Several recent articles suggest that this holiday season may well mark the end of the line for Sears and JC Penny, both of which have been struggling to survive for years. Their troubles reminded me of the many once dominant brands that have either disappeared or are currently a shadow of their former selves.
Among retailers, Kmart has shrunk from 2,486 stores to only nine locations. Do you remember Marshal Fields, B. Altman, Bonwit Teller, I. Magnin, RadioShack, Circuit City, Toys R Us, and Blockbuster? How about Polaroid, RCA, and Eastman Kodak which absolutely dominated what became the consumer electronics market? In the broader technology area, Xerox, Hewlett Packard, and Compaq were household names that created preeminent and iconic products. And, the poster child for casualties is the airline industry with failures such as Pan Am, Eastern, Braniff, Midway, and Swissair.
However, capitalism is all about creative destruction so these casualties have been replaced by exciting new brands. In the retail space, Amazon is ubiquitous, but there are other exciting and successful concepts such as Warby Parker, Allbirds, Lululemon, and Bonobos. Apple, Sony, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and many other powerhouses dominate the consumer technology space. And, while not newcomers, Delta and Southwest Airlines have been able to maintain leading positions in this difficult industry.
So, while it is easy to feel a tinge of nostalgia for these old brands at this time of the year, disruptive innovation really works and we all benefit from it.