Each year, 24/7 Wall St. identifies 10 important brands sold in America that we predict will disappear before 2014. This year’s list reflects the brutally competitive nature of certain industries and the importance of not falling behind in efficiency, innovation or financing.
The list also reflects how industry trends can accelerate the demise of certain brands. This year, we included two magazines — Martha Stewart Living and Road & Track. With print advertising in a multiyear decline, some magazines have weathered the decline better than others. These two, however, have suffered sharp drops in advertising revenue over the past five years. Magazines also carry the heavy legacy costs of printing, paper and distribution — a problem not shared by online-only competition.
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Consumer electronics is another category with disappearing brands. The Barnes & Noble Nook is on the list. It competes with better-selling products made by larger companies — Apple and Amazon.com — and is also in the e-reader business, a shrinking industry. The Olympus digital camera also will disappear from store shelves by the end of 2014. Camera sales, especially point-and-shoot models, have been eroded by smartphones, which have increasingly high-quality cameras.
Yet another industry with two brands on our list is automobiles. Car sales are growing in the United States, but brands with market shares under half a percent cannot compete with companies that either produce high-luxury models like Mercedes-Benz or multiline giants like General Motors. Suzuki pulled out of the American market last year. Mitsubishi and Volvo will follow soon.
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Looking back on last year’s calls list, we have had some winners, and some bad calls. Suzuki, MetroPCS and Current TV are all gone in the United States. American Airlines is part of a new company through its combination with U.S. Airways, though the American Airlines name lives on. Talbots was acquired by a private equity firm less than two months after we called it. Research In Motion is no longer a brand, having been renamed BlackBerry. We bungled our predictions regarding Avon, the Oakland Raiders and Salon.
We continue to use the same methodology in deciding which brands will disappear. The major criteria include:
—Declining sales and losses;
—Disclosures by the parent of the brand that it might go out of business;
—Rising costs that are unlikely to be recouped through higher prices;
—Companies that are sold;
—Companies that go into bankruptcy;
—Companies that have lost the great majority of their customers; and
—Operations with withering market share.
Each brand on the list suffers from one or more of these problems. Each of the 10 will be gone, based on our definitions, within 18 months.
This is 24/7 Wall St.’s 10 brands that will disappear in 2014.
1. J.C. Penney
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) has been in trouble for some time. Those who still believe in its future as an independent retailer point to the company’s ability to get a loan of $2.25 billion from Goldman Sachs and other investors, secured primarily by real estate and leases. That money, optimists claim, will last until CEO Myron Ullman can turn the company around. Ullman recently has returned to the company’s top job.
On the other hand, many believe the company cannot come back from the unprecedented sales losses it has suffered in recent years. The industry is very competitive, both at brick-and-mortar stores and online. Big-box retailers from Walmart to Target and successful department stores such as Macy’s are larger than J.C. Penney and are growing. At the e-commerce level, companies such as Amazon.com and eBay, are gobbling up market share. Amazon has done damage to retailers much healthier than J.C. Penney.
Even in a less competitive environment, a J.C. Penney comeback could not be sustained. For the year ended February 3, the company reported that comparable store sales dropped 25.2%, revenue fell 24.8 % to $12.985 billion and Internet sales were $1.02 billion, a plunge of 33% from the previous year. While the most recent quarter was considered an improvement with sales down 16.4%, in reality it was nothing more than a brief reprieve. There is absolutely no reason to believe that J.C. Penney’s prospects will improve.
Barnes & Noble Inc.’s (NYSE: BKS) e-reader was destined to struggle from the start. It was launched in October 2009, roughly two years after Amazon.com’s Kindle, which was, and has remained, the market leader. Both products were hit by competition from Apple’s iPad before the e-reader business even hit its stride. Adoption of tablets is forecast to grow 69.8% in 2013, while e-readers are expected to drop 27%.
The Nook was thrown a lifeline a year ago, when Microsoft invested $300 million in Barnes & Noble’s digital business, but to no avail. It has been downhill since. Sales at the company’s Nook segment, which includes both the e-reader and online books, declined by 26% between the third quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of 2013. The Nook’s disadvantage may have little to do with its hardware or software and more to do with size of its online audience. It competes against much larger e-commerce sites that have access to hundreds of millions of new readers. While Amazon has more than 130 million visitors a month according to Quantcast, Barnes & Noble has just over 6 million visitors.
3. Martha Stewart Living Magazine
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (NYSE: MSO) has three divisions: publishing, broadcasting and merchandising. In the five years up to the end of 2012, publishing revenue fell from $179.1 million to $122.5 million. Last year, the division lost $62 million. In the first quarter of this year, publishing revenue dropped from $30.8 million to $24.5 million. The unit lost $990,000 in that period. Because of its troubles, the company tried to sell off smaller magazines. Its Everyday Food stopped publication as a standalone title with the December 2012 issue. Whole Living was discontinued after the January/February 2013 issue.
The main problem at the company’s flagship magazine, Martha Stewart Living, is the precipitous drop in advertising pages. According to the Media Industry Newsletter, the magazine’s advertising pages fell from 1,306 in 2008 to 766 last year. Pages are up to 404 through the first half of the year, but even if the full year runs at this rate, it is not enough. The company does have a good opportunity to retrench.
Two of Omnimedia divisions are doing quite well and could sustain a restructured company. Merchandising had revenue of $11.5 million in the first quarter, and an operating income of $5.7 million. Even the small broadcasting operation made money. The company could move the magazine online, as many other newspapers and magazines have done, to avoid the huge costs of paper, printing, and adding new subscribers. Martha Stewart Living lost its ability to be a standalone magazine long ago.
LivingSocial, a daily deals website, has trailed Groupon since it launched. But this is an industry in which trailing the leading company is a very bad sign. As the financial troubles of Groupon demonstrate, the online daily deal industry started to fall apart not long after it began. Groupon’s share price, which reached a high of more than $26 after its initial public offering, was trading as low as $2.60 last year. While the stock is up on improved sales, the company remains unprofitable.
The situation is even worse for LivingSocial. Leading advertising publication AdWeek recently reported that sources would not be surprised if the company “was sold to a larger company or liquidated piece by piece by spring 2014.” That is a long way from when Amazon.com confidently invested $175 million in LivingSocial in 2010. The deal soured as the huge e-commerce company wrote down the investment by $169 million in late 2012. More recently, an Amazon SEC filing indicated that LivingSocial lost $50 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to a profit of $156 million in the same period a year ago.
The biggest competitors to both LivingSocial and Groupon are eBay, American Express and Amazon’s own AmazonLocal service. Each has a huge customer base and significant amounts of data about its customers, which they can use to target deals. LivingSocial does not stand a chance.