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Don’t Wait Until The Knife Is In Your Back; Business Lessons From The Twinkie!


Recently, Twinkies are making headlines.  And the bottom line is that there might not be anymore Twinkies.  But in any tale of a famous brand’s demise, there are lessons.  What can entrepreneurs learn from the trouble with Twinkies?

1)  Know if you are going out of style.

If it can happen to an American icon, it can happen to you.  That’s right, you might be all the rage today (or even for decades) but what about tomorrow?  To survive, you have to notice the behavior or preference changes in your marketplace.  You have to know who else in playing your game and if they playing it better.  Know the indicators that forecast the future of your business and read between their tea leaves to make the right strategy choices.

2)  Twinkies did not fail overnight.

It’s not like one day everyone woke up and said “I am not buying Twinkies anymore”.    People’s preferences and buying patterns started to change long before the company got into trouble.  Early warning signs were there.  If your numbers start to slip, pay attention and make changes.   But what is the change?  If you don’t know, then this is the biggest clue of all for what went wrong for you.   You lost touch with your market.

3)  If you got nothing but trouble, for a long period of time, you just gotta rethink the way you are doing business.

Twinkies were in trouble before.  And now they are in trouble again.  How long does it take for someone to realize, that trouble actually means . . . . well, trouble.   Know how long has your business been tinkering on the edge. You have some good months here, more bad months there . . .  and yes, you can blame a lot on the recession but like trouble, recessions don’t start or disappear overnight.   You certainly can’t wish them away.

The real “back to the wall’ challenge is to withstand recession with innovation.

4)  Can Twinkies be saved?

Well, that’s a really great question and the answer is “why?”  What is the #1 reason Twinkies should stay on the market?  If you are not sure of the answer, that is telling you something.  The product, despite our cherished child memories of growing up together,  may not be sustainable anymore.   Could you really eat enough of them to bankroll their survival?   It’s a good idea to ask yourself the same question.   What is the #1 reason you should stay in business?  Can they buy enough of what you have to sell?  Got a good answer?  If not, RETHINK EVERYTHING.

5)  Change before the kiss of death.

I know, it hurts.   And the idea is to change before the knife is in your back.  And if you don’t want to change your business model to reflect demand, you will soon be changing your lifestyle to reflect your choice.   At the end of the day, you might wind up in a better place, but the journey won’t be pretty.

BONUS LESSON:   Finally, brand does not trump demand.

Not even an iconic brand can survive fundamental trend changes, so if you think you have a “good brand” that can survive in any market well then think again.   They can love you all they want, but at the end of the day,  are they buying your product?

By Annie Jennings.   Annie Jennings is the creator of JenningsWire: The World Of Success online feature magazine.


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2 Responses to "Don’t Wait Until The Knife Is In Your Back; Business Lessons From The Twinkie!"

  1. David Zahn says:

    Annie – while your article has some great points about the importance of branding considerations, lack of innovation, paying attention to the market/consumer, not being caught up in “what used to be,” etc. – however, the Hostess situation was not exclusively caused by product or brand issues. The costs side of the business got in the way (route to market expenses, contractual commitments, managerial bloat, etc.).

    Hostess was not completely done in by losing touch – but rather by hubris on BOTH sides of the negotiating table between management and workers. Your perspective is a worthwhile one (about being market savvy); but the “force-fit” of Hostess to make that point is not exactly accurate or a reflection of what led to what seems to be their demise.

    The proof will be when the BRANDS are actually sold to others as the company sinks into oblivion. If the brands were as weak as you suggest – no one would touch them. That is not at all what is expected to happen. Time will tell and none of us have a crystal ball to predict the future. Yet, there is much talk in the industry about how the products and brands WILL survive this (whether they thrive will depend on your points referred to in the article); but Hostess will not.

  2. Thanks David, I appreciate your comments. This entire Hostess story will make an excellent case study where we could look at all of the components that impacted the company. And you almost can’t help but wonder if they actually prefer this outcome, right? Thanks, Annie

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