I have been up thinking about this post since last night when I received the email announcement about Bravado and Medela- and I have been working on writing it all day today. I’m not sure what I have written is even relevant to anyone besides me…but I need to get it out – so here it goes….bear with me – it’s a doozy!
By now, you have all heard the news….Goliath strikes again. The giant breastpump manufacturer, Medela purchased Bravado Designs. I have worked with Bravado for a LONG time. I love their bras, I love the way that they help moms. I love their passion! I always thought that they had integrity – something that is so vital to being a business whose passion is helping moms. But now, I’m not so sure…
Why? Because they allowed their company to be purchased by Medela. Ultimately, they have choices – they didn’t have to sell their company and if they wanted to sell it – they have choices about who they are willing to sell it to. I’m sure the money was tempting. Who wouldn’t be tempted by it?? But in this industry, businesses are founded by moms because they want to HELP other moms. Amy from Just West of Crunchy (blog no longer active) wrote it more candidly than I could ever hope to. It all comes down to money – because no matter how you look at it – you can’t see past the flaws of all of the other arguments.
When I first started my company, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that Medela was a WHO Code Violator and I didn’t know why that was important either. They were the pump that was the most well-known – so when I got started, I contacted them. They were not very friendly. They didn’t want to know about me or my business or why I started it. They had me fill out an application, told me that if my application was accepted, I would have to make a VERY LARGE minimum order of products, on-the-spot and then told me that I would hear back in approximately three weeks. About a month later, I received a letter in the mail telling me that my application was declined. I called them to ask why. They told me that because I was (at the time) a home-based business, they were not interested in selling their products through my store. They said if I were an IBCLC, they might reconsider.
I was crushed. I didn’t even know what other breast pump options there were. Now, I see that it was a blessing in disguise. I did my homework and I found Ameda. Ameda is a GREAT company to work with. Yes, I had to fill out paperwork with them too – but they were THRILLED to work with me. They set me up with a sales rep who helped me get started, even sent me tips on how to increase my sales and checked in on me on a regular basis. They cared about my success! Even through their own internal turmoil of being sold and integrated into a new company – they never lost sight of helping moms and they never lost sight of helping their retailers either. Through Ameda and the resources that they have provided to me – I have become more knowledgeable and I have been able to help moms better. Oh yeah – one other thing – AMEDA IS WHO CODE COMPLIANT.
About two or three years later, I was now running a successful business and blog and I was contacted by Medela. Someone from their PR department contacted me because they wanted me to review one of their sleep bras on my blog. I emailed them and told them how ironic I thought it was that they were approaching me considering that a few years before they had refused to sell to me. I told them that I was no longer interested in working with them unless they became compliant with the WHO code and that they could feel free to contact me if they did. They sent back some generic response about removing me from their email list – but didn’t address my concerns at all.
Then last year, Medela purchased Easy Expression Products – the original hands-free pumping bustier. Another company that I love! I have worked with Easy Expression from the very early days of my business. They were wonderful to work with and they were run by a bunch of moms – who took time out to pick up their kids from school and all the other things that moms do. They were a REAL company – really successful - and they were moms and they cared about helping other moms. They were the best-known hands-free pumping bra at the time. I was equally devastated. Now in order to keep selling Easy Expression – a product that my customers (moms) loved, and a product that I sold a TON of, I would have to make a deal with the devil. So I did – I felt it was important to provide moms with access to this pumping bra, so I again went through the application process with Medela and was accepted this time. I had to place my huge minimum order – which they allowed me to order only Easy Expression Products. It wasn’t a big deal – because as I said, I sold a TON of them. Then Medela removed my name from the list of resellers on the Easy Expression website. A good majority of moms who were looking for the Easy Expression bustier found me through their website – so as soon as I got my enormous shipment of inventory, my sales took a hit. I asked and asked to get added back to the Easy Expression website, but they told me that they were dismantling the Easy Expression website and that they had listed me on the Medela website instead. And sure enough – 2 months later, the Easy Expression website went away. Now, nearly a year later – I STILL have a TON of easy expression bustiers in my inventory – because ever since Medela purchased them, I hardly sell them at all. I’m not sure what they did to kill the sales of the product (other than removing all of the brand recognition of the name and website so that it is much harder for moms to find them) – but whatever else they did – my sales of this great item have died. I still sell lots of other hands-free pumping bras from La Leche League and from PumpEase – but I hardly ever sell the Easy Expression ones anymore…
So now I have another difficult decision to make. Do I go with integrity and my gut instinct and avoid dealing with the company that violates the WHO code, is being reviewed for poor manufacturing practices by the FDA and has customer service that leaves much to be desired? And in doing so, miss out on being able to give moms some really great bras? Bras that I recommend ALL the time. I feel OK selling that ones that I have in stock, because they were purchased and manufactured pre-merger…but what about when I run low and need to restock? Then what? Is it worth it to jump on that band-wagon?
And now I come full-circle to the title of this blog post – What’s A Girl To Do? When she runs a small business and is IN IT to help moms. Do you stick with the great product – despite the not-so-great company behind it? Or do you stick with integrity and find alternatives which will enable you to KEEP HELPING MOMS without compromising YOUR INTEGRITY. Because now it comes down to just that – MY integrity.
The thing is – I always thought Bravado had integrity – as a company – as an organization – as a support center for moms. Now I have to wonder….