Whether on television, film or in books, there are always some over the top fictional businesses to capture our hearts.
Some of these are eerily familiar, whilst others are far too fantastical to be true.
Let’s start with one you’ll surely remember...
For many of us, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (whether it’s the book or the film) will have been a staple of our childhood. And I think it has a few lessons independent businesses can learn from.
We all laughed when Violet Beauregarde turned violet, or when Augustus Gloop got stuck in a big tube. But think about it. Would Willy Wonka have got away with that if it was real life? No!
Takeaway: It shows how a business needs to take health and safety seriously, and ensure the public (your customers) are not at risk. Whichever industry you’re in, you’ll have certain health and safety standards you need to meet, and it’s important to take it seriously.
And there’s other lessons in there too. Wonka Industries was a serious business. For years, Mr Wonka made the world's best chocolate - no one got close. That was until competitors sent spies into the factory to gain an advantage over the titan of chocolate and steal his ideas.
This resulted in Willy Wonka shutting down his factory for a while, only coming back years later to share his secrets with five lucky recipients of a golden ticket. This reignited interest in the business on a massive scale, as search for these tickets became global news.
Takeaway: Willy Wonka differentiated himself from his competitors after they stole his ideas, to make him stand out from the crowd. Instead of producing the same old stuff as everyone else, he developed the everlasting gobstopper, golden chocolate eggs laid by geese and the fizzy lifting drinks (remember the burping?!).
And secondly, great marketing can be very effective, as Willy Wonka found with his golden ticket campaign. Whether you’re launching a new product or range, running a sale, or just want to drive more sales, getting creative with your marketing can really help.
You might be able to relate a bit more to this small (but very famous) New York coffee shop. Friends Ross, Phoebe, Rachel, Joey, Chandler and Monica would often spend hours at this lovely little shop drinking copious amounts of coffee.
Takeaway: Despite there being thousands of coffee shops in the city, the Friends never went anywhere else, showing just how important a loyal customer base can be. They are especially important if you want to run a sustainable independent business.
Think of ways to retain your customers - offering great customer service and a good product are the obvious ones, but how about running a loyalty scheme to keep them coming back?
Staying small, we are now going to take a look at Average Joe’s Gym, which featured in the hilarious 2004 film Dodgeball. This gym didn’t have the best equipment, but it was chilled and anyone was welcome, unlike a lot of its competitors.
Takeaway: Find a niche in your market if you can. Average Joe’s appealed to people who didn’t want to go to the flashy gyms in town, they wanted somewhere more relaxed, where they didn’t feel judged.
But the gym runs into problems, and the owner (played by Vince Vaughn) has to default on the mortgage, with the threat it’ll be flattened and turned into a car park.
The company needs saving and some of its loyal staff and customers save the day by entering a Dodgeball competition in Las Vegas, aiming to win the $50,000 prize. And, you guessed it, they win, and then some, ending up with $5 million!
Takeaway: It’s so important to keep your staff loyal and engaged. Although Average Joe’s Gym was nothing special, the owner looked after his staff and made sure they enjoyed their job, which paid dividends when times got tough.
They were there to help and worked hard to reach the business’ goals. And though extreme (it’s a Hollywood film afterall!), they saved the business from going under.
This is the artificial intelligence company that becomes the unwilling creator of rogue bots in the Terminator saga.
The company are a military defence company who start using powerful artificial intelligence (AI) called Skynet to replace human beings as pilots and to use other military systems. However, the AI eventually becomes self-aware, and realise that humans are actually their enemy, triggering a nuclear apocalypse to destroy mankind.
Oh, and the humans also create another AI, who looked a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger, to help save the day!
Takeaway: Beyond a possible future where robots run the world, the plight of Cyberdyne demonstrates that a business should always extensively test its products before going to public.
So it’s unlikely your new product is going to kill mankind, however, you shouldn’t go to market unless you’re confident it’s a great, useful, safe product.