They say the two-year mark is a benchmark for a company’s success. If this is true, then a century or even a millennium is an accomplishment that most business owners cannot fathom. Things change rapidly in business so there is something important to identifying how some long-standing brands have been able to ride the ups and downs of economy and stay relevant for multiple generations.
Let’s start with an American company out of a shear sense of fairness. The United States is only a bit less than two and a half centuries old. Compared to its European and Asian counterparts, it is a baby. So a company that has been around for 116 years, around half the age of our nation, is rather impressive. Firestone tires, established in 1900 by Harvey Firestone, has kept its doors open by being technology experts with a very tight brand. Their brand message revolves around the fact that they are the preferred tire for professional racers, making Firestone the most knowledgeable tire company in the world.
The Shirley Plantation, an active plantation and a historic landmark and museum, has been in the Carter-Hill family for more than four centuries, making it 163 year older than the United States and the oldest business in North America. Unlike the rest of the companies on this list, the Shirley Plantation has stayed significant by not changing. It is a fixed point in national history and this is what makes it so interesting. It is an example of brand consistency. From a business point-of-view, and as something to be followed, the business has maintained one consistent brand message for centuries. They are family owned with everything else being extra.
The Japanese culture as a world power is more than two millennia old so it makes sense that some of the oldest companies in the world are Japanese. Most of these are local establishments that date back to the days of emperors and Samurai but some, like sake manufacturer Gekkeikan, have made the leap from local to global. Sake making has been around for more than 2000 years and is steeped in tradition that borders the mystical. Gekkeikan brought it out of the ritual and into the scientific world, starting the first research-based sake brewing foundation called the Okura Sake Brewing Research Institute (currently the Gekkeikan General Research Institute) and offering the alcoholic beverage to the world. Gekkeikan used niche marketing, long before it was named this, and focused on a very tight U.S. market of specialty beverage drinkers to establish itself on the global market.
Like Japan, Great Britain has some long established businesses that have jumped the ocean to become world powers. Twining, founded in 1706, started as a coffee house but now, more than 300 years later, is a world leader in tea. Twining’s business is linked to the United States’ central history with the Twining founders attempting to lower tea taxes in England and establishing export relations with colonial founders like George Washington. Twining’s example to modern businesses is to be ready to identify and act on a new opportunity or market segment. This is market segmentation long before Wendell R. Smith wrote about it in the Journal of Marketing in 1956.
Synonymous with sophistication, Sotheby’s has a business model of doing one thing and doing it well. Even looking at the company’s About tab on its website, it is evident that they have one expertise. Sotheby’s knows art. They know how to find it, sell it and value it. Nothing can keep a company in business longer than being good at what you do.