Article > Opinion

A One-Hour Pricing Knock Out


The Coalition for a Level Playing Field laced up the gloves against two heavyweight retailers and lost. Here's one fight fan's analysis.

As a boxing fan, I've seen hundreds of fights. Some live, some in movies, most on TV - but all tell a story of winners and losers.

And perhaps no sport is as riddled with cliches than the Sweet Science. Lucky Punches, Ham and Eggers, Tomato Cans and South Paws are typical terms thrown around the squared circle. And of course, there is the ubiquitous "I waz robbed" claim with which even the most casual fight fan is familiar.

The match up between AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts and the Coalition for a Level Playing Field had all the makings of a good fight: David vs. Goliath, Corporate America vs. the independent business owner.

In the Blue corner, there were the retailers, favored by the oddsmakers. They trained in the best gyms and were probably coached by some of the best attorneys large corporations can afford.

In the Red corner was the underdog, The Coalition for a Level Playing Field, with Coalition Vice President Gil Harris as the chief second and lawyer Carl Person as the head trainer. They had a plan. They did their road work.

But in the end, as happens so often in fights of this magnitude, the underdogs came up short. The Coalition's own fight over alleged pricing discrimination was ended late last month after a jury delivered a stiff right hand squarely to the chin of the Coalition. No amount of bobbing and weaving could have saved it. They were even offered a settlement, but Person advised the Coalition to reject it.

It took nearly three years for the case to go to trial, yet it took the federal jury in New York less than one hour to render its "not guilty" verdict. Apparently pretty open and shut, as far as the jury was concerned. That fact alone does not sit well with me.

Before I continue, let me be clear: No one at this magazine wants to see another independent jobber or WD go out of business. We believe in the concept of a level playing field, but we also believe in the concept of a free market.

That being said, we do not believe that the nation's independent jobbers should go after real or imagined pricing discrimination based on blind faith or the very emotional nature of the fight. The Coalition tried to punch its way out of this alleged pricing discrimination, and some might question their decision to choose these opponents. Moreover, Robinson-Patman antitrust cases are like slick bantamweights - tough to beat, elusive in their movement - 'cagey' is the term a gym rat might use. This particular match up was further handicapped by the judge's decision to limit the proceeding to just five part numbers, five witnesses and five manufacturers. Harris wasn't happy with this; he believes in his cause.

After the bout was over and the Coalition had picked itself off the canvas, Harris continued to take jabs at the proceedings. And as good corner men often do, he vowed that the Coalition would be back - even calling out heavyweights AutoZone and O'Reilly Auto Parts. "This battle is really and truly just beginning," he said. Spoken like a true fight man.

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