The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript

So far we’ve lost Woolworths, MFI and  Zavvi, while Whittards has been bought by a private equity firm after going into administration.

At least MFI and Zavvi still have websites notifying people of their current status – Woolworths has: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  Please check back later.’

What’s interesting is that there are various reasons for the first three disappearing – the problems with the music industry, the downturn in the housing market, a drop in consumer spending etc.  And despite the possibility of a buyer for Woolworths, there’s nothing happening fast. Meanwhile Whittards was snapped up quickly.

Which makes me think this could be the start of something I’m going to call:

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript:

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

Put simply, Woolies, Zavvi and MFI all had a problem, in that they didn’t have a clear belief and description. Woolies started as an American ‘five and dime‘ store – but mutated over the years, leaving Poundland as the modern equivalent. (I’m not linking to the Poundland site due to the annoying auto-playing explosion that just burst my eardrums!). In the end, Woolies was a strange amalgamation of Pic’n’mix sweets, entertainment, soft furnishings etc.

Zavvi came out of a management buy-out of former Virgin Megastores, and at the time left a lot of people asking friends what had happened. Apparently the aim was to be different from competitors by having ‘exclusive and limited edition products in the future’. An aim buried in a wikipedia entry, and an interview in industry publication MCV.

MFI had all sorts of problems, but most importantly, look at who it’s up against – Ikea. I’d guess most people already know what the Swedish success story stands for, but if not, try here, and here. Functional, well -designed furniture that everyone can afford, with Swedish names, Swedish food stores, and bargain hotdogs at the end of the trip.  My girlfriend has been known to forcibly demand Ikea trips to placate her homesickness for Sweden!

I may have had similar excitement at the sight of a Marks and Spencers are months without a sausage roll or pork pie in the U.S, but can you imagine curing your homesickness with a trip to Zavvi or MFI? Even Woolworths?

This isn’t about having a national identity – it’s about having a distinct belief and identity that everyone can clearly understand, and that people can align themselves with.

This isn’t an absolute rule:

I’m not going to say that having a belief will ensure success, or that you won’t make it through 2009 without one – there are far too many other factors involved, from changes in consumer spending to Government bailouts.

But I do think that within each industry and category, we’ll see a greater survival rate for the companies we can believe in.

So I’m going to start tracking what happens, and I’d appreciate your help. It may become a wiki page, but for the moment I’d just ask you to let me know in the comments if you see companies going under, and whether they had a clear belief or not.


  1. […] has stated, or even managed to suggest, what the belief will be – and ‘The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript‘ is what I believe caused the collapse of Woolworths, Zavvi and MFI. (Just realised […]