Business, organized approach to providing customers with the goods and services they want. The word business also refers to an organization that provides these goods and services. Most businesses seek to make a profit—that is, they aim to achieve revenues that exceed the costs of operating the business. Prominent examples of for-profit businesses include Mitsubishi Group, General Motors Corporation, and Royal Dutch/Shell Group. However, some businesses only seek to earn enough to cover their operating costs. Commonly called nonprofits, these organizations are primarily nongovernmental service providers. Examples of nonprofit businesses include such organizations as social service agencies, foundations, advocacy groups, and many hospitals.
Business plays a vital role in the life and culture of countries with industrial and postindustrial (service- and information-based) free-market economies such as the United States. In free-market systems, prices and wages are primarily determined by competition, not by governments. In the United States, for example, many people buy and sell goods and services as their primary occupations. In 2001 American companies sold in excess of $10 trillion worth of goods and services. Businesses provide just about anything consumers want or need, including basic necessities such as food and housing, luxuries such as whirlpool baths and wide-screen televisions, and even personal services such as caring for children and finding companionship.
|II||TYPES OF BUSINESSES|
There are many types of businesses in a free-market economy. The three most common are (1) manufacturing firms, (2) merchandisers, and (3) service enterprises.
Manufacturing firms produce a wide range of products. Large manufacturers include producers of airplanes, cars, computers, and furniture. Many manufacturing firms construct only parts rather than complete, finished products. These suppliers are usually smaller manufacturing firms, which supply parts and components to larger firms. The larger firms then assemble final products for market to consumers. For example, suppliers provide many of the components in personal computers, automobiles, and home appliances to large firms that create the finished or end products. These larger end-product manufacturers are often also responsible for marketing and distributing the products. The advantage that large businesses have in being able to efficiently and inexpensively control any parts of a production process is known as economies of scale. But small manufacturing firms may work best for producing certain types of finished products. Smaller end-product firms are common in the food industry and among artisan trades such as custom cabinetry.
Merchandisers are businesses that help move goods through a channel of distribution—that is, the route goods take in reaching the consumer. Merchandisers may be involved in wholesaling or retailing, or sometimes both.
A wholesaler is a merchandiser who purchases goods and then sells them to buyers, typically retailers, for the purpose of resale. A retailer is a merchandiser who sells goods to consumers. A wholesaler often purchases products in large quantities and then sells smaller quantities of each product to retailers who are unable to either buy or stock large amounts of the product. Wholesalers operate somewhat like large, end-product manufacturing firms, benefiting from economies of scale. For example, a wholesaler might purchase 5,000 pairs of work gloves and then sell 100 pairs to 50 different retailers. Some large American discount chains, such as Kmart Corporation and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., serve as their own wholesalers. These companies go directly to factories and other manufacturing outlets, buy in large amounts, and then warehouse and ship the goods to their stores.
The division between retailing and wholesaling is now being blurred by new technologies that allow retailing to become an economy of scale. Telephone and computer communications allow retailers to serve far greater numbers of customers in a given span of time than is possible in face-to-face interactions between a consumer and a retail salesperson. Computer networks such as the Internet, because they do not require any physical communication between salespeople and customers, allow a nearly unlimited capacity for sales interactions known as 24/7—that is, the Internet site can be open for a transaction 24 hours a day, seven days a week and for as many transactions as the network can handle. For example, a typical transaction to purchase a pair of shoes at a shoe store may take a half-hour from browsing, to fitting, to the transaction with a cashier. But a customer can purchase a pair of shoes through a computer interface with a retailer in a matter of seconds.
Computer technology also provides retailers with another economy of scale through the ability to sell goods without opening any physical stores, often referred to as electronic commerce or e-commerce. Retailers that provide goods entirely through Internet transactions do not incur the expense of building so-called brick-and-mortar stores or the expense of maintaining them.
Service enterprises include many kinds of businesses. Examples include dry cleaners, shoe repair stores, barbershops, restaurants, ski resorts, hospitals, and hotels. In many cases service enterprises are moderately small because they do not have mechanized services and limit service to only as many individuals as they can accommodate at one time. For example, a waiter may be able to provide good service to four tables at once, but with five or more tables, customer service will suffer.
In recent years the number of service enterprises in wealthier free-market economies has grown rapidly, and spending on services now accounts for a significant percentage of all spending. By the late 1990s, private services accounted for more than 21 percent of U.S. spending. Wealthier nations have developed postindustrial economies, where entertainment and recreation businesses have become more important than most raw material extraction such as the mining of mineral ores and some manufacturing industries in terms of creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. Many of these industries have moved to developing nations, especially with the rise of large multinational corporations. As postindustrial economies have accumulated wealth, they have come to support systems of leisure, in which people are willing to pay others to do things for them. In the United States, vast numbers of people work rigid schedules for long hours in indoor offices, stores, and factories. Many employers pay high enough wages so that employees can afford to balance their work schedules with purchased recreation. People in the United States, for example, support thriving travel, theme park, resort, and recreational sport businesses.
|III||FORMS OF BUSINESS OWNERSHIP|
There are a number of different forms of business ownership. These include (1) sole proprietorships, (2) partnerships, (3) corporations, (4) joint ventures, and (5) syndicates.
The most common form of ownership is a sole proprietorship—that is, a business owned by one individual. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were more than 17 million sole proprietorships in the United States. These businesses have the advantage of being easy to set up and to dissolve because few laws exist to regulate them. Proprietors, as owners, also maintain direct control of their businesses and own all their profits. On the other hand, owners of proprietorships are personally responsible for all business debts and, because they are constrained by the limits of their personal financial resources, they may find it difficult to expand or increase their profits. For those reasons, sole proprietorships tend to be small, primarily service and retail businesses.
A partnership is an association of two or more people who operate a business as co-owners. There are different types of partners. A general partner is active in the operation of a business and is liable for all of its debts. In small businesses with only two or three owners, all typically will be general partners. A limited partner, by contrast, invests in a business but is not involved in its daily operations. Partnerships, like sole proprietorships, are relatively easy to establish. Furthermore, partners can pool financial resources to fund expansion and can divide their duties and responsibilities according to personal expertise and abilities. For example, one partner may be very good at selling, while another has a knack for maintaining good financial records. As with sole proprietorships, however, partnerships may entail substantial financial risks, as all of the general partners are liable for the debts of the business. And unlike proprietorships, disagreements among partners can harm partnership businesses.
A corporation is a legal entity that exists as distinct from the individuals who control and invest in it. As a result, a corporation can continue indefinitely through complete changes of ownership, leadership, and staffing. Current owners can sell their holdings to other individuals or, if they die, have their assets transferred to heirs. This is possible because a corporation creates shares of stock that are sold to investors. One strength of the corporate business structure is that stockholders have limited liability, as opposed to the unlimited liability of general partners, so they cannot lose more than their initial investment. Investors may also easily buy and sell stocks of public corporations through stock exchanges. By offering stock publicly, a corporation enables anyone with some money to buy the stock and become a part-owner of the company. As a result, corporations can more easily raise capital for business expansion than can sole proprietorships and most partnerships.
Investors control a corporation through the election of a managing body, known as a board of directors. In a large corporation, investors collectively decide who will oversee the operation of the enterprise. In turn, the board chooses a president, who decides on the key company personnel and helps formulate company strategy.
Many corporations are highly successful business organizations, with profits far exceeding those of many sole proprietorships and partnerships. However, they traditionally have higher tax burdens than other kinds of businesses. Also, the fees involved in creating and organizing a corporation can be expensive.
|D||Joint Ventures and Syndicates|
In joint ventures and syndicates, individuals or businesses cooperate to create a single product or service package. A joint venture is a partnership agreement in which two or more individual- or group-run businesses join together to carry out a single business project. For example, U.S.-based General Motors Corporation and Toyota Motor Corporation, based in Japan, have a joint venture called New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., created for the purpose of producing cars in California.
A syndicate is an association of individuals or corporations formed to conduct a specific financial transaction such as buying a business. Quite often syndicates are created for the purpose of buying sports franchises. For example, the Miami Heat basketball team and the New York Yankees baseball team are each owned by syndicates of individuals. Each member of these syndicates is also involved in the operation of other businesses.
A variety of operations keep businesses, especially large corporations, running efficiently and effectively. Common business operation divisions include (1) production, (2) marketing, (3) finance, and (4) human resource management.
Production includes those activities involved in conceptualizing, designing, and creating products and services. In recent years there have been dramatic changes in the way goods are produced. Today, computers help monitor, control, and even perform work. Flexible, high-tech machines can do in minutes what it used to take people hours to accomplish. Another important development has been the trend toward just-in-time inventory. The word inventory refers to the amount of goods a business keeps available for wholesale or retail. In just-in-time inventory, the firm stocks only what it needs for the next day or two. Many businesses rely on fast, global computer communications to allow them to respond quickly to changes in consumer demand. Inventories are thus minimized and businesses can invest more in product research, development, and marketing.
Marketing is the process of identifying the goods and services that consumers need and want and providing those goods and services at the right price, place, and time. Businesses develop marketing strategies by conducting research to determine what products and services potential customers think they would like to be able to purchase. Firms also promote their products and services through such techniques as advertising and personalized sales, which serve to inform potential customers and motivate them to purchase. Firms that market products for which there is always some demand, such as foods and household goods, often advertise if they face competition from other firms marketing similar products. Such products rarely need to be sold face-to-face. On the other hand, firms that market products and services that buyers will want to see, use, or better understand before buying, often rely on personalized sales. Expensive and durable goods—such as automobiles, electronics, or furniture—benefit from personalized sales, as do legal, financial, and accounting services.
Finance involves the management of money. All businesses must have enough capital on hand to pay their bills, and for-profit businesses seek extra capital to expand their operations. In some cases, they raise long-term capital by selling ownership in the company. Other common financial activities include granting, monitoring, and collecting on credit or loans and ensuring that customers pay bills on time. The financial division of any business must also establish a good working relationship with a bank. This is particularly important when a business wants to obtain a loan.
|D||Human Resource Management|
Businesses rely on effective human resource management (HRM) to ensure that they hire and keep good employees, and that they are able to respond to conflicts between workers and management. HRM specialists initially determine the number and type of employees that a business will need over its first few years of operation. They are then responsible for recruiting new employees to replace those who leave and for filling newly created positions. A business’s HRM division also trains or arranges for the training of its staff to encourage worker productivity, efficiency, and satisfaction, and to promote the overall success of the business. Finally, human resource managers create workers’ compensation plans and benefit packages for employees.
|V||BUSINESS IN A FREE MARKET ECONOMY|
The economy of the United States, as well as that of most developed nations, operates according to the principles of the free market. This differs from the economies of Socialist or Communist countries, where governments play a strong role in deciding what goods and services will be produced, how they will be distributed, and how much they will cost (see Socialism; Communism). Businesses in free-market economies benefit from certain fundamental rights or freedoms. All people in free-market societies have the right to own, use, buy, sell, or give away property, thus permitting them to own and operate their own businesses as private, profit-seeking enterprises. Business owners in free markets may choose to run their businesses however they like, within the limits of other, mostly non-business-oriented laws. This right gives businesses the authority to hire and fire employees, invest money, purchase machinery and equipment, and choose the markets where they want to operate. In doing so, however, they may not violate or infringe on the rights of other businesses and people. Free-market businesses also have the right to keep or reinvest their profits.
All free-market economies, however, keep the rights of businesses in check to some degree through laws and regulations that monitor business activities. Such laws vary from country to country, but they generally encourage competition by protecting small businesses and consumers from being hurt by more powerful, large enterprises. For example, in the United States the Sherman Antitrust Act, enacted in 1890, and the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 forbid business agreements that impede interstate and most international commerce. The Clayton Antitrust Act also protects against unfair business practices aimed at creating monopolies and guarantees the rights of labor to challenge management practices perceived as unfair. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 prohibits businesses from attempting to control the prices of its products or services, among other provisions. Other laws prohibit mergers that decrease competition within an industry and require large merging companies to notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for approval.
Business activities are becoming increasingly global as numerous firms expand their operations into overseas markets. Many U.S. firms, for example, attempt to tap emerging markets by pursuing business in China, India, Brazil, and Russia and other Eastern European countries. Multinational corporations (MNCs), which operate in more than one country at once, typically move operations to wherever they can find the least expensive labor pool able to do the work well. Production jobs requiring only basic or repetitive skills—such as sewing or etching computer chips—are usually the first to be moved abroad. MNCs can pay these workers a fraction of what they would have to pay in a domestic division, and often work them longer and harder. Most U.S. multinational businesses keep the majority of their upper-level management, marketing, finance, and human resources divisions within the United States. They employ some lower-level managers and a vast number of their production workers in offices, factories, and warehouses in developing countries. MNCs based in the United States have moved many of their production operations to countries in Central and South America, China, India, and nations of Southeast Asia.
In the United States, for example, America Online, Inc. (AOL) and Time Warner merged in 2000 to form AOL Time Warner, Inc., (present-day Time Warner Inc.) a massive corporation that brought together AOL’s Internet franchises, technology and infrastructure, and e-commerce capabilities with Time Warner’s vast array of media, entertainment, and news products.
With large mergers and the development of new free markets around the world, major corporations now wield more economic and political power than the governments under which they operate. In response, public pressure has increased for businesses to take on more social responsibility and operate according to higher levels of ethics. Firms in developed nations now promote—and are often required by law to observe—nondiscriminatory policies for the hiring, treatment, and pay of all employees. Some companies are also now more aware of the economic and social benefits of being active in local communities by sponsoring events and encouraging employees to serve on civic committees. Businesses will continue to adjust their operations according to the competing goals of earning profits and responding to public pressures for them to behave in ways that benefit society.