Saturday, July 8, 2017

Question for the Community: Does Popularity Destroy Great Establishments?


"Don't let Yankee grow any more, boys,"  [Robb] said... "the plumbing won't take it!" 
- Robb Sagendorph (Yankee Magazine founder, Harvard '22), quoted by Judson Hale (Yankee Magazine Editor, Dartmouth '55) in  The Education of a Yankee 
It is a premise that popularity can kill great institutions, locations, events, brands, and more.  Many do not want their favorite restaurant to become discovered.  Popularity of a dog breed leads to kitchen breeders. Clubs built around mutual interests that become well known soon become magnets for people with no interest in the original raison d'être.

Apocrypha aside, does popularity inevitably undermine great things?  Which institutions are more susceptible, what are the warning signs, and what establishments have been successful at staving off the consequences of popularity?

Or, as with stocks, is all growth by definition good?


Brooks Brothers

Range Rover and Mercedes


Nantucket


Martha's Vineyard

L.L. Bean

America's Cup

43 comments:

  1. "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded" - Yogi Berra

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  2. We will have this problem for as long as "brand" serves as a stand-in for character and personality. At least we still have Maine.

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  3. Honda Motors has that problem, became too popular, and they have stagnated for a decade. I am can see a ' smaller' car maker having the same problem in the near future.

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  4. Although our better nature is to share all good things, there often does come a point of "over-saturation" which degrades the value of production. Case in point: Lands End T-shirts, Bean Chinos and Bean Boots. Sometimes in life, less really is more... and I am not a big fan of always doing, wearing, being or saying that which is most popular. Thanks for the post!

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  5. I don't think popularity caused the downfall of clothing brands that now seem like either a parody or cheap copy of their original forms. I think it's when management decides to cater to the masses and all budgets that a brand becomes watered down and ruined. It's almost like trying too hard to be popular in more markets as opposed to the other way around.

    A good warning sign for a clothing brand/design getting watered down is if you can find a knock-off on Alibaba or Ali Express at a fraction of the price and can't tell the difference from the authentic piece. Sometimes they are manufactured at the same plant!

    I think restaurants and nature/parks are the most susceptible to the damages of being discovered.

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    1. I agree about parks...At my favorite, I am packing out more rubbish than I brought in now. It used to be such a secret, too! Basically, kids and local fishing! But there are a few great tourists we don't mind sharing with, if they would only keep the secret spots to themselves! (Yes, I am laughing at my own conundrum!)

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  6. "The victor belongs to the spoils". - F. Scott Fitzgerald

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  7. There was once a nice little boys school called Princeton.

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  8. While it is possible that popularity might destroy a great establishment or institution, unpopularity assuredly will.

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  9. Really? Harvard has been "destroyed by popularity"? In what sense (I hesitate to ask)?

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    1. I wonder if after the first couple decades, it seemed to become slightly full of legacy admissions.

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  10. For some brands, it is a matter of survival to adapt to popular trends and the tastes of emerging markets, which are now surpassing the West as the largest consumers of select luxury products. An exchange of open letters between the musician John Mayer and the Swiss watch brand IWC illustrates the point. Mayer was bemoaning the loss of IWC's exclusivity with their new offerings. IWC pleaded guilty, with the caveat that expanding their customer base in a controlled manner was the only way to adapt and continue the brand. Snob appeal alone is a fleeting thing. The IWC way -- to grow the business without sacrificing quality -- is the narrow path to avoid the negative consequences of popularity.

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    1. Hamm's beer for me lately but I'm worrying that it's rise in popularity may drive up the price and scarcity.

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    2. I can get a 30 pack of Hamms for $11.99 here in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the store where I buy it only stocks a few at a time and my beer friends have discovered it. Self-described beer snobs, they enjoy the taste as well as the cheap price. I guess there may exist some "cheap beer cache" they like to exploit: bringing canned Hamms to a party when others are bringing new microbrews, but it's hard to tell. My favorite beer is is getting harder to find is all I know.

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    3. Not to mention, those old Hamm's commercials we're awesome!

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  11. It is always the same whether it is a store, a bar, a restaurant, a club, a vacation destination, a web site, a business, no matter. When the fickle mob “discovers” it, it immediately wants to change it. “I love it, but if only they did this ….” But the original loyal patrons/customers don’t change and don’t want changes. The establishment in question must then decide whether to keep on doing what it does the way it does, or make the changes demanded by the mob. When the fickle mob inevitably moves on to the next popular thing, the establishment that made changes to accommodate the mob is left behind as a transformed hybrid that no longer satisfies either the fickle mob that abandoned it or the original regulars who no longer recognize it. It dies. On the other hand, the ones that refuse to change and keep their original patrons/customers foremost in their sights, weather the storm of popularity, and remember the wisdom that came from the experience: remain focused on your core business, practices, and customers, and even if you grow beyond your wildest imagination you will survive forever. Everything works this way.

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  12. If "great establishments/institutions" decide that their "popularity" is cause enough to raise pricing without keeping/raising value, then there's nothing the consumer can do aside from continuing trade relationships with that entity, or ceasing trade relationships. I'd give ancestry dot com as an example: they've come along slowly, they've steadily cornered the market, they've harnessed a #1 recommendation from almost all online genealogical rating entities, they've ceased their 14-day-free-trial membership level, they've launched a DNA project that answers to no other best practices authority other than their own [@ $100 per shot], they've hired an advertising agency at the millions of dollars level, put out a Signers of the Declaration of Independence ad on July 4, 2017 rife with discrepancies and inaccuracies [see the internet for documentation]. Their reputation is established, they've invested in keeping it that way, and they're in the process of capturing every last dollar they can, while they can.

    No, I will not deal with the ancestry dot com cash cow ever again.

    Is that what you meant, LOL ;-)

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  13. The quaint Cape Cod of my youth (1950's).

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    1. Nantucket and MV as well. Sigh.

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    2. The Bluffs bar in Bay Head, NJ

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  14. Having grown up in Chocolate Town USA, Hershey Park used to be a charming amusement park for local families to enjoy on hot summer nights; parents would provide the kids with a strip of ride tickets while they would enjoy the entertainment at the band shell - it was a fun time and a win win for all ages. Plus, it was a perfect park for daytime picnics that had the advantage of an adjoining public swimming pool. Today Hersheypark, its changed name, is just another commercialized resort that has lost its appeal for me. In this case, bigger isn't better and commercialization ruined what was once a lovely company town in my opinion.

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  15. That's the first time I've seen the expression "lovely company town."

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    1. BlueTrain, if you ever read Milton Hershey's design for his "company town" you would understand that he had a utopian image in mind where not even a police force would be needed, if in fact he was able to create a place that would meet the needs of and satisfy the desires of his employees on all levels, a place where happiness would prevail. He did attempt to accomplish this mission and for a time it was wonderful, but not perfect, as we all know is impossible. And yes, for a company town, it is a lovely place to behold. I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the tail end benefits of Milton Hershey's dream during the 1950s before further development and commercialization took place. Hershey, PA is still a wonderful place to live and to visit, but it certainly has changed in the name of progress and unfortunately, it is no longer the heart and soul of the chocolate industry as it once was.

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    2. I haven't read anything he ever wrote but I have visited there. It is still a lovely company town, nothing like the company towns in the coal country where I'm from. Unfortunately, everything changes, partly because the people come and go.

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    3. I understand where you were coming from considering other regions in PA were coal towns and they were far from lovely even if there were aspects of physical beauty. Of course, Milton Hershey wasn't behind them and wouldn't have had his employees owing to the company store! ;-)

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  16. When things become popular or mainstream they lose their sense of exclusivity and the old customers no longer feel they have a personal relationship with the place/brand. However, if places/brands don't adapt to the changes of today's incredibly consumerist climate, they will undoubtedly fail. It's a difficult moral question to answer... Do you keep doing what you've always done and keep your loyal customers happy, or do you sell your soul to the devil in the quest for new customers and a bigger cut of the money? SAAB is a good example of a company who failed trying both. A car manufacturer who had built up an almost cult following, obsessed with the reliability and safety of SAAB cars. They must have been devastated when GM took a 50% stake and aimed to reinvent SAAB to generate more sales in more markets. Even more devastated when GM took 100% stake and effectively ran SAAB into the ground in the quest for profit profit and more profit.

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  17. So, reading all of these replies, I would say the answer to the question is a resounding "yes". Sadly, I would agree. As others have just said, there are countless brands, locations, services, etc that have fallen prey to selling out for more money or popularity, and their quality has suffered. I'm not sure any of us know the answer expect to know when to keep quiet about something. I was always told that when you have a good thing going, keep it to yourself. I recently had an experience where there was this great local eatery (food truck) where people stood in line for the food. We went to try it...stood in line for an hour!!! We got our food, and honestly it was no better than what I could have gotten elsewhere locally. It was lure of the line that enticed me, thinking it had to be the best. Lesson learned.

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  18. Brooks Bros. is not being destroyed by its popularity (or lack thereof in some circles), but by the mismanagement of the several different owners over the last 25 years. Most egregiously, by the arrogant and incompetent management of CLAUDIO DE VECCHIO and his minions.

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  19. A case in point from today's Wall Street Journal - an article titled "TIFFANY HUNTS FOR PATH TO REGAIN 'COOL' - Historic jeweler's former chief failed to turn around sales amid reliance on lower-priced baubles; tricky shift from Audrey Hepburn to Lady Gaga."

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    1. "tricky shift from Audrey Hepburn to Lady Gaga."

      That's one of the big problems the historic brands now have. Their iconic customers are no longer glamorous film star types like Hepburn, they're merely here today gone tomorrow corporate stooges who will advertise anything for a quick buck, a bit of shameless self-promotion and a goody bag full of freebies. I think the terms used now are 'brand ambassadors' and 'influencers'. Influencers... Horrible isn't it? It almost sounds like they are forcing themselves and their products upon you whether you like it or not. In days gone, there was an element of dignity, style and class which had common folk longing for the wares of designer brands. Now we have millions of wannabes and nobodies plugging designer brands on social media. We can buy them in discount stores, designer outlets and online clearances, many of which are made solely for the purpose of being sold cheaply, mostly made in China of course.

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  20. We had an episode recently where we bought a Hunter fan from Home Depot. Hunter is supposed to be a good brand. So we get the fan home and realize that we need to have a down rod for the fan because of the location we wanted it in. We go back to the store to buy the rod for that particular fan, and you would have thought we were asking to buy the moon. No one knew what we were talking about, and one sales person gave us a piece of hollow metal and told me to paint it with spray paint to match the fan. Upon further inquiry to Hunter, we learned that they make a different, less-expensive fan that is specifically made to be sold in the big box stores. It still has their name on it, but the quality is not as good. To get a "real" Hunter fan, you had to go through them or an authorized dealer only...so they tell us. Either way, we never did get the down rod, and the fan was clearly not the quality we expected, with cheap bolts, mismatched pieces, etc. Hunter told us that to increase their sales and profits, they needed to be able to sell their product at a lower price; hence, the quality suffers. Something to think about.

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  21. ...depends on how much money you have.

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  22. I remember Napa Valley before it became famous. Spent childhood summers there in the Sixties (and then saw it slowly destroyed from the Eighties on).

    It was a wonderful place then. It had things like old walnut orchards, fruit trees with delicious fruit like peaches and nectarines, and tons of wild blackberries and raspberries from which my Dad made wonderful pies.

    All gone now in favor of a wine grape mono-culture. Every piece of ground has been converted to vineyards, even the hilltops and the beautiful open pastures that were once between St. Helena and Calistoga. The blackberries and raspberries have all been ripped out (thought to spread disease to the grapevines).

    The small-town culture is also gone, where literally everyone in the Valley knew each other. Now it is all millionaires, billionaires, helipads, non-stop traffic jams and multi-national beverage companies.

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    1. A similar thing is taking place in Bozeman, MT where my son lives. Although it has nothing to do with fruit/wine, it has everything to do with big money, commercialism and sprawl. The changes are astonishing in the 13 years he's lived there. Although I still consider it a stimulating town and great place to visit, it's getting harder and harder for the locals to afford to live there. They call it Bozangelos for a very good reason!

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  23. Some of the quaint Cape Cod of my childhood still exists. But I'm not going to tell you where ;)

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  24. Interesting topic! I just returned from a week on MDI where there is a raging
    debate over plans for more cruise ship visits to the island and the impact on lobstering, traffic and the park. I've been visiting the island since childhood and I'm only there one week each summer so I'm no authority, but it seems busier than I remember from my youth. When the cruise ships are moored Bar Harbor can be congested and popular sites within the park are often crowded...I'm sure shop and restaurant keepers enjoy the additional mid-day foot traffic and revenue. The crowds tend to wane in the afternoon as passengers re-board for the first endless buffet of the evening and the nights are reserved for the land based visitors and locals. So, in my estimation it has become more popular. That said it hasn't been "discovered" by the DC-NYC-Boston Set. Meals and hotels and shops are still relatively affordable. There are no discos or absurdly trendy bars and no one is walking around in stilettos carrying a purse dog. In an age of hedge fund managers with private jets that can take them anywhere, it hasn't turned into Nantucket or the Hamptons. Its still a great family destination and and I hope it retains that character for my children and their children.

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  25. The age old conundrum popularity of great establishments, I was in london for xmas just a half block from harrods an awful place, then went to oxford to see my youngest
    daughter going to the queens for mstudies the small shops along the high street still selling fine wares of exceptional quality there secret obsurity only those in the family tradition pass down know there value, in this country we have contantly over done it and have diluted the quality enough said ij

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  26. The sidewalk photo from MV is nothing short of alarming! Was the circus in town? Only the Norfolk terrier saves the scene.

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