On a certain stretch of suburban commercial highway are three mattress dealers. These merchants gather in groups for the same reason that car dealers do: shoppers are attracted by the opportunity to do some comparison shopping and will go where they know there are many choices, so that an individual dealer will make more sales, oddly enough, in proximity to the competition.

Now, the sight of three mattress dealers—all different companies—in the same block suggests that competition in the mattress business must be healthy. Nevertheless, as Dr. Boli rode past in the Duesenberg, he could not help noticing that all three had festooned their windows with identical “0%/4 years” posters, and identical “QUEEN SET $198” posters. By “identical” Dr. Boli means precisely that: they were the same white type on the same red background, certainly produced by the same printer.

Clearly this is not evidence of price-fixing or trust-forming in the mattress business, because such things are illegal, and mattress dealers are famous for their unimpeachable ethics. Still, as a matter of appearance, it is undesirable. It creates the impression of shady dealings where, of course, none exist in reality.

Dr. Boli therefore offers mattress dealers this unsolicited advice gratis. If you, the independent and thoroughly honest mattress dealer, discover that every time you put up posters with prices or financing terms on them, your neighbors put up exactly the same posters, it is time to have a conversation with those neighbors. “Hey, Fulgencio,” you may say in a friendly manner (assuming your competitor’s name is Fulgencio, because if it isn’t you’ll just sound silly)—“Hey, Fulgencio, I notice that, purely by coincidence, we keep coming up with the same prices and the same financing terms, and then ordering our posters from the same printer in the same type and colors. Now, I think it’s time we got together with Adelina up the street and made some sort of arrangement. We can draw straws, and whoever draws the short straw will have to put up blue posters that month instead of red ones. That way we avoid the appearance of impropriety where, as you and I know, none exists.” This proposal is so reasonable that, naturally, your competitors will agree. Perhaps while they are being so agreeable you might make some other little agreements as well, but Dr. Boli leaves that part up to your imagination, knowing that of course you will keep your arrangements well within not only the letter but also the spirit of the law.


  1. My guess is, the posters are printed up by the mattress manufacturers rather than the retailers, since most independent mattress stores stock many of the same national brands, who probably try to coordinate national sales events so they can be nationally advertised by said manufacturer. That said, they should probably take advantage of modern printing and information technology to coordinate some sort of scheme where they have 3-4 slightly different fonts and/or color schemes that they send to stores, and some sort of system to assign nearby stores to different groups, then rotate the font/color schemes among the groups in each successive seasonal sales event.

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