Stop fighting, start inviting

"Stop fighting, start inviting." Perhaps this mantra that I dreamt up during the recent Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit was a bit too harsh and suggested that outright “fighting” was occurring across our industry. But, to be honest, throughout my nearly three decades working across the retail supply chain, I have surely witnessed my share of adversarial relationships. There has been talk and several good examples of “frenemies” and “co-opetition,” including the recent decision by some retailers (e.g., Kohl’s, Publix, Rite Aid, and others to partner with Amazon for package pick-ups and/or returns), but truth be told, these are too often the exceptions.

During the Summit, entrepreneur and SharkTank hero Daymond John shared some incredibly sage advice. He suggested that sometimes acquiring or partnering with a perceived competitor gives you an opportunity to “take a look under the hood.” I couldn’t agree more. Infiltrating and understanding a business from the inside out is far easier than sitting on the sidelines hoping to glean what is really going on behind the doors.

It was Walgreens’ Rina Shah who implied that extending invitations to those once kept at arm’s length can produce unexpected outcomes. It is my belief that the rules of yesterday about keeping everything close to one’s vest and avoiding eye contact with potential competitors is doing more harm than good — and likely limiting opportunities. The traditional attitude of protectionism presumes that out-of-the-box ideas can only be generated internally and that there is nothing that can be learned from a discussion or potential alignment with a rival.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying “Keep your enemies close.” I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

Here are five rules of engagement I would recommend to Stop Fighting and Start Inviting:

  1. Examine existing strengths and weaknesses within your organization (identify gaps)
  2. Consider all potential partners, including enemies, that could fill the gap
  3. Initiate conversation and begin discovery
  4. Confirm shared values (culture) and potential fit/alignment for a joint solution
  5. Create a win-win relationship that protects both organization’s interests

I’m sure there are some readers who are thinking that this concept is beyond crazy. Why would any organization want to engage in such a deep-level conversation with an adversary?

My answer is not intended to sound glib, but I would question such an organization’s insecurities. If they would truly be divulging trade secrets or the “secret sauce,” then perhaps they have stepped outside their comfort zone and potentially shared too much. On the other hand, honest conversation about the value that one plus one can create is healthy — and can lead to breakthrough innovation (refer to my prior articles differentiating between true innovation and iterative improvements).

So, perhaps my mantra is a bit too harsh for some. However, paraphrasing Albert Einstein, “Doing what has always been done is only going to produce the results that have always been generated.” To that I say, Stop Fighting and Start Inviting!

Dave Wendland is vice president, strategic relations and co-owner of Hamacher Resource Group, a company focused on improving results across the retail supply chain located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He directs business development, product innovation and marketing communications activities for the company and has been instrumental in positioning HRG among the industry’s foremost thought leaders. You may contact him at (414) 431-5301 or learn more at

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