retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

He may be my favorite author, but F. Scott Fitzgerald was incorrect when he famously wrote that there are no second acts in American life. I’d argue that second acts not only exist, but that the stories of company resurrections might be among the most instructive models of business evolution we find these days.

The April issue of Fast Company focuses on great business revivals in the past 20 years, principally Apple, which in 20 short years went from irrelevance to the most valuable company anywhere. Some of these other short stories provide lessons in rebuilding businesses that need be considered and discussed at length.

Consider the varied paths some of these companies employed to launch their comebacks. For example, take two very different companies - Converse sneakers and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer - that roared back to profitability by focusing on emerging consumers.

You won’t see a single player wearing Converse’s iconic Chuck Taylors in March Madness, but you’d see tons of them if the cameras showed the fans footwear. Converse, which lost the athletic shoe category years ago and now is a division of Nike, successfully focused on the brand’s allure as a fashion statement.

Likewise PBR noticed its popularity growing in trendy Portland, Oregon, and pivoted its marketing to Millennials, especially hipsters. PBR won’t ever get a spot in my fridge, but it’s the top choice among my daughter’s generation.

The examples abound of companies repositioning, refocusing and rebounding to success even if the markets around them were changing. Take CBS, which wins broadcast television ratings regularly thanks to a refocus on traditional formats like "The Big Bang Theory" or reality shows like "Survivor." Then there is Marvel, which saw the market for comic books dropping and jumped into movies. In the process it has launched a run of gigantic franchises.

How about Old Spice, which seemed like an old brand when I was in college (a long time ago). Today it’s a hip brand with edgy ads and growing sales. Or General Motors, which paid off its government loans by paring down its offerings, improving operations and returning to profitability.

Of course, there is Apple, which learned how to combine revolutionary and incremental advances to change the way we listen to music, talk on phones, take notes and everything else. And there is Fast Company, a magazine that uses edgy, unusual angles on stories to stay important while other magazines disappear constantly.

The lesson of all these stories is simple: the future isn’t ever written in stone, especially when smart leadership realistically evaluates how to best evolve for the changing environment.

Dr. Tom Haggai of IGA frequently reminds audiences that his daily prayer is “not to die until I’m dead.” It’s advice many companies could use along side the challenge from The Shawshank Redemption that we “get busy living or get busy dying.”

No matter what difficulties you and your company face - and we all face them - examples like those in Fast Company remind us there are ways to find a way back to health.

Second acts are always possible. But they have to be earned.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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