I love a good schadenfreude session as much as the next guy, but aside from just marveling at the lousy launches and poor decision-making, there are important lessons we can learn from reflecting on a business's failure.
Whether you take notes about the pitfalls to avoid or gain insight about market analysis, let’s examine some of 2013’s biggest business fails for some insight that might help us run our businesses just a little better:
Once employing as many as 60,000 people in its 9,000 stores, for a time Blockbuster was the king of video rentals. But Dish Network bought out Blockbuster in its bankruptcy proceedings in 2011 and has been dismantling the empire ever since. Only about 300 of the company-owned stores remain open, and every one of those will be shuttered by January 2014. It’s the end of an era.
Why did Blockbuster fail, and what can we learn from it? Times have changed, and physical DVD rentals have plummeted or shifted to kiosks like Redbox. Many viewers have opted to watch movies digitally, streaming from a host of online options. As times changed, Blockbuster simply became obsolete. Our takeaway should be to look forward, ensuring that our business models will remain relevant to consumers.
Suntech Power Holdings
Once the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels, Suntech Power Holdings filed for a provisional liquidation in November. At its peak in 2007, shares for this Chinese company once traded at $86.28—those shares are currently worth about a dollar. The provisional liquidation is an attempt to restructure the company and restore it to health, though it will likely look quite different when the owners are finished with it.
So how does the leading solar panel producer end up so profoundly unprofitable? Suntech failed to adapt to changing market conditions, particularly to the global glut of solar panels and the subsequent drop in prices for those panels. Our lesson here: Companies must remain responsive and relevant in order to thrive.
OSX Brasil SA
The Brazilian-based shipbuilding behemoth, OSX Brasil SA, is on the verge of seeking bankruptcy protection to permit the company to restructure and dig itself out of a staggering debt load that's estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Whether the shipbuilding operation will affect the other parts of former billionaire Eike Batista’s mining, energy production and logistics operations remains to be seen, but our lesson is buried in the reason for the enormous debt incurred by OSX. The company is down a mind-blowing 94 percent due to losses incurred by Batista’s oil production company, OGX, losses that were a result of failing to meet its ambitious oil production targets.
Lesson to learn: Don’t lose sight of meeting your customers’ needs and delivering your products at the expense of peripheral ventures.
Velti's Mobile Marketing Businesses
Ireland-based Velti PLC announced plans this year to sell its mobile marketing businesses in the U.S., Britain and India to Blackstone, while filing for bankruptcy for its other holdings. Shares that had traded at $20 in 2011 are currently valued at roughly $.08.
What caused this catastrophic meltdown? Enormous numbers of unpaid bills from its customers, which in turn have prevented Velti from honoring its debts. In Greece and Cyprus alone, Velti wrote off more than $100 million in receivables for a single quarter in 2013, and prospects for the company’s survival are limited, at best. What we can learn: Don’t neglect your receivables. Doing so could just sink you.
The 78-year-old camera retailer, Jessops, all but closed up shop in early 2013, putting some 1,400 workers out of work and shuttering stores. Having labored under steady losses for many years, the camera retailer struggled mightily to fight the changing technology that made it increasingly obsolete. Though digital cameras had been the source of huge revenue for a time, shutterbugs increasingly turned to other devices—smartphones, chief among them—rather than purchasing a separate device to take photographs. Although a few retail shops have been reopened this year after Jessops was acquired by entrepreneur Peter Jones, the business looks extremely different following its dramatic restructuring.
What important lesson can we learn? Changing technology requires retailers to stay ahead of the curve. We must strive to anticipate the market’s direction and find a way to stay relevant.
This year left us with some cautionary tales about businesses that failed to flourish. The essence of what we can take away from these failures is simple and straightforward: Follow best business practices while striving to evolve and remain a vital part of our rapidly changing marketplace.
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