Friday, April 1, 2011
You Are What You Sell...Right? Part 1
I am just trying to keep up here. It has recently been brought to my attention that Medela the huge breast pump manufacturer has acquired Bravado the huge nursing bra manufacturer. The article that I read didn't make it clear to me why this acquisition took place and I don't know enough about business to try and figure it out, I just assumed that Bravado was successful on its own already. Certainly in the newsletter Bravado sent out it didn't say that the company will make a boat load of money from this venture, but rather that their philosophies surrounding supporting BF Mother's align.
Now one could say it is a logical merge considering both companies are in the breastfeeding/nursing business and are simply pooling their resources and expertise, but I am not sure. Medela has come under fire for their unapologetic lack of adherence to the WHO code so it makes me wonder why a company like Bravado whose advertising and marketing hinges on support for breastfeeding would align themselves with Medela. I guess we can only speculate, but rest assured there will be plenty of opinion on this subject from here on in.
So where does this leave a small retailer who provides both Bravado nursing wear and Medela products in their community? It leaves me with a dilemma that's what. If you previously read my blog and the post about Birth Source Inc. and the WHO code you know where I stand on that issue. Just as with all the products I choose to sell I have to make choices not only based on marketing and what my customers are looking for, but I have to make ethical and moral decisions as well.
We don't prominently display our Medela products, but rather provide them for women that need them based on talking to them. We honestly feel that if we were to devote a specific, well stocked display of the plethora of Medela products available we would clearly be sending a message to our customers that says "you will need this product" instead of communicating with them first and then providing them with something "when and if they need the product". Our breast pumps are not a self serve item in our store, ensuring that a conversation takes place before one is brought to our till. There is a big difference between making products available to customers and just hawking a company's stuff because their product line is large.
Why would I have an ethical and moral dilemma about these two products you ask? I have learned over the years, what the power of marketing and brand recognition means to a company. If I had the marketing budget that either of these companies I would have a kick ass business too! But as much as it makes a business successful financially there are things that must be sacrificed to make it so. In the case of Medela they are the pump of choice in many hospitals, and rightly so. The Symphony Breast pump is a great pump. They are well represented in the public health community as well because they offer special needs feeding supplies. So understandably they the company that is on the top of every one's minds. The trouble is that they offer products to support breastfeeding success and products that undermine it simultaneously. They sell complete bottle/nipple sets, nipple shields etc. that often interferes with BF success. This is not to say that they aren't necessary it is just that they don't put a warning label on them and they didn't encourage me as a retailer to not put these on display in a self-serve fashion either. Medela has also been taken to task on the design of their single use pumps such as the Pump In Style and the risk of contamination in the tubing and motor, but I haven't received any literature or emails from Medela on this subject. You'd think that as a retailer of their product they would.
So... when two big companies merge who both have strong brand recognition and a big advertising budget it makes for a big company with much influence over pregnant and breastfeeding Mothers. (Think Nestle, and Mead Johnston if you will who also have this recognition and influence in the medical community). For little old me at Birth Source Inc. it poses the dilemma of offering of the valuable products these companies sell so I can be a resource to my community of breastfeeding mothers and having to compete with Medela and Bravado marketing and selling their products to whomever wants to sell them.
I carry a good selection of Medela products that our customers don't see or even know exist because we dispense them on the advice of professionals, such as supplemental nursing systems aka SNS, nipple shields, slip tip syringes and special feeders for babies with cleft palates etc. We are one of the few that do and we get referrals from public health for these items. It is very expensive to carry Medela products as it is, never mind adding these items to the inventory. I also carry Medela pumps and some breastfeeding apparel and accessories which are more available to customers. These include re-use able nursing pads, nipple ointment and sterilizing products. It might come as a shock to people to know that selling Medela products does not make us any money unless we sell lots and lots of it. The margin on their products is small in comparison to many companies. So unless I create a big display and "sell" people their products suffice to say I am not getting rich anytime soon.
When a customer asks me to match the price of Toys R Us on a breast pump or Safeway on the rental fee or other big retailers I know they are trying to get the best value for their dollar. I believe competition is healthy when it is on an equal level. What I need to emphasize is that Birth Source Inc. is a specialty store who provides knowledge and customer service with every Medela product we sell. We promise that no customer will leave our store with a unneeded product because we want to sell it to them. We don't sell food, household items, bedding, cribs etc. and we don't add them to our inventory to boost sales because they don't "fit" our business. We can't simply drop Medela and Bravado products from our inventory overnight or we risk losing a piece of a vital part of our business, these companies brand recognition. We are continually looking or other products from other companies that are just as good and offer the best value to both our customer and ourselves, but these small companies don't have the advertising clout and the means to support the small retailer and drive customers to our store. So for now we must rely on the intelligence of our customers, the reputation we have built in our community and our own moral compass to guide us on what we sell here at Birth Source Inc. This means experimenting and tweaking the products we offer.
I have seen some blog posts that suggest we simply stop selling Medela products in favour of another. Not that easy when alternative choices are slim. We have provided special needs feeders to customers for almost 4 years now, it isn't as simple as dropping these products and then telling them sorry we no longer carry these. Not a simple matter that can be placed in a nut shell. Does the fact that we sell Medela and Bravado products send a message that we support everything these companies do? No. Rest assured we are trying to balance both our responsibility of providing our customers with what they "need" and our need to make a living, with the moral questions that come along with the association we have with these big companies.