Wartime and Your Business: Six Key Lessons Learned from Desert Storm

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

In the winter of 1991, I was full of anticipation and proud of what my team had prepared. As Director of NEBS’ (New England Business Service) $40 million retailer marketplace, my team was launching the company’s mos ambitious new product line ever. One year’s work had gone into developing over 150 SKUs of stationery, florist, gift, check writing, and point-of-purchase display items designed to spearhead the company’s strike into this one billion marketplace.

Production teams were standing by new machines ready to produce and ship out some 250 anticipated weekly orders. Forty thousand catalogs were printed and mailed. Two hundred well-trained telemarketers and customer service reps stood ready to close sales and serve customers. Press releases, media kits, and advertising were all on their way to reporters and readers. As all of NEBS leadership anxiously waited for the phones to start ringing with orders, nothing happened. The silence was deafening! Precisely at the same time, a different attack, Operation Desert Storm, had just started. The world was glued to CNN and commerce of any kind virtually ceased for the next two weeks.

While the world’s focus returned to doing business and my product line survived despite its early bad luck, I vowed I would learn from this experience. Now as a coach and consultant to business owners who may soon face a similar experience, here are six key lessons I learned about doing business in wartime.

  1. While life must go on, you and your business will not get much attention. Customers will be preoccupied and appear to be "going through the motions." They will rely on brands and suppliers they trust to bring some confidence and stability into their lives. Make sure your business keeps selling exactly what it always has. Do not change your processes now.
  2. Reassurance and relationships and foremost on your clients, employees, and supplier’s minds. Everyone will be looking for support. Just as in 9-11, take extra time out to listen when people need to talk, vent, and cry. Relationships are the most important aspect of smaller business and this is the time to focus on making yours better.
  3. Patriotism and contributions are not just window dressing. We will all have friends, peers, and coworkers whose loved ones are in harm’s way. Make a genuine commitment of help based on your or your business’ best and highest use®. At NEBS we provided and sent free customized stationery to anyone’s loved one serving in the war theatre.
  4. Basics and reserves will sell more than luxuries and anything new or unproven. Understand people will be stockpiling essentials and assuring they can depend on critical services. If you have to ration what you have, do so for those most loyal and in greatest need.
  5. Sacrifice and indulgences will coexist in peculiar ways. People will be cutting back one day and then spoiling themselves the next. Keep both necessities as well as some luxuries on hand. People will cope in peculiar and irrational ways. Do no survey them now; just be there for them.
  6. Pent up demand for your services will take you by surprise. While commerce will shut down in the early stages of a war, production and demand will certainly slingshot back. Anyone supplying military contractors, retailers or distributors is likely to hear "Hurry up and wait" followed by "I need it yesterday". As contradictory as this sounds, keep as lean and mean as possible with ample resources on call.
I hope that this article will be irrelevant if confrontations in the Middle East and Korea are avoidable. Nevertheless, anticipating and preparing for threats is good business and living and learning from previous mistakes is the reward for growing older. Therefore, while your business world will not end, it will be rocked if we go to war. Be as prepared as possible and be a source of confident strength, service, and value to your business peers. We have survived and prevailed through many previous wars and together we will do it again. God bless us all!

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080 , by email at abirol@andybirol.com, or on the web at www.andybirol.com.


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