There are countless reasons why a brand might die, including failing to keep up with market trends and shifts in the market landscape. Even brands that have enjoyed decades of popularity and impressive sales are not safe from extinction.
Here are 10 iconic brands that are gone but not forgotten, and seven that may soon follow in their footsteps.
1. F.W. Woolworth Co.
Once one of America’s biggest names in retail, Woolworth was among the original pioneers of the five-and-dime store, first opening in 1879. The chain thrived based on “on volume buying, counter-display merchandising, and cash-and-carry transactions,” says Brittanica.
Woolworth found it hard to compete more recently as Americans moved to suburbs, flocked to malls and other discount stores, including Kmart, rose in prominence. The company, renamed the Venator Group Inc. in 1998, relied increasingly on its other retail operations, including Foot Locker, which was its main retail brand, and it took the Foot Locker name in 2001.
Woolworth became an online company, with some retail stores still existing, Brittanica says.
Compaq was one of the first and largest computer brands in the world in the 1980s and 1990s. Faltering, largely due to competition from Dell, Compaq met its end in 2002 when it merged with Hewlett-Packard Co., according to Digital Trends. “The brand was officially killed off in 2013,” the report says.
Early in 2020, the Digital Trends report discussed a possible reincarnation of the brand by an overseas maker of smart TVs.
3. Pan American World Airways
The airline, eventually known as Pan Am, was the largest international air carrier in the United States until it folded in 1991, according to this Business Insider recap of the company’s history.
Rising fuel prices, a decline in travel, deregulation and increased competition combined to damage the company in the 1970s, says The Pan Am Historical Foundation.
A contributing factor in its demise was the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.
During its century-long history (1897-2004), Oldsmobile produced more than 35 million cars, according to a history at the U.S. Census Bureau.
The once-popular car brand faltered, and General Motors, which had purchased Oldsmobile in 1908, cited declining sales and corporate restructuring when it closed the company in 2004.
5. General Foods
General Foods’ predecessor was C.W. Post’s Postum Cereal Co., established in 1895 by C.W. Post. Its earliest cereal brands, developed around the turn of the 20th century, included Grape-Nuts, Post Toasties and Post 40% Bran Flakes, says Brittanica.
Morphing into General Foods, the company was a well-known producer of household food brands for more than half a century. It was acquired by Philip Morris in 1985. Starting in 1989, General Foods products were sold by Kraft Foods Inc.
Borders grew from a single bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to one of the country’s biggest booksellers in the latter decades of the 20th century. But it bet on music CDs and video DVDs at a time when the industry was transitioning to digital, says this NPR account.
The chain shut its doors and declared bankruptcy in 2011, after 40 years in business.
7. DeLorean Motor Co.
The DeLorean Motor Co. is best known for the stainless steel gull-wing sports car that was featured in the “Back to the Future” films. Its handsome young founder, John DeLorean, left General Motors’ corporate leadership to found the company in 1973, recalls CNN.
DeLorean asked Italian designers to create a sports car that was safe, fuel-efficient and long-lived. But lack of demand for the expensive vehicles pushed the company toward bankruptcy.
The Delorean Motor Co. declared bankruptcy later in 1982. The brand and remaining inventory are owned by Steven Wynne.
Founded in 1985, Enron was a Houston-based energy firm that grew to become a large and influential energy-trader and supplier, according to Investopedia’s account.
The company fell into financial trouble but hid it through complex accounting practices. It developed a scheme to deceive investors about the company’s true status. Even a respected accounting company attested to its strength.
Enron’s problems multiplied. Several corporate officers were slapped with criminal charges and, eventually, prison time. It was the biggest bankruptcy ever when Enron filed in late 2001, Investopedia says.
9. Tower Records
Founded in 1960, Tower Records invented the popular music mega-store concept.
Business Insider says its bankruptcy in 2004 was the result of “excessive debt, music piracy and iTunes.”
From its origins in Dallas in 1985, the Blockbuster movie rental chain grew to become king of U.S. home video for a time.
The company closed most of its stores in 2010 after failing to compete successfully against Netflix and other companies that bypassed retail outlets, charged only a subscription fee and mailed entertainment CDs directly to customers’ homes, says this Business Insider story.
One foot in the grave
1. California Pizza Kitchen
California Pizza Kitchen hopes for a new beginning financially after its bankruptcy protection filing in July 2020.
“Today’s announcement is a step towards a stronger future for California Pizza Kitchen,” said CEO James Hyatt in court documents.
Hyatt blamed the pressures and challenges of doing business during the coronavirus pandemic as a factor in the company’s problems.
2. Brooks Brothers
Brooks Brothers isn’t just the country’s oldest clothing store. Henry Sands Brooks and his sons introduced ready-made men’s suits in 1849, a company history says.
The name evokes the company’s famous buttoned-down, preppy and business-tailored looks.
Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2020.
Authentic Brands Group and SPARC Group purchased the company for $325 million, agreeing to keep at least 125 Brooks Brothers stores going.
3. Ascena Retail Group
Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant, Lou & Grey and Justice. All are clothing retailers belonging to Ascena Retail Group. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2020, blaming pressures from the difficult retail environment in the coronavirus pandemic.
Owner Ascena Retail Group will close a “significant” number of Justice stores and select Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant and Lou & Grey stores, says a press release announcing the restructuring.
4. CEC Entertainment
Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza will soldier on although the parent company, CEC Entertainment, declared bankruptcy in June 2020. As other struggling companies have, these American favorites cite the pressures of retail closures during the pandemic as contributing to its problems.
The Washington Post notes that the bankruptcy filing came just a few weeks after the company awarded $3 million in retention bonuses to top executives.
5. Pier 1
Another popular retail chain, Pier 1, filed for bankruptcy protection in February, a company press release says.
In May it announced that it would close stores and liquidate merchandise through going-out-of-business sales.
Pier 1’s intellectual property has sold for $31 to Retail Ecommerce Ventures, which intends to take the chain online, according to NBC News.
6. Neiman Marcus Group
Neiman Marcus’ parent company emerged from bankruptcy in September 2020. CNBC called it “one of the highest-profile retail collapses during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The company, which also operates Bergdorf Goodman and Horchow, filed for bankruptcy in May.
7. J.C. Penney Co.
The classic department store J.C. Penney, currently in bankruptcy, is selling hundreds of stores, says industry publication Footwear News.
The company, in shedding brick and mortar stores, has announced a plan to sell 242 locations.
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