One of the few truths in life is that you’re not always going to get it right on your first try. This is especially true when your goal is to become an international, multibillion dollar company. Countless businesses have risen and crumbled simply because they offered the wrong product and failed to see it. Others, however, learn to adapt. These companies did just that, and are now some of the biggest corporations in the world.
Today, The Gap is one of the largest apparel retailers in the world. In fact, for a while it was the largest and still has over 3,200 locations worldwide and employs 132,000 people. That’s a giant leap from the first Gap merchandise store, opened in 1969 in San Francisco by Donald and Doris Fisher. To be fair, the company didn’t need to do a complete 180 when it comes to its product lineup, but a little specialization. At first, The Gap sold an odd combination of Levi’s jeans and LP music records.
Donald and Doris Fisher, Gap founders Source: CNN
The store was successful right off the bat, recording $2 million in sales the first year alone and quickly opened another store. It would only be a few years before The Gap became a chain across the East Coast, but this success is also due to the company’s decision to drop LPs from the merchandise and instead focus on popular clothing apparel.
The first Gap store opened in 1969 Source: Redesign Related
Source: Merchant Circle
With annual sales exceeding $10 billion, Avon is one of the biggest beauty companies in the world, but it has very humble (and completely unrelated) beginnings. It all started with one man – David McConnell. He was a door-to-door salesman who toted books, not beauty products. His business wasn’t doing too well, so in an attempt to boost sales, he began offering small samples of perfume as gifts in order to entice female buyers (who, given that this was the late 19th century, were by and large the people taking care of the home during the day).
David McConnell, founder of Avon Source: Wikipedia
His plan worked…sort of. Customers weren’t really interested in buying more books from him, but they did want to buy more perfume. McConnell hopped on this untapped market and eventually founded a new company dubbed the California Perfume Company in 1892. It would later be renamed Avon, and the rest, they say, is history.
Original California Perfume Company products Source: Beautylish
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Over the decades, Lamborghini stayed relatively within the same automotive industry, although there’s a big difference between the company’s exotic roadsters that earned its fame and the vehicles it started out with – tractors.
Ferruccio Lamborghini, founder of the company Source: Lambo Cars
Lamborghini founder Ferruccio Lamborghini didn’t kick off his career in luxury cars but tractors. After serving as a mechanic in World War Two, Lamborghini started a tractor-building business that, by the 1950s, was very successful. This allowed Lamborghini to indulge in his true passion – fast cars. He had all the luxury automobiles of the day, including several Ferraris. However, when the clutch broke on one of them, Ferruccio contacted Enzo Ferrari himself and gave him advice on how he could improve his cars.
Ferrari made the mistake of quickly dismissing Lamborghini as a mere tractor builder who knew nothing about cars. As you might imagine, this inspired Lamborghini to start his own company and create the perfect GT car to compete with Ferrari. He did just that, and the rivalry between the two companies is still alive today.
Lamborghini tractor from 1951 Source: Wikipedia
Source: Chris Glass
Just like Avon, Wrigley found fortune in selling products that were originally used as promotional incentives. Unlike Avon, Wrigley’s journey was more complicated. William Wrigley Jr. initially went to Chicago in 1891 to sell soap. In order to boost sales, he began offering free baking powder with each soap purchase, and it wasn’t long before people became more interested in the latter.
William Wrigley Jr., company founder Source: Fine Art America
Seeing a business opportunity, Wrigley quickly switched to operating a baking powder business. Again, this didn’t really take off like he hoped it would. Wrigley returned to the incentive strategy once more (after all, it previously helped him tap into another market), and offered packages of chewing gum with each baking powder purchase. Soon enough, the gum became more popular than the product itself. Although a pattern was emerging, Wrigley decided to change businesses once more and this time, it stuck.
Wrigley’s first failed business Source: Wrigley
It’s hard not to have a soft spot for companies that started out in someone’s garage and achieved great success despite great odds. Mattel is one of those companies. Founded in 1945 by Ruth and Elliot Handler and Harold Matson, the company initially manufactured and sold picture frames.
Elliot and Ruth Handler, Mattel founders Source: The New York Times
They made them in the Handlers’ garage, and Handler started to make dollhouse furniture with the leftover wood. As it would happen, the doll furniture eventually became more popular than the frames themselves. Mattel picked up on the market signals and made the switch to toy company, with the most significant development taking place in 1959 with the release of the first ever Barbie doll.
The Uke-a-Doodle, Mattel’s first hit toy Source: Reklam Klub
Source: The Dubai Mall
Finnish communications giant Nokia has the most convoluted origin story so far. The company is a conglomerate of three distinct entities: the Nokia Company, Finnish Rubber Works and Finnish Cable Works. The Nokia Company itself started as a ground wood pulp mill founded by Fredrik Idestam in 1865. The company got its name when it opened a second mill near the town of Nokia, by the Nokianvirta River. This is also where Eduard Polon founded his company, Finnish Rubber Works, which manufactured rubber products, particularly footwear such as galoshes.
Fredrik Idestam, the man who founded the wood pulp mill eventually known as the Nokia Company Source: Playtech
When the Nokia Company was nearing bankruptcy due to World War I, Finnish Rubber Works bought it in order to use the Nokia name, a recognized Finnish brand. Later on, it would also buy Finnish Cable Works. The three companies have been jointly owned since 1922 but became one organization in 1967. It started out as a wood pulp mill selling paper products, went on to make tires and rubber boots and is now one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the world.
A pair of genuine Nokian galoshes Source: About Nokia