When I moved to Denver 30 years ago there was a Radio Shack on like every other corner.
I was keenly aware of this at the time because Radio Shack was one of my oldest son's favorite places to visit. So, I saw the inside of a lot of
them. He was in the second or third grade at the time, a techno-wizard even then.
I'll let you in on a little secret, because you may not have noticed: Most of those Radio Shacks are gone. Just disappeared.
Maybe They Just Needed Batteries for the Flying Saucers
I've found myself wondering from time to time where they went. I mean it's weird, just disappearing like that. Sucked up by aliens, perhaps,
for some bizarre extraterrestrial experiment we'll ultimately read about in those tabloids at the grocery checkout lines.
Actually, I have a new theory about what happened to them -- they morphed into Starbucks outlets. Think about it. Then: A Radio Shack on every
other corner. Now: A Starbucks on every other corner; no Radio Shacks. Hmmmm. I think I'm onto something.
Well, okay, maybe not. More likely they're just another in a long string of companies unable to maintain their brand loyalty.
Radio Shack once was a powerful brand in the world of consumer electronics. Today, it's all but dead. Going from the top of the heap to the
bottom is more common than you might think.
Back in the days when I did a lot of speechwriting, a colleague came across a list the top 25 companies from 75 years before. Only four or five were
That was in the 1990s. If you dug up a list of the top brands from that era, a lot of them would be gone -- or diminished to the point where they
don't matter very much any more.
But Spam and Wonder Bread Are Going Strong
When I was a kid, Montgomery Ward (or Monkey Ward, as my parents called it), J.C. Penney and Sears dominated the national retail department store
scene -- along with local department store brands unique to each city. Montgomery Ward is gone. Penney's and Sears are shadows of their former
selves. And most of the locally owned department stores are long gone, totally defunct or swallowed up by companies like Dillard's and
Among the iconic brands of the past that are gone: U.S. Steel, Firestone, Texaco, Oldsmobile, MCI and Pan Am. The AT&T name is still around but
it's not the company once known as Ma Bell.
And I recently came across a story about big companies that may not be around at the end of this year. The list included Motorola, Sears, Citigroup, Ford, Yahoo!, Sprint and Qwest.
An Apple a Day Keeps Steve Jobs in Pay
Some of the companies on that list probably will survive. Who knows, some may even make a comeback. Remember when Apple was being written off as
dead by the "experts"?
But even Starbucks is feeling the heat. Per-store sales are down for the first time. Will Starbucks someday be on the list of iconic brands
relegated to the junk heap of history?
That's quite possible, of course. But Starbucks is doing something decidedly different than most of the companies that have gone from icons to
bygones. They're asking their customers to help shape the future of their company.1
Any Tom, Dick or Harriet can log onto mystarbucksidea.com and post their ideas about how Starbucks can improve. You can even discuss and vote on ideas
posted by other people.
Starbucks got a lot of free, expert advice -- worth every penny they paid for it, I'm sure -- about why letting customers offer up ideas and
(gasp) criticism in public was a bad idea.
But Starbucks seems to think it's a good idea. The Web site's still going strong. People are still offering suggestions. And Starbucks is putting some of them into action. You can even get just plain coffee at Starbucks now. Amazing.
Asking customers what you should do to keep them coming back? What a concept.
What are you doing to keep customers loyal to your brand?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jerry Brown committed journalism for 20 years, but received a full pardon. He's been
practicing public relations for more than 20 years and plans to keep practicing until he gets it right -- which he hopes takes a long time because he
likes what he does. He specializes in strategy and message development, media relations and media training and writing (news releases, annual reporters,
collateral, etc.). He also writes the Monday Morning Media Minute, a free weekly media tip distributed
by e-mail. You can reach him at email@example.com / 303-781-8787.
[PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION]