These Brands "Died." Is Your Brand Next?

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 5/9/2018

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Paul Schlossberg
Here is a list of 10 brand names you might recall. Toys 'R' Us; F.W. Woolworth; Oldsmobile; Tower Records; Blockbuster; Pan American World Airways; Borders; Steak and Ale; Chi-Chi's; and Sambo's. This list could go on for a long time so let's stop here. These were, at one time, popular and well-established brands.  

They're companies from our past and no longer "in the game" for a variety of reasons. Two articles got my attention to this subject. One was at MoneyTalkNews. "10 Iconic Brands That Disappeared and 7 More That May Soon Follow." The second article, from The Daily Meal, focused on restaurant chains, "Howard Johnson's, All-Star Café and 13 Other Chains That Failed."

We'll skip the autopsy for these "failures." You can, if you wish, research each company to learn more about the strategic and/or financial challenges these companies were unable to overcome.  

You might be thinking that these examples of "old" brands will have little or no impact on your business situation. Businesses come and go. Some thrive for decades and more. Others are gone in a flash. It's as true in our industry as it is in so many other lines of business.

Taking a longer-term view might help us. We cannot assume that tomorrow will be a continuation of what happened yesterday. Too many brands never adapted to pursue new strategic direction. The number of "dead brands" continues to increase.    

The future for retail brands is not necessarily favorable. A posting at Yahoo Finance, "80,000 more retail stores could close by 2025" presented data and analyses indicating that (a) the increasing share of online shopping (e-commerce) will lead to even more pressure on retail stores, and, (b) 30,000 to 80,000 stores would ("need to") close.

Lesson to be learned: Traditional retail stores are losing sales to online retail. Many of these brick-and-mortar retail brands have invested in e-commerce. Whether or not they will succeed is undecided, for their online initiatives. What is important is that some of these companies are changing the way they do business. How are we adapting to competitive threats and new and emerging cultural changes?

My point today is to look outside of what we do. There are very important developments in other industries with dramatic implications for us. We are going to look at four critical issues.
1.    How to avoid being "middled."
2.    Being aware of the B-O-B factor.
3.    Recognizing change before it overwhelms your company.
4.    Being willing to change how business is done.
Avoid Being "Middled"

"Middled" is a relatively new strategic business word. It describes a company or product dealing with multiple competitive threats. Typically, it is seen with: (a) a competitor above at a "higher" price level with better product features, and (b) another below at a "lower" price or using heavy price promotion and having fewer product features.

An article in USA Today, "Dunkin' Donuts in Vise Grip of Starbucks, McDonald's," described the challenge facing Dunkin' Donuts. It has Starbucks "above" and McDonald's "below." All three companies are moving to upgrade and differentiate, including: adding new products; enabling mobile ordering and payments; and increasing the scope and quality of their food menus.    

Do you like hot sauce? There seems to be a never-ending line-up of new brands and incredibly hot taste profiles coming to market. Tabasco, from McIlhenny Co., is a 150-year-old brand. It just did something new and different. According to Tasting Table, the company introduced, "…Diamond Reserve Sauce that it's describing as the champagne of pepper sauce." It is using limited-edition bottles. The product has been aged for 15 years. That is a great strategy to differentiate its product to reach people looking for a unique (and, probably, more expensive) taste in hot sauce.

Lesson to be learned: You can never be satisfied with your business. Our industry is at risk of being "middled" or worse than that. We are being surpassed by convenience stores and fast food restaurants. They can beat us on: menu variety; number of SKUs offered; customized foods; promotional offers and loyalty programs; etc. Get to work on improving and upgrading every element of your business.  

Being Aware of the B-O-B Factor

This can be a serious risk for us, especially in our vending locations. B-O-B: That is bland, old and boring. It is the potential critical turnoff for millennial shoppers. We must capture shoppers' attention every day. The same old products daily -- that's B-O-B. No promotions or special events -- that's B-O-B. Too many out-of-stocks -- that's B-O-B.

This is similar to, but different from, "middled." It's what your shoppers see and experience when they come to your stores. It's the products they see merchandised in a vending machine or on a shelf in a micromarket. Finally, if they decide to purchase, it is how they pay for it. If you are not offering payment options, cashless or pay-by-phone -- that's B-O-B.

Lesson to be Learned: You have an opportunity here to escape from the B-O-B factor. Keep up to date on local competition. Be certain that you understand what they're doing to be relevant to today's shoppers (in every generation).

Recognize Change Before It Overwhelms Your Company

Consider the consistent upgrade in menu variety and quality for the food menu at convenience stores. This development is a negative impact on our business. It's been a huge growth avenue for c-stores. It steals lunch transactions from us. We lose the sandwich sale, the cold drink and the snack or candy, too.

Here is a quote about the pace of change from Jack Welch, formerly chief executive of General Electric. He said: "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near." If your business is not acting to stay ahead of the outside change, then your business is at risk of not surviving.  

Lesson To Be Learned: That is where we are today as an industry. The accelerating pace of change is getting tougher on us. Delivery is the next big competitive threat we must meet. At the same time, we have to defend our snack sales in the morning and afternoon. We own those dayparts. You must protect and defend the sales of your best-selling timeslots and products while regularly adding new products to show your shoppers that you are (also) offering new taste experiences.      

Being Willing to Change How Business is Done
Imagine that you operate convenience stores. What is the next big threat in that business? It is electric cars. If drivers can go longer between refueling (or charging up in this case), inside sales will be at risk. There will be fewer snacks sold and less hot and cold drinks. What would you do?

Are you personally driving a sedan or a truck or SUV? Maybe you noticed this in the news. The Washington Post reported that Ford will discontinue production and sales of several sedan models including the Taurus, Fusion and Fiesta. Only two "cars" will continue to be offered: the Mustang and a (new) Focus model which will be a crossover. Instead Ford will "…devote more resources to SUVs and trucks, vehicles that have surged in popularity as consumers continue to lose interest in passenger cars…" An electric car is the development pipeline, planned for introduction in 2022.

Is your fleet powered by gasoline or diesel or are you using hybrids? What will your fleet profile be in the next 10 years?

Another business dealing with structural change is cable TV. The "cord cutting" continues with fewer homes using traditional cable subscription service. If you're interested, a Wall Street Journal article, "Cable TV's Cord-Cutting Woes Grow, Highlighting Divergence with Netflix," is worth reading. It's a great example of how a well-established service, cable TV, can be disrupted by outside companies.

Lesson to be Learned: Are you driving a hybrid car yet? What do think about Ford moving away from sedans? Have you ended your cable TV subscription? These three examples represent huge changes in traditional categories.

Do not relax. Your business is a risk. We have always had competition. We could drive to those locations and see what they were doing to compete with us. With delivery, it will be a lot tougher to figure out how to compete.

These changes will impact everything we do -- personally and professionally.

1.    How long will it be before your personal vehicle is a hybrid? Will be a truck or SUV instead of sedan?
2.    When will you convert your fleet to hybrid vehicles?
3.    Will you cut the cord on your cable service? It's highly likely that you know (younger) people who have already done it.
4.    Are you paying attention to the impact of delivery at locations you serve? Monitor daily sales and watch out changes in sales trends for key items. Don't let it go for weeks before you notice that sales have been decreasing (and you missed it).

Those brands whose runs ended are not going to be selling more stuff; they're not selling any stuff. Get ahead of the trends. You must be relevant to the shoppers you serve. That is how you will sell more stuff.


Paul Schlossberg is the president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX area, he can be reached by emailing or (972) 877-2972 or by visiting