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Companies that swap industries are rare. Hundreds of companies routinely switch gears, add new products, change their marketing strategy. But that’s not switching industries. Switching industries is like Doctor Who regenerating into a new body with its own distinctly new personality, with the old memories still lingering in the archives of his brain. Some companies, like Nokia, do it on a grand scale and survive. Others, like Wrigley, manage to putt-putt along with moments of brilliance until they shine. Then there are those that fail miserably, like the defunct Coleco.
Would the Cabbage Patch Kids have sold if they were made of leather? Many little girls are thanking the Connecticut Leather Company for changing its name to Coleco and calling its leather business quits. From leather to electronics to toys, Coleco’s run the gamut of change. Alas, with dimpled doll interest finally biting the dust, Coleco fell into bankruptcy in 1988. The company brand hit stores again in 2005 with Coleco Sonic featuring Sega gaming.
4 Reading Company
Do not pass Go. Do not take a ride on the Reading Railroad. It’s now kaput. Taken over by Conrail in 1976, the Reading Company went from prosperous railroads to 56 movie cinemas and real estate development in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. What began in 1833 as coal transport became the largest corporation in the world by 1870. With government regulation breaking up monopolies (yes, Monopoly), the rail business went belly up until it became Reading International and a leader in real estate cinema.
It didn’t take Philadelphia’s William Wrigley, Jr. long to notice that the sundry industry wasn’t as sweet as the candy industry. Necessities like soap and baking powder weren’t cutting the mustard, but the free sticks of gum he included in his merchandise held so much appeal to customers that Wrigley’s gum was born. From practically defunct to global behemoth. All from flavorfully formed resin.
Originally an oil exploration company with alleged ties to the CIA, then venturing into fish protein and food packaging, Zapata jumped on the dot.com bandwagon in 1998, only to crash and burn. George H.W. Bush founded Zapata Oil in 1953. No longer in the energy biz, Zapata’s now the Harbinger Group, Inc. with ties to the insurance industry.
1 Sharper Image
Sharper Image, is a brand of multiple personalities. Created in 1977, Sharper Image began as a catalog business that specialized in athletic watches. It successfully expanded into consumer electronics, but closed up shop when major tech brands entered the scene. The company found success again with infomercials, but went bankrupt in 2008 after losing a lawsuit with “Consumer Reports” over a bad review and bad test results regarding its popular seller the Ionic Breeze air purifier. It has since emerged as… drum roll… a catalog company. Moral of the story? Stick with what you know.