As we look forward to the possibility of more industry meetings next year, discussions likely will move to novel changes in the industry. Management meetings will undoubtedly consider how the world has changed and how companies adapt. Those discussions, though, can be pitfalls. It is imperative that we keep these discussions clean and proper. Please understand that this is not legal advice, rather it is calling your attention to pitfalls to avoid.
As in-person meetings occur, it is common to end up at a social hour where competitors and friends alike visit and catch up. To a lesser extent, a little bit of off-the-record banter occurs during online video meetings, too. The competitive spirit within the industry is put on hold as we chat about all things business. With that, though, comes a responsibility for all.
Most business meetings usually start off with an anti-trust reminder. Anti-trust, though, isn’t just about discussions at association board meetings. It can creep into even the most well-intended conversations during lunches, breaks and happy hours.
Any discussion about pricing, whether it be about what is charged or what a company pays for termiticides, may drift into violation of anti-trust standards. Owners and managers should insist that all employees are versed in what can be discussed and what is not permitted to be discussed with competitors.
Further, any discussion that may be construed as creating unfair competition is not permitted. For example, if two companies agree that each claims half of a service area, that may be considered restraining competition and thus crosses the line into a possible precarious legal position.
Even pricing formulas shared among companies may be considered unfair competition. But discussing such issues with a friend or mentor outside of your market, as can happen at regional or national meetings, generally might prevent any claim of questionable activity. For example, if you compare notes with a friend from another state and business areas do not overlap, then your liability is likely reduced.
JUST SAY NO (THANK YOU)
At conferences or even on webinars, it is common for someone to ask what price should be charged for a service. These questions nearly always come from good and honest people who just don’t know that such a topic can’t be discussed. If you are in charge of an event where this occurs, explain that this topic cannot be discussed at this time, as people at the session are competitors and pricing cannot be discussed in this forum.
At regional and national meetings, where business owners discuss their service offerings, organizers usually monitor this closely. If a speaker crosses the line on these topics and competitors are in the room, then the discussion must be guided away. At meetings of national manufacturers of pest management products, one association takes this so seriously that a staff attorney is present during every committee meeting to ensure discussions do not drift into prohibited areas. That is a great move on the part of the organizers.
Any state or local association should continue to remind attendees of these pitfalls. Canada has similar restrictions. Owners and managers must, in turn, ensure that staff is not crossing that line.
This is a good topic for discussion at a company training meeting. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has assembled an online summary document on this topic that can be used as a resource. It is also always a good idea to discuss any questions with an attorney familiar with the pest management industry.
This industry willingly shares so much information and help, especially to fledgling companies. Few industries have company owners who are competitors, and also best friends. In the pest management industry, it is very common. That’s why it is so important to make sure discussions that can veer off course are brought back into place so that nobody is subject to claims of unfair business practices.
BAUMANN, a PMP Hall of Famer (Class of 2013), is VP of technical services and regulatory affairs for Nisus Corp., Rockford, Tenn. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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