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Melissa Moss

President of Women’s Consumer Network, Washington, D.C.

Melissa Moss is president of the Women’s Consumer Network, an affinity-marketing group that works to provide goods and services to women by leveraging their collective purchasing power in the marketplace.

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How did you get involved in your company?

The company grew out research we did on women in their daily life. While women were working more than ever before and earning more than ever before, women had more and more responsibilities both at work and at home and were completely out of time. It was that time-stress element that we saw as a real opportunity for trying to build a business that served women’s needs and help make their life a little easier.

We’re a membership organization by women for women that’s dedicated to helping women save time and money. We do the comparison shopping and legwork for important products and services that women don’t really have the time to do themselves anymore. Right now, we have 35 products but we’re always adding to our product mix. We listen to our members and figure out what kind of services they need help finding. We have 40,000 women nationwide who have responded to our offers so far. Because of our Web site being up, we’re actually hearing from a lot of women from other countries who are interested in franchising this idea. We’ve heard from a number of women in Canada, England and Japan. There’s no other program like this in other countries.

What can the government do to bring more women’s voices into the economic agenda?

One of the next movements for women is the movement of their economic clout. Women do 85 percent of the shopping in America; we buy 50 percent of all the cars; we spend 81 cents of ever dollar in a grocery store; we make 74 percent of the health care decisions in our family.

Women spend so much money in this country. We make about a trillion dollars, but we spend 3.5 trillion dollars. That’s real economic clout. We need to help women assert their power and use that to get good deals as well as have products designed for them. The power of women in the marketplace is extraordinary. At Women’s Consumer Network, we’re trying to increase their clout and level the playing field. They spend a lot of money, but many products and services are targeted toward men, not women. We’d like to flex women’s economic muscle.

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What are you doing to promote and encourage the success and advancement of women in business?

A lot of women are starting their own companies or working part-time. These women rarely have access to benefits. We are making it easier for them to have access to good products and services. We have a vision plan, we have a dental plan, and we have access to good financial information. We also help women succeed in business with our newsletter, Straight Talk, which comes out every other month. It’s full of smart tips of not only how to save time and money but how to be a smart consumer. We are helping women be smarter consumers, and great and stronger negotiators — not just about products and services but about issues in their daily life.

At Women’s Consumer Network, we have four categories of products: Everyday Solutions, which are everything on discount from pantyhose to cell phones and travel services; On the Job, which are products for women either starting their own companies or moving up in their careers; To Your Health, which are health and safety products for your family and yourself; and Money Matters, which are financial services and advice for women.

Do you think of yourself as a pioneer in business?

I’m reflective of a lot of women and men of my generation w ho started working early. As we’re living longer and continuing to have long, productive worklife, we see nothing quite so odd with changing our careers after a number of years and trying something new. I had a wonderful long run in the world of government and politics and public policy work. After 20 years of it, I wanted to try something new and I went to consumer research. A lot of people are realizing that they can have more than one career in their life. I have been a really good shopper my whole life. I, like a lot of women, always like to get a good deal. Like a lot of women, I didn’t have the time. Now it’s my business. I had the luxury of turning something that was fun for me into a business.

Do you feel that women entrepreneurs face more obstacles than their male counterparts?

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One of the biggest problems women have is access to capital. It’s hard to find money. If you’re not used to being in the world of money and you’re not used to asking for money, it can be one of the biggest roadblocks to building a company. As more women become comfortable talking about money and finding inroads to money, they’ll be more and more women starting companies.

Who were your mentors and role models?

I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve worked for over the years. When I was at the Democratic Leadership Council, I learned a lot from Al Fromme about pushing the envelope of conventional wisdom. All the people I worked for were pioneers in their own right. Jerry Brown was a pre-radical politician. Al Fromme, who started the Democratic Leadership Council, was challenging the orthodoxies of the Democratic Party. And Ron Brown was the first African-American to lead our party. I learned it’s important to challenge conventional wisdom and push for what you believe in. And at Women’s Consumer Network, I’m doing that. We are providing a service that is now out there right now. There aren’t a lot of places for a woman to get good, unbiased information that looks at them as smart human beings. Women are smart shoppers. Women are good at finding good deals. They just don’t have the time. Our organization is fixing that.

Was it ever a problem when you were working in politics?

Well, politics is funny. It’s a fairly equal place for women to start out. It’s an area where a young person can get a lot of opportunity pretty quickly if you work hard because it’s a young person’s business. When you’re starting out, the playing field is a lot more level than as you proceed. When you look around, there seems to be a lot of aggregating of men at the top. Women need to stick with it, be smarter than anybody, and work harder than anybody?as they’ve always done.

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