There’s a very interesting situation brewing here in Boulder, Colorado between two mom’s groups. In one corner of the ring is Moxie Moms, who’ve been around for a couple of years, and in the other corner is the new group Babes and Babies. They’re ostensibly competing for the same resource – mothers in the local area – but their tactics are quite different.
The story is covered with unusual directness by the local paper: Moms groups in spat over business-partner offerings.
Before I talk about what’s happening, though, I want to talk about Nintendo, because a few years ago they got into significant trouble with the Department of Justice over violations of the so-called RICO anti-racketeering laws. These laws were originally created to fight organized crime (read “the mafia”) but turn out to be applicable to business too.
The situation was that Nintendo was refusing to let merchants sell Nintendo products if they sold video games from other vendors. If the merchant agreed to work with Nintendo, however, the company would supply them with a big, fancy “Nintendo Power Center” merchandising package that included banners, large cut-out graphics, co-op marketing dollars and various other things to help the merchant maximize its in-store sales.
As you can imagine, the other video game companies (Sega and Sony, as I recall) weren’t impressed and their lawyers contacted the Department of Justice who, after a heated court case, agreed with the plaintiffs and fined Nintendo millions of dollars for anticompetitive activities and racketeering.
[Of course, Nintendo managed to turn a tragedy into a boon by paying out the millions in fines to affected gamers by sending them discount coupons on future game purchases, a move that impresses me to this day.] The point, however, is that US law basically states that coercive business practices are not acceptable, whether you’re Pepsi telling a vendor that they can’t carry Pepsi products if they have any Coke products in the store (however, they can apparently say that they won’t supply Pepsi logo coolers for free, but there are plenty of convenience stores that carry both lines of beverages) or if you’re Apple telling a computer store that they can’t carry PCs if they have Apple systems (hence Apple opening up its own stores).
Which brings us back to Moxie Moms, here in Colorado. With a membership of 800 mothers, Moxie Moms has found it easy to get sponsorships from local vendors who are excited about the opportunity to get in front of this high-purchasing-power group and are happy to extend discounts.
Enter Kristi Kaylor Schwartz, who founded Babes and Babies, and is going to many of the same merchants asking for a discount for her members too.
So far, nothing’s amiss.
Until you find out that Susan Lavelle, leader of Moxie Moms, is tightening the screws on participating vendors, saying quite bluntly that if they support B&B that they can no longer be involved with Moxie Moms. Merchants are put in a position of having to choose between one of these informal non-profit groups and another.
The vendors aren’t very happy about this turn of events, either, nor should they be. Lynne Milot, for example, owner of the popular Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe that supports well over fifty different organizations in Boulder, said she doesn’t want to have to decide between the two. Stephanie Moore, owner of Boulder maternity boutique Becoming Mothers, went a step further, sending out email to many of the sponsoring vendors complaining that “Moxie Moms is attempting to influence how we all do business by proposing an ‘either/or’ paradox.”
In the end, I think the decision is easy: Moxie Moms is overstepping ethical and acceptable behavior and acting like this is Chicago in the 20s rather than Colorado in the 21st Century. Its behavior is racketeering, blackmail, no more, no less, and there are laws in this country against such practices.
But the solution’s easy: every vendor that cares about the mission of the groups should immediately realize that Moxie Moms has grown a bit “too big for its britches” and cancel its support. Whether or not the merchants sign with Babes and Babies is far less concerning to me, but any merchant that considers acceding to the outrageous demands of Moxie Moms should remember that the only way to deal with bullying is to stand up and say no!
Meanwhile, can’t we all just figure out how to work together, in cooperation and harmony? Is it really this hard?