Flowers Inc Balloons - the largest supplier of balloons in the US
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 12:05:37 +1100
Subject: "Stealing" Competitor's Customers
From: "DON DIXON" <balloons@magna.com.au>
To: Balloon Headquarters <balloondeco@balloonhq.com>

G'Day From Downunder,
We've noticed a few posts on this topic lately and wish to contribute our interpretation
and policy.

We all got into the balloon business knowing we would have competition. Those that had no
competitors nearby when they started, were niave to think they would never have any
competition. We all operate within what is known in commerce as a FREE ENTERPRISE SYSTEM.
That's a fancy way of saying "all are free to compete".

Just as a building contractor or a plumbing contractor takes on apprentices or trainees to
learn the trade and provide inexpensive labour, balloon decorators engage juniors or even
subcontractors to ease the labour workload. We might be showing them our skills, directing
them to do things according to our systems, or simply getting them to provide the
additional delivery vehicles required for a big job. We PAY THEM to provide a service or
execute work! At the end of that day, the obligation to each other is commercially
finished!

However, ETHICS plays a big part in our industry. What is ethics?
Ethics is what those within an industry accept as "FAIR AND REASONABLE" free enterprise
between competitors. Ethics also extends to the way we go about trading with suppliers and
customers too ..... but the topic at hand for now pertains to competition between balloon
decorators.

How many customers do you have on your database? 25, 95, 675 .... maybe more than that?
Now .... how many of them do you OWN? How many of them do you have a written contract
with, that states that they can not purchase from any other balloon decorator? I'll guess!
 ???? NONE! We don't own customers. We have no right to even think that a customer is
obliged to purchase from our company. In a democratic society we all have the right to
change our mind. I would be most offended if my balloon supplier thought for one minute
that he "owned me" as an account and I was denied the right to talk with his competitors.
So ..... where do we (Don and Dolly) draw the line in the sand???? When can one of the
many students that have gone through courses at our Balloon School ... or a past employee
.... or a subcontractor ETHICALLY approach a customer known to be on Dolly's database for
decorating business? We believe that "ethics" would say ...."when they are INVITED to give
a price" by that client or a representative of that client.

In other words, The gloves are off when a person comes to Dolly and asks for a
consultation or quote!
She doesn't care who they bought balloons from yesterday or last year. If they approach
her, it is both good manners and good business to give them a quote for the work.
Likewise, if one of her customers approached someone who happened to have worked for us in
the past ..... it's OUR FAULT for not being able to hold that customer's confidence and
trust in us. 

In closing let me say this. If we know one of our colleages in the local QBN Chapter, or a
competitor of Dolly's is doing decor for (say) KFC or a shopping mall, there is NO WAY we
would ever approach that customer for their business. That, we would consider to be
UNETHICAL! But if KFC call us next week and ask for some work to be done ...??? it's a
different ball game. Mind you, we would not let on to KFC that we knew who used to do
their work .... we not mention to the previous decorator that KFC had approached us for a
quote ..... We would avoid ANY reference to other balloon decorators ... PERIOD!  

Think about this ..... why spend thousands of dollars on yellow pages advertising, web
sites and the other marketing expense, if you can't work for IBM because IBM are known to
be your competitor's client? IBM have no reason to call you if they are 100% satisfied
with another balloon decorator. It won't matter how good you ad looks! 
But if they approach you ... ???? they can't be 100% happy with their current decorator. 
Go for it! 

Well, that's our way of appraoching the often delicate topic of "ethics" and the
"stealing" of clients. Survival of the best at their profession .... providing it's
ethical. We wish good luck to all in the balloon business. Even our competitors. 
Who agrees with our interpretation of ethics?

Don & Dolly Dixon  CBAs
Business of Balloons Pty Ltd
Sydney - AUSTRALIA