Polaroid fotobarNo one stays on top forever. This is especially true in the technology business. Just ask Sony. They made the Walkman, an international sensation that defined portable music. How could they let a struggling computer company take over that market with the iPod?
Polaroid is another example. The company whose name is shorthand for fun photography has long since dwindled in the eyes of American consumers. The same is true for BlackBerry and Nokia – once giants, now Lilliputians.
These companies have taken a beating as of late, but some innovation, new products and a changing consumer marketplace have aligned to give them all a chance at success in 2013.
Amateur photography has never been more popular. So what better time for a fun photography company such as Polaroid to stage its comeback?
The company recently announced is would open 10 retail stores, called Polaroid Fotobars, in the United States this year. The 76-year-old company is ready to continue its history of innovation by (finally) embracing the digital age with Fotobar – an easy, simple and cost-effective process to transform your favorite digital photos from your phone, computer or camera into personal pieces of art. You bring in your photos, they help you create your masterpiece, and they’ll ship you the finished product within 72 hours.
The new venture is the brainchild of entrepreneur Warren Struhl, who has been invigorating companies for years. As reported on Inc.com, Struhl started a business called PaperDirect.com in the 1980s, which is credited with being one of the first sellers of specialty decorative printing paper. Within four years, he built that company to $100 million in revenue and sold it to Deluxe Corporation in 1993 for $120 million.
Polaroid is hoping for some of that magic. After years of struggling to stay relevant, Polaroid is selling cameras of all kinds, as well as kids tablets, computer and printer accessories and audio equipment.
To get the public excited about Fotobars, the company will host events and photography classes in the stores. Struhl told Inc.com he plans on inviting photographers with the most followers on Instagram to speak, as well as hosting parties for kids. If Fotobar can help a photo-obsessed culture turn their megapixels into physical works of art, Polaroid is poised to be huge again.
Sony has lost money for the last four years. Their HDTV division is taking a beating from cheaper rivals in China and South Korea. The PlayStation Vita is limping along and a new generation of gaming consoles – which is always a question mark – is right around the corner.
So why is this popular technology giant on a list of comeback companies? Because Sony finds a way to win, and they’ve begun by anointing new Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai to get them back on top.
Hirai is not shy about the company’s problems or his abilities to solve them, recently telling reporters that Sony is more agile and focused than it was when he took over the reigns about nine months ago. At that time, Sony was in its fourth year of losing money. Hirai said the reason Sony was being beaten by the likes of Apple and Samsung was due to a crippling bureaucracy within the company that sometimes buried good ideas. He’s fixing that now, personally shepherding projects under his own wing.
As for TVs, Hirai is standing by the legendary quality of the Sony brand. He plans to target customers who are willing to pay for that quality instead of engaging in price wars.
He may be onto something. Sony’s 4K ultra-HDTV – which displays four times the pixels of today's TVs – was well received at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The same goes for their new waterproof, HD cellphone.
Sony is also invested in things Americans consumers never see, such as Japanese medical equipment maker Olympus Corp. and a partnership with Panasonic.
It won’t happen overnight, but Sony’s track record of innovation, quality, and customer loyalty – especially in the gaming division – will put them back on track.
The people who have stuck with their BlackBerrys are the sort of folks who stick with old cars. It’s not broken, so why fix it? Meanwhile, the smartphone world speeds on without them. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is hoping to change that with their new phones. They even ran a Super Bowl ad, a first for RIM.
Early word and rumors on the new BlackBerry has been positive – even suggesting the BlackBerry 10 browser is faster than anything else on the market – at a time when Apple’s dominance is coming into question. Research firm IDC shows Apple with 19.1 percent of the worldwide market. Samsung has 30.3 percent. RIM is hanging on with 4.6 percent. Among that 4.6 percent is President Barack Obama, who was seen with his BlackBerry at the inauguration. He is in good company with business professionals of his age who still believe business gets done on a BlackBerry. (A belief that still holds in the ongoing PC/Mac debate.)
While RIM might have faired better by releasing their new phone in time for the 2012 Christmas season, this 2013 launch has its advantages. Despite the constant release of new smartphones, there is a feeling of malaise setting in. Aside from screen size and a few other features, most smartphones look and act the same these days. Some of Apple’s hip cache may have died along with the company’s hero, Steve Jobs. Its success may be killing its appeal: How can something be ubiquitous and cool at the same time?
The market needs another option. If the new BlackBerry can best the current crop of smartphones while bringing something new to the table, it may become the next big thing … again.
Nokia has been struggling, but the company turned a net profit of $286 million in the fourth quarter compared with a loss of billions a year earlier. The competitive smartphone market isn’t going to get any easier on the Finnish company, but their immediate future is looking good.
Tom Taulli, who runs IPO Playbook, said Nokia is a realistic third option for the major carriers, and it’s increasingly looking like the Lumia is a solid offering.
“Nokia stock’s valuation remains fairly low at a price-to-sales ratio of just 0.35, while offering a healthy dividend yield of 4.5 percent. Plus, the company also has strong core assets like a mapping business and a broad patent portfolio.”
He believes the company’s comeback is for real, based on sales momentum and the company’s relationship with Microsoft.
Do you think any of these companies have a chance for a comeback? Weigh-in your thoughts below.