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.



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

Automobile Plant

The automobile industry has been important to the economy of Detroit since the early 1900s. As the foremost automobile manufacturing center in the world, Detroit earned its nickname, The Motor City. Shown here, cars are assembled in one of Detroit’s auto plants.

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

Service in Hongkong

The first Jollibees’s fast-food restaurant in Hongkong is a popular spot with locals. Service enterprises such as restaurants, hotels, and vacation resorts have grown to become major business sectors in many countries, in some cases even overtaking manufacturing and other production-oriented businesses. A service business, such as Jollibee's, often supports a number of related production businesses, from farms to food processing plants to kitchen appliance manufacturers.

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.