Can you imagine a world without Radio Shack, Sears and Blockbuster? If you’re somebody who lacks an imagination, you are probably panicking right now. Settle down and take a few deep breaths. See, these well-known brands – which were dominant in their respective industries – don’t exist anymore, so there’s no need to think up some dark, terrible world without radios, tall Chicago skyscrapers and late rental fees since that’s the reality. But did you know that there are plenty of hugely successful companies that almost suffered a similar fate? Thanks to some luck and the right strategy, they managed to avoid going the way of the dodo bird. Here’s a look at 8 of them.
1. Etch a Sketch
If you were ever a kid (and you’d be defying nature if you weren’t), there’s a pretty good chance that you owned an Etch a Sketch and proved to your parents that your artistic talent knew no boundaries. You’d sketch a flower and something that sort of looked like a butterfly, admire your work, and shake that sucker vigorously once it was time to move on drawing a house with a happy sun overhead. However, in the 1990s the company that manufactured this iconic toy began to struggle financially, but thanks to its placement in the movie Toy Story in 1995, it saw a temporary sales boost. The Etch a Sketch returned in Toy Story 2 four years later – this time for 45 seconds compared to 15 in the original – and that was enough to put it over the top for good. Today the toy is thriving.
Much like the aforementioned Etch a Sketch, Lego is something that has defined almost everybody’s childhood unless you grew up in one of those households that forbid joy and happiness. But in the late 90s, the company was in serious trouble. A new CEO was hired and he made the brilliant decision to partner up with George Lucas and release Star Wars and Indiana Jones Lego sets. Lego has gone on to do this with other movies as well (and even made several movies based on Lego itself!) and the company is definitely in good shape now.
This one was a while back, so it’s probably not a surprise if you were unaware of how close this car manufacturer was to collapsing. Back in the 1940s, BMW was actually known for producing affordable automobiles. But in 1948 they made the strategic decision to focus on the luxury cars instead, and by this nearly doomed them as the price was 4 times the salary of the typical German of that time. Herbert Quandt swooped in and saved the company from bankruptcy.
4. Six Flags
Six Flags is where you take the kids when the thought of confronting the huge rodent that wanders around Disneyland is more than you can handle. But in 2009, the amusement park corporation filed for bankruptcy after finding itself $2.4 billion in debt. After some major restructuring, they got back on their feet and a decade later they’re bringing in around 30 million visitors a year.
5. American Airlines
Back in 2011, during a major economic downturn in the airline industry, American Airlines found itself worth only $90 million. That might sound like tons of money, but consider this: it’s actually less than what it would cost to buy a new passenger jet. But thanks to investors eager to buy American Airline stock on the cheap (it was as low as 20 cents per share), the company found itself in proper footing and even bought out US Airways a mere two years after filing for bankruptcy protection, making it the largest airline in the world.
Shipping things via aircraft is something we all take for granted today, but before FedEx made this part of its business strategy, the other couriers were using trucks and ponies or whatever. However, a surge in oil prices in the mid-70s was costing the company more than it could afford and suddenly it was down to its last $5000. So what did founder Frederick Smith do? He made his way to Las Vegas and bet it all in games of Blackjack. Fortunately, luck was on his side and he left with $32,000, which was just enough to be able to pay for more jet fuel, keeping the company afloat and buying it some time that allowed it to secure a bank loan and eventually become the $25 billion the behemoth that it is today.
7. Walt Disney Company
Disney actually nearly went under on two occasions: back in 1920 when the company’s financial banker himself went bankrupt and again in 1937 when the high costs associated with making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs left Walt Disney himself having to invest $1.5 million of his personal money along with taking out a bank loan in order to get it completed. As it turned out, the movie was a huge blockbuster, making $8 million (a pretty damn good amount for the time), keeping the company afloat and eventually leading to that Baby Yoda that we all hold dear.
When your goal is to be as pretentious as hell, owning the latest iPhone and Macbook Pro should do the trick. But in 1997 Apple was far from the company that is best known for selling overpriced gadgets to hipsters. In fact, if not for a $150 million assist from rival Bill Gates himself, Apple would probably be mentioned in the same breath as the Commodore. But don’t worry, Microsoft also made off pretty handsomely from this investment.