COLORADO SPRINGS — Starting a new business is not always easy.
When a marketing management company asked several small business owners to participate in a Women's Expo in Colorado Springs, they jumped at the opportunity.
However, several of those participants in the event tell News 5 Investigates that they feel cheated and misled.
Megan Morris, Jenna Wilson and Pari Sveinsson are three small business owners in Colorado. All three women are voicing the same concern with "Donnell Productions"---a marketing management company that hosts Women's Expos where small business owners can advertise and sell their products in a farmers market type setting.
The group says they were pitched the same story from the company's owner, Barbara Donnell.
“She said she has been into my store and there’s a Women’s Expo coming up that she thinks I'd be perfect fit for," Megan said. "She (Barbara Donnell) said it's going to be this huge expo with 3,000-5,000 people guaranteed to come through.”
Pari says she also received a call about purchasing a sales booth at the event.
“She just called me at my brand new business and recruited me," Pari said. "At the time I had just started getting into farmers markets. I thought that the reason why I was being recruited was because I was so fabulous at farmers markets and that they wanted me at this Women’s Expo. I was honored and excited. She made all these promises to me as well.”
As for Jenna, she says she was skeptical at first, but ultimately caved and signed up to participate.
"Same spiel," Jenna said. "I was told my products are going to be absolutely perfect for the show."
News 5 also obtained an email Donnell Productions reportedly sent to Jenna.
"I think your company would do very well in the Expo," Donnell said. "We generally have around 3,000 to 3,500 attendees."
When it came time for the event to kick off at the Norris Penrose Events Center, Jenna, Megan and Pari say it was a complete disappointment. They all said few people showed up.
“You get to the show and there’s no signage," Megan said. "The morning of the event I’m at the wrong building because there’s not even a sign telling the vendors where to go. The event starts and no one is showing up. You’re thinking maybe it’s a slow start but no one was there. The 3,000 to 5,000 people that were promised, there were maybe 300. It was vendors shopping from each other because everyone was so bored.”
Jenna and Pari agreed with Megan.
The group says they quickly questioned whether the Colorado Springs Women's Expo was even put together by locals.
Despite "Colorado Springs" being pictured on the top of the company's event logo, we found Donnell Productions is actually based in Connecticut, according to BBB records.
We started reaching out to Donnell several months ago. We called and sent three separate emails between January and April. We had hoped to talk with Donnell about her marketing and advertising strategies as well as address the complaints that were raised.
Donnell did not respond.
Now, News 5 Investigates has learned the company is advertising its latest Women's Expo right here in Colorado Springs later this year.
“We would like them not to come back to Colorado Springs," Pari said.
Per their contractual agreements, there are "no refunds" and the $600 fee each business owner paid guaranteed a booth at the event.
Before you sign a contract:
-Make sure you read the fine print before signing
-When paying money up front, it's important to understand what services you are buying
-If you see a "local name" in a business logo or advertisement, don't automatically assume a business is local. You can verify a business address through the Secretary of State's web site or Better Business Bureau
Have a story idea or problem you'd like News 5 Investigates to look into? Email: Eric.Ross@KOAA.com