What Small Businesses Can Learn From Century Old Companies

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In our modern times of “dot coms” and companies that come and go, it’s often easy to overlook businesses who have a long track record and have yet to go belly up in the uncertain economy.

While a lot goes into the success of a company, let alone one that’s been around for over a hundred years, there are some specific examples that we, as small business owners, can learn from each one of them.

Avedis Zildjian Co.

The name might leave you pondering unless you happen to be a drummer. Zildjian cymbals are still some of the best made today. Founded in 1623 Zildjian stumbled upon a an alloy that happened to be great for making cymbals and the rest as they say, is history.

What can learn from Zildjian? To put it simply, craftsmanship. While most businesses today are not backed by centuries old knowledge, they can master whatever craft it is they do. They can have an attention to detail that makes their products or services stand out among competitors.

Welch Foods Inc.

If you’ve never had Welch’s grape juice I’d question whether you were ever 5 (maybe you just warped up to adulthood and missed the sweet taste of this stuff). Of course plain grape juice isn’t all this company is known for now but it’s certainly their main offering. Beyond making a tasty product, what has kept this company together since 1869? It’s actually owned by the farmers.

While the idea of a “co-op” might bring to mind an independent health food store, what Welch’s accomplished is the result of the farmers joining together and producing a finished product themselves. Each one brings something to the table and each one values the success of the business as a whole.

So what can we learn from Welch’s? A lot of small businesses are owner/operators or have a limited number of employees. It’s a perfect environment to get everyone involved and allowing everyone to have an “ownership” in the success of the company.

Coca Cola

In 1886 workers were building an American icon – the Statue of Liberty, but that same year what would become another American icon was being created – Coca Cola. While it’s certainly the most well-known company on this list and they’ve certainly had their failures (their formula change in 1985 still goes down in history as one of the biggest), there is one thing small businesses can really take note of: branding.

While most small businesses can only dream that they could be one of the most recognizable brands in the world, there’s a number of things that can be learned by studying what this company has done. Changing with the times has always been a strategy of Coca Cola. Being able to reinvent and redefine goals while still maintaining branding is one thing they do very, very well.

Mason Box Co.

While they certainly aren’t a household name like Coca Cola, this company has been around since 1891 when they began making corrugated boxes. Quietly and without a lot of pomp and circumstance they’ve continued doing just that. While their box line has diversified somewhat, they’ve targeted some niches – namely jewelry and candy boxes. They’re like the Apple of boxes – make a few things, but make them well.

Sometimes there’s really no need to have a gazillion products in your line and if you can sell your products to niche industries, your small business could fare very well.

John Gallin & Sons

As you might have noticed, all the companies so far have been product-based but I also wanted to show that a service business could also cross the hundred year anniversary mark. Founded in 1886 and run by four generations of Gallins, this construction company found their niche in New York city. They offer quality, cost-effective construction management and contracting for commercial interiors in the area.

So how have they done so well? While they have a narrow niche (NYC metro area) they have managed to build a reputation based on the quality and cost-effective services they offer. Those two components go a very long way in service businesses.

Withstanding the test of time …

While there are thousands of companies worldwide that have been around 100+ years, you only have to look at a handful to see some patterns forming. Tried and true business and marketing principals withstand the test of time (and when done right, can even withstand brutal economic times).

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