5 Companies That Weathered Difficult Times — And What You Can Learn From Them

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Before you begin to doubt if it’s possible for your business through this season, read about these five companies that weathered difficult times — and what we can learn from them. 

With the impact of coronavirus, people are talking about an economic recession and an unemployment rate that has now surpassed the Great Depression. So many people are using terms like unprecedented times, worst ever, and other phrases, but the truth is that there have been difficult times before. There is much we can learn from these companies that weathered difficult times and made it through!

1. DISNEY

Walt Disney and his brother Roy started Walt Disney Productions in 1929 — the year the Great Depression started. At the time, this was a rag-tag start-up that was a few bad days away from closing its doors. Many folks would have considered this a bad time to launch a production studio doing something no one had done before. But these brothers kept thinking creatively and working hard until they not only successfully made it through the Depression, they created the first feature-length animated film — Snow White. During the worst economic downturn in America’s history, these brothers started what has become a worldwide phenomenon today. 

Your Takeaway

An unexpected economic downturn doesn’t have to mean failure for your business. Just because some businesses are struggling, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it. 

2. LEGO 

A few short years before the Great Recession of 2008, Lego was struggling to keep its head above water and headed for bankruptcy. From the outside, a recession on top of those circumstances would be the nail in the coffin for them, but some well-timed changes helped them see profit growth of more than 63% in a time when other companies were simply trying to survive. The most important change they made was to take a look at their product and services in a completely new way. This was a paradigm shift that helped them reduce redundancies and reinvigorate their customer base. By the recession, they were well-versed in innovation, so when America was dealing with a downturn, they took the opportunity to expand into Europe and Asia.

Your Takeaway

True innovation requires changing your point of view — experiencing a real paradigm shift. Look at your products and services with fresh eyes and see if there are areas to trim or even places to expand your market. 

Keep This In Mind

When you’re reviewing your products and services, don’t overlook the option of a pivot. While Lego ended up simply improving their processes and trimming the fat, so to speak, you may find that a complete pivot is needed in your business model. 

Don’t be afraid to move toward something different. Mailchimp’s original business model was geared towards big corporations with annual retainers, but then came the Great Recession and they pivoted their model to offer a “freemium” service. They quadrupled their customer base in one single year. 

3. KRAFT

During the Depression, not many people could afford mayonnaise because of the expensive ingredients, so JL Kraft, Founder of Kraft Foods, needed to find a way to make sales when the mayo business was crashing. 

He hired an engineer to help design a machine to make a new manufacturing process, and the result was Miracle Whip. It was a blend of mayonnaise and cheaper salad dressing ingredients which made it a product that most everyone could still afford. It had the added bonus of being spicier (remember those salad dressing ingredients that made it cheaper?) so it was marketed as a way to add flavor to all those cheap, bland foods people were having to eat during the depression. 

Your Takeaway

Solve a problem for your customer and you’ll solve one for yourself. 

Need to find out who your core customer is? Here’s a simple formula to help you identify your ideal client.

4. DOMINO’S PIZZA 

In 2008, right at the beginning of the Great Recession, Domino’s Pizza may have been the most disappointing pizza in America. So how did their stock rise 5,000% by 2017? They did something unorthodox for the time. Their CEO acknowledged their bad reputation in a strategic marketing campaign and promised they were going to do better. They improved their actual recipes, but what sets them apart is that they didn’t stop there. They took their process down to the studs to rebuild, and now they call themselves a “technology company.” 

Customer complaints are what started their climb back to the top and made them the poster child for companies that have weathered difficult times. They thought through the customer service journey in great detail and are famous today for being able to track your pizza delivery to the second. 

Your Takeaway

Use this time to shore up weak areas or tear up the entire playbook altogether, and don’t forget to bring your customer on your journey. 

Need some help in this area? Consider reaching out to SCORE — a nonprofit organization to help small business owners through mentorship and resources.

5. GRAETER’S ICE CREAM

Speaking of companies that weathered difficult times — this family-owned company has weathered a lot in its 150 year history. They’ve survived World War I,  the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, the Great Depression of 1929, World War II, the Great Recession of 2008 and they are positioned to successfully navigate this season as well. 

According to fourth generation CEO, Richard Graeter, they are using technology, authenticity and ingenuity to weather the impacts of the coronavirus and prepare for any coming downturn. 

Their biggest win so far in the season has come from being proactive and moving quickly. Graeter’s capitalized on the lucrative spaces left empty by large companies that weren’t able to keep up with the demand and filled it with their ice cream. Their CEO said that even the Vice President of Sales was out there making deliveries. Additionally, they pivoted their brand position from being there to help customers celebrate all the happiness in the world to being there to bring a little comfort in anxious times. 

Your Takeaway

Moving quickly can open doors and opportunities for your company. Look for those moments to fill in the gaps where other services are lagging behind. 

GETTING YOUR SMALL BUSINESS THROUGH COVID-19

These are stories upon stories of how businesses both large and small have weathered tough times and yours can too! 

Remember the key takeaways from these company’s success stories and let them help you navigate your small business through the impacts of COVID-19 —

  1. An unexpected economic downturn doesn’t have to mean failure for your business.
  2. Look at your products and services with fresh eyes and see if there are areas to trim or even places to expand your market. 
  3. Solve a problem for your customer and you’ll solve one for yourself.
  4. Use this time to shore up weak areas or tear up the entire playbook and don’t forget to bring your customer on your journey. 
  5. Be ready to move quickly when you see opportunities to fill in the gaps where other companies in your industry are lagging behind.

Which of these takeaways do you think will be most helpful for your business right now? Is there another example of a company successfully pivoting that you know of?

Share in the comments below or share your story with us here.

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Written by Corrie McGee

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