now has 215,000 members across 33 regions and 230 branches.
Its lobbying arm led by the Westminster Press and Parliamentary office applies pressure on MPs, government and Whitehall and puts the FSB viewpoint over to the media. FSB has offices in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast to lobby the devolved assemblies.
FSB national chairman John Wright says: "Over the past year we have helped our 215,000 members as well as the wider small business sector survive the recession by campaigning for better access to finance, an awareness of relief on business rate bills and action on late payments. Members are granted a free legal helpline as a right of membership as well as tax and financial advice among other benefits."
Registration fees and subscriptions start at £150, depending on the number of employees the business has.
Most of these groups charge membership fees and many are non-profit making (the RSA is free to join because county councils subscribe on behalf of rural shops in their area); and most have been around for some time the Scottish Federation was formed in 1819.
But they have moved with the times. YIGA, with its 200 Yorkshire members, is in fact about to rebrand. "We get enquiries from as far away as Devon," says chairman Andrew Wilby, "so we will be re-styling ourselves as Your Independent Grocers Association."
Make no mistake, the aim of these associations/federations is to save you money while offering a package of benefits and pushing the authorities to play fair.