What You Can Learn from Century-Old Businesses

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You don’t stay in business for a century or more by staying the same. Here’s what a few long-running businesses did to successfully cope with huge disruptions in their core markets that might have put them out of business, courtesy of Joe Taylor Jr. at Small Business Computing.

Bagmaker J.W. Hulme spent much of the 20th century manufacturing luggage and handbags sold under other companies’ brands. But by 2003, clients had shifted manufacturing to less expensive operations based in China, and the company was running out of money fast. A new owner and CEO gambled that consumers would buy into the company’s century-old heritage of American craftsmanship, and the company began selling under its own name through its website and a network of high-end retailers. The company built relationships with customers and expanded its market to include technology accessories like iPad cases.

British cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield can trace its heritage to a London market stall in 1742. With supermarkets cutting into the market for specialty food makers, a new owner embraced ecommerce and used overnight courier services to ship its handmade cheese direct to customers throughout the UK. Beating competitors to the online market helped the company build customer loyalty and expand its market from its bricks-and-mortar storefronts.

Ironrock Capital abandoned its original line of paving bricks to keep up with evolving market demands. Today, the company makes quarry, decorative tile, and structural bricks that support modern construction and design methods.

What is interesting about all three examples is they were all logical market expansions, not huge leaps into new areas. These are things all businesses should be thinking about every day, not just when creditors come knocking.

Adapted from 3 Secrets of Century-old Small Businesses by Joe Taylor Jr. at Small Business Computing. Follow Small Business Computing on Twitter.

Paul Shread is editor in chief of the IT Business Edge technology network.