Is business war?


war, army, gun, fightLast week I wrote an article regarding retailers needing to street fight to survive and described business and retail in particular as war.

I cited an example of street fighting by referring to a retailer who copies items developed by other retailers and was justifiably taken to task by a couple of readers. With the benefit of hindsight this was a poor example and I apologise for any offence. We do not  approve of copying, nor do we approve of suicide bombers.

What I do not shy away from is that it was a valid example of success. Dirty tactics regrettably sometimes succeed. Suicide bombers are highly successful at killing people and instilling fear.

What I also do not shy away from are my comments regarding business being war. I was taken to task on this by a reader for whom I have the highest regard – Brett Stevenson – a man of impeccable moral rectitude.

I have a client who agrees with Brett that business is not war and I have so far been unable to convince them otherwise. They are thoroughly nice people and rather than take on a line with which they could succeed, they will not stock these goods if a neighbor stocks that particular brand.

My view is quite different.  If the brand can be sold successfully, buy it. It is the supplier who should decide whether or not they wish their brand to be stocked by two retailers in the same vicinity and it is the supplier who runs the risk of being dropped by the incumbent stockist.

I came across a manufacturer recently whose sales manager had left the company and started out alone. Naturally he knew all the customers and the prices they were being charged. The CEO of the company he had left, hired a private investigator to follow the sales manager and report on every customer he visited. A sales person was immediately dispatched to the customer who was offered a special deal. Of course the sales manager went out of business quite quickly. Maybe this would have been a better example of warfare and  I am curious to learn if any readers regard this as immoral, unethical, or unfair.

A nicer word which we use all the time is ‘competitiveness’. What is the difference between competing and attacking ? Competing is to strive against another or others to attain a goal, such as an advantage or a victory. Warfare is described as conflict, struggle, and strife.

It is just a question of semantics. Competing is a nicer, less aggressive word than war.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the reasons why some retailers survive and some don’t. There is nothing nice about competing. Ask any successful retailer.

I invite comments on this topic. Do you believe business is war? Do you believe that the manufacturer’s tactics above were acceptable? Is your company successful?

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at or 0414 631 702








  1. Michael Ratner posted on February 21, 2014

    Of course business is war. However you must know who your enemy is. And you can be 100% moral in fighting this war. so quickly work out who the enemy is. We are a manufacturer and wholesaler of a range of products. Not that we have enemies but everyone of our retailers is a member of our fighting force and are treated accordingly. Hell there's no shortage of imitators in the world and business owners who either sit on the sidelines and pontificate while their competitors take a chance and risk a new supplier, new product, new range and when it starts to work, they want a piece of the action. We certainly withhold supply to everyone based on the fact that our retailers have given us some of their very expensive valuable space, are subject to the harshest employee conditions in the world and have supported us in the first instance. They have to be supported and it's not about annual spend, it's all about relationships and our loyalty and guess what ... we sleep well at night. You ask whether the sales manager was immoral, unethical, or unfair. None of the above. He was idiotic and he didn't act alone. Those who did business with him were pretty short sighted ... in fact the sales manager talking of war was a suicide bomber. And if you have any doubts about morality and integrity think of the money wasted on patent attorneys. They can charge and do for their services and have all the excuses in the world when you want action against an infringer. You ask if the manufacturers actions were acceptable. Bloody oath. Except they shouldn't have wasted money on a private investigator, it would have been cheaper to call in the heavies. Michael Ratner - Compendium

  2. Emma Cunningham posted on February 21, 2014

    Bernie, I've read a lot of your articles and have a great respect for many of your opinions and viewpoints however I literally cringe every time you describe business as 'war'. When you are at 'war' your 'competitors' are trying to kill you. Personally, I think describing business as 'war' is devaluing the risk members of the Armed Services take, especially those who have seen active service. Business is simply business, war is something altogether different and far more horrible.

    • Stuart Bennie posted on February 21, 2014

      One for, one against. Thank you both for your comments. Emma, I respect your views. War is most certainly horrible and I very narrowly avoided having to fight in one. I'll think of an alternative. What I am trying to convey is that many retailers need to change their attitude and take the gloves off. Michael, as always I enjoy your provocative responses whether or not you agree with me. Regards, Stuart.

  3. Julian Josem posted on February 21, 2014

    Stuart, I don't agree with your suggestion that the retailers should leave it up to suppliers to choose. Retailers are in the very best position to determine what best suits their target market. If you left it up to the suppliers, it would be very ugly, and in my opinion, bordering on illegal. I liken fellow retailers as competitors in a marathon. As a consumer, I like to go to those "nice" retailers sometimes, but other times, I like going to those "tough" nuts. Who wins??? I suppose it all comes down to what you call "success" - It's not all about the money is it? JULIAN

  4. Stuart Bennie posted on February 21, 2014

    Dear Julian The retailer certainly must make the decision whether they want the product or not. But that is my point. The retailer must not make a decision not to stock a range because a neighbour stocks it. They must go for it and may the best man win. Any sensible supplier will choose the retailer that is going to be successful and pay the bill. On your second point, yes, I do think it's about money. When you've made a lot a la Bill Gates, you can do a lot of things giving it away Business is ruthless (out of respect for Emma views I am ditching the word 'war'). It is dog eats dog. Money makes the world go round. Maurice Chevalier I think ???? Regards Stuart.

  5. Tina L posted on February 21, 2014

    I agree with you Stuart. The word "war" can also be defined as "a state of competition or hostility between different people or groups or countries" How this war is fought, is what defines the war. Emma, even though I understand where you are coming from, you cannot be cringing every time you read the word "war" used anywhere else in context where Armed Forces are not involved. For example, "she waged war on her parents" "a war against drugs""a war of words." I guess what I'm trying to say is that the word "war" can appropriately and accurately be used to describe business; retail in particular. I have personally experienced warfare in business and it does get nasty. This is the nature of business, it is competitive that is the pure essence of capitalism. Without competition and free trade business and innovation will become stagnant. Even though it got nasty, and our pockets were wounded, I regret to say that it is needed and unfortunately, when money is involved the majority of businesses will void ethics. I agree with Michael with knowing your enemy, but you also should know your war grounds and terrain (basically know your business field inside out). This why guerrilla warfare is successful. With regards to the Sales Manager's tactics, in our field we have contracts that prohibit our staff from working within a KM's range of our area. We have and will enforce these contracts. I personally hate and despise those who leave and take away your hard earned expertise and think it's all rosey and easy. To be honest sometimes I take guilty pleasures in watching them crash and burn. This is why unfortunately if I ever read on someone's resume, " I want to eventually run my own business" I tend to shred it. It's dog eat dog, and I don't want to be dog food any time soon :)

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