Isis Closing Poses Question: Can Maternity Support Make Money?


The biggest news in Massachusetts maternity and new-parent circles this week was the abrupt closing of the Isis Parenting chain. Here, Kord Brashear, a consultant on innovation in retail, shares his perspective on what went wrong.

By Kord Brashear
Guest contributor

When Isis, the Boston-based upscale outlet for maternity classes and products, abruptly closed this week, its chief executive Heather Coughlin told the media that it was because of the “tough environment for independent retailers. It’s no mystery. There are a lot of competitive forces – there’s and”

But at its core, Isis, with retail locations in Greater Boston, Atlanta and Dallas, was supposed to be a place for new and expectant moms to learn about childbirth and breastfeeding, and find postpartum support. The storefronts had the benefit of a steady hospital referral pipeline for childbirth and lactation classes, which were often full. But when the retail aspect (breast pumps, clothing, books) failed due to online encroachment, it brought down the whole business, abruptly leaving many moms in the lurch and revealing the fact that the classes themselves were not profitable.

It seems as though few companies have figured out the right business model for maternity support services in the digital age. On the West Coast, the man behind the wildly popular My Breast Friend pillow opened a chain called Day One Center to provide birth and breastfeeding classes, but that recently closed, too.

What can we learn from this?

Customers always vote with their dollars. Too few families can or will pay a profitable rate for pre- and post-partum support. Obviously, it’s not because they don’t care about their children – so what gives?

Often, they view these services as an extension of childbirth, which is typically covered by insurance. Basically, Isis tried to charge for something that parents aren’t sure they should be paying for. When people discuss the topic of health care, the conversation often boils down to the question of who should pay for it. And I presume that there’s a portion of parents who believe that hospitals should cover childbirth classes, or health insurance should cover it – but they shouldn’t have to pay for it themselves, directly. Continue reading

Isis Parenting, Boston-Area Institution For New Moms, To Close

The Isis Parenting Facebook page

The Isis Parenting Facebook page

Sad news for current and expecting customers of Isis Parenting, a chain of one-stop-shops for classes, products and support for new mothers (and fathers, too): The Boston-area institution says it’s closing.

On its website here, Isis Parenting CEO Heather Coughlin writes:

Dear Friend of Isis:

It is with deep regret and sadness that I craft this letter. Ten years ago this May I walked through the doors of Isis’ first Brookline, Massachusetts location for the first time. I was expecting my first child and was immediately put at ease by the staff and classes I completed.

I had no idea at the time how valuable a resource Isis would become for me personally over the next few years, and I could never have imagined the impact it would have on me professionally as its leader.

Isis Parenting is sorry to announce we will soon close our doors and, effective immediately, we will no longer be able to conduct classes or consults. That said, as we continue to sell the remainder of our trusted products over the coming days, we invite you to stop in – for drop-in playgroups, great sales and (most importantly) to say goodbye to a gathering place that has meant so much to so many.

Universal Hub reports here that all the chain’s locations — including Back Bay, Arlington, Needham and Hanover — will close, and that the move is bringing expressions of regret and appreciation from customers. A commenter below the post writes, “What a shame.” And:

My sons both took classes in Arlington and my wife used the lactation consultant services during some difficult nursing problems with our first. The new moms group gave my wife someone to talk to that actually understood what she was dealing with.

Social media comments speculate that the closing comes after an investor pull-out, but Coughlin does not explain the “why” of the closing in her letter. We’ll update this post as WBUR reports further. The Boston Globe reports here that “just this month Isis had announced a new partnership with MetroWest Medical Center. Then, with no warning,” it announced today that it was closing.

Update at 3:13 p.m.: Fortune offers a business explanation here, including:

In short, Isis isn’t going out of business because it failed its customers. Isis is going out of business because it didn’t work as… well, as a business.
“The company has been struggling for the past two of three years,” says a source close to the situation. “And it had a bad holiday retail season, which really pushed it over the edge…. The CEO is exceptional and tried everything she could, but investors were pretty deep into this, so there was no attempt to recapitalize.”

Readers, reactions? Did you patronize Isis and what was your experience?