Don’t Be Complacent, Look Around and Embrace Change


by Pat Gordon | October 12, 2018

Most of you probably don’t remember the A&P Grocery chain. At one time, it was the largest retail chain in the world with 16,000 stores.  The company closed its last store in 2015, after 156 years in business.

Some of you will remember the Howard Johnson restaurant chain.  In the 1970s, it was the largest chain of restaurants in the United States – famous for their 28 flavors of ice cream. Families travelling across the country could find the restaurants along almost every major highway as they drove to their vacation destinations.  In 2018, only one restaurant in the chain has kept their doors open.

And almost everyone still remembers Blockbuster Video. At one time the company employed more than 80,000 people and had over 9,000 locations throughout the world.  In July, the chain announced its stores in Alaska would be closing, leaving just one remaining store in Bend, Oregon.

What happened? How does a business that is at the forefront of their industry topple? In some industries, it can be explained by a product or service becoming obsolete.  The Pullman Rail Car company lasted until the 1960s.  At one time its cars could accommodate 26 million travelers a year. It wasn’t really a surprise though to see them close considering the shift to automobiles as America’s preferred means of transportation.

But the A&P sold groceries! No one stopped buying groceries. The grocery industry didn’t collapse and it didn’t go overseas. There are over 40,000 grocery stores in the U.S. today.  What did A&P do wrong?

In the 1950s, only 25 percent of the money we spent on food was when we were eating in restaurants. Today, it is estimated that more than 50 percent of food spending takes place in restaurants. There are now more than 660,000 restaurants in the U.S.  So what happened to Howard Johnson?

What about Blockbuster Video? The movie business didn’t fold, the demand for movies didn’t shrink. Blockbuster Video built their industry by creating a service for people who wanted to watch movies at home.  Why didn’t they continue to lead the industry with more innovation instead of letting Netflix crush them?

These three industry leaders, and many more, got comfortable with their success and they didn’t think they needed to change with the times. They stopped innovating.  Avis Car Rental used to have an ad campaign that said “When you’re number two, you try harder.” There is a lot of truth to that statement.

Entrepreneurs face many challenges – setting up their businesses, finding their first customers, managing cash flow as the business grows, creating their social media and marketing messaging.

Succeeding as an entrepreneur is a great accomplishment, and most business owners don’t want to make that climb just to slide down the other side of the hill.  They want to stay on top for a long time.

If you are enjoying the success of your business and proud of your position in the neighborhood, the market, or the industry, it is critical that you don’t become complacent. You need to keep adapting.

For many of you this means embracing social media, learning to blog, studying the analytics of your online followers. For others it means updating your brand, your logo, your store front and maybe even your location. Take a good, hard look at yourself, get some feedback from your customers – especially newer customers – and make the changes necessary to stay competitive and profitable.  Keep an eye behind you on number two and stay at the top of that hill.

  • Pat Gordon

    Pat Gordon

    Florida SBDC at USF

    Specialty: Growth Acceleration

    As a growth acceleration specialist with the FSBDC at USF, Pat Gordon is focused on assisting existing businesses to find new opportunities, uncover hidden profits and create sustainable growth. For more than 20 years, she led an IT consulting and staffing firm which grew from $750k in annual revenues to more than $40 million in yearly sales during her tenure. The company branched out from the Miami area and ultimately earned the status of primary and preferred supplier to several major clients in the oil and gas industry in Houston and across the border in Canada. Gordon has her bachelor’s in communications from the University of Buffalo and her master’s in business administration. from Canisius College. As an entrepreneur, she owns a seasonal fishing lodge near the Adirondack Mountains of New York and has a small used car dealership in Florida. She is also a part-time adjunct instructor of economics, business and operations management.