Beating the Blockbuster effect

Dying businesses are interesting to watch. Remember the video chain, Blockbuster? Those punchy ads on TV where a singer would cry, 'Oh what a difference, Blockbuster video.'

Video, what’s that? Go into a Blockbuster store today and the blue and yellow branding seems tired and washed out. Besides, there’s no need to go to the “video shop” when you can watch movies through satellite TV or on the net.

Back in the mid-80s, however, Blockbuster was a radical idea. The man behind it, Wayne Huizenga, a serial entrepreneur from Chicago, realised that something of scale was required to sate the demand for home entertainment.

Naturally, every dog has its day and since then the large video outlets have been slow to compete with the freedom of choice – and lower prices – from other providers. Failing to move with the times is one thing but, at the other end of the scale, it seems some businesses never stand a chance, largely because they believe their product is so jaw-droppingly good that it will sell itself

Desperately seeking inspiration

The Italian restaurant near where I live in Wimbledon was a masterclass in commercial suicide. Through the dark slatted blinds, you’d see the balding owner, in his mid-40s, standing behind the counter, watching for customers. Everything about the place was in shadow. The walls were brownish, and its name was written in gold lettering on dark wood, making it indistinct and vague. The menu in the window was tiny and the font irritatingly small.

In April, the restaurant closed and it has been replaced by a Thai place. Curiously, the owner hasn’t changed a thing, apart from the menu. Even the colour of the lettering is the same; as are the empty tables.

The old incarnation believed its offerings were so delicious that there was no need to shout about what it was doing, and the new incarnation appears to be making a similar mistake. By contrast, along the same stretch of road, a Wagamama-type restaurant and a branded sushi operation make a real effort to get the image and service right. It’s appreciated and, most nights, they’re busy.

Complacency should never get the better of your business, whatever its size. Look at the almighty effort M&S has made to get itself back on track after taking its reputation for quality for granted. If you suspect your business may need a shot in the arm, check out some of the entrepreneurs in our PR and marketing section. Be it brand, service or spreading the word, they’re keeping what they do fresh and inspired.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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