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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






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