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Brodie of Belize: 1887 Historic British Department Store

December 16th, 2016 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

james-brodie-coBELIZE CITY – British Honduras, now Belize, became independent in 1981. Today, the Commonwealth country Belize has been one of the most successful post colonial countries. It has not only managed to preserve its institutions, but create a welcoming climate for locals and tourists, preserving its nature, farms, Mayan ruins and overall sleepy vibe.

One of the most important ways to preserve a local identity is to keep around local retail brand names. Thankfully, American chains have not taken over Belize; the market is still not large enough. A great survivor is Brodies, born in 1887 as James Brodie & Co.

Today, Brodies is a grocery store, as well as selling a wide variety of housewares. To promote their brand, Brodies even does a yearly Christmas commercial, rather like British supermarkets.

The chain would do well to build on its history, all the while keeping its roots selling a variety of general and grocery merchandise.

One asset they have is their local employees, who give the store its identity. While there are local brands like Lighthouse Lager, Belikan beer and Independence cigarettes, most of the products are from the U.S. and other Commonwealth British countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad. The Brodie company is a true asset.

Also an asset are the larger companies; for instance Bowen & Bowen is the Coca-Cola distributor, but they are also the beer company and own fish farms and a Ford dealer, even the Chan Chich lodge in the jungle. This gives local stability to the economy.

Sadly, Bermuda lost Trimingham’s, its local department store. American cities have forgotten this, but in order to have a strong local identity and a viable downtown economy, you need a local or regional department store.

If you are planning on starting a retailer, why not go to your local historical society, and see if there are any defunct local retail brands? It will give your firm a leg up, because while most will not remember the brand, just having a story helps you, your employees and your customers have a narrative.

Below, the Brodie’s Christmas commercial.

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Food Creates and Sustains The Brand at Department Stores

November 11th, 2016 · 2 Comments

By Garland Pollard

That Arby’s CEO Paul Brown has joined the board of JCPenney has got me thinking. After JCPenney brought back appliances, why not bring reintroduce food?

Part of the old joy of going to department stores was the element of surprise, and options for repeat visits. One way to do that is a restaurant operation and grocery items. Sadly, as chains merged and department store management became more dictatorial and unimaginative, food operations left the premises. In the U.K., department stores like Marks & Spencer all sell food, and are able to weather the ups and downs of economics by being diversified.

If a bad fashion buyer takes control of a merchandise segment for a season, they can kill a clothing retailer. If there is diversified merchandise, the damage is less.

Brown might be the perfect person at Penney, with experience at Expedia and Hilton. He revitalized Arby’s, and understands hospitality.

Perhaps the most popular part of going to IKEA is the food, even though it makes up about 5 percent of the store’s sales. The restaurant is not only a draw that attracts customers. It is a demonstration for the kitchen products that are sold in IKEA, and that food that is sold for take away. Anyone who has been to IKEA knows what the dining room serves; it is a simple menu of just a few items, including meatballs, salmon and chicken fingers. There are other reasons for IKEA to have food.

Why food has left department stores in the U.S. is really about mismanagement and a lack of understanding of its benefits.

A particular culprit might seem to be Macy’s, but it was really their predecessor May Company, way back in the 1980s and 1990s, that was the evildoer in shutting down so many food operations. I say evil, because the decent restaurants in department stores were keys to the life IN the department stores. And when that life left, the store identity died as well. In recent years, Macy’s and other department stores have realized the power of a food operation to assist sales, employee morale and store atmosphere. [Read more →]

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Fashion & Regionalism, an Easy Brand Revamp for Alitalia

August 15th, 2016 · 1 Comment

By Garland Pollard

Uniforms are the original way to rebrand an institution. From Roman soldiers to Olympic athletes, clothes make the man. And the woman. And the institution.

Alitalia figured this out in a stylish rebranding. Late this spring, the national airline of Italy unveiled a new branding campaign with its central identity created by the fashion designer Ettore Bilotta.

The uniforms are made to reflect Italy, not only showing a fashion identity reminiscent of an early 1960s romantic Italian movie, but showing Italian craftsmanship. They are a throwback, with gloves, hats and formal wool jackets. [Read more →]

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What If Woolworth Came Back

July 30th, 2016 · 2 Comments

By Anthony Winfield

Woolworth store, closed, in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

F. W. Woolworth store, closed, in downtown Richmond, Virginia. The store was demolished for parking in a redevelopment scheme.

The closure of many Kmart stores, and the potential for the shutting down of the entire chain, reminded me of F. W. Woolworth, better known as Woolworth’s.

At the time of their closure in 1997, they had many long-term leases and at well below market rates. For thus reason alone, they had an incredible value. It still amazes me that no corporate raider types stepped forward to scoop up such an monumental deal. But that is part of business thinking in recent decades. The bean counters require a new way of thinking beyond black & white, to consider all the shades of gray resulting in the total real world costs of their decisions. Most American businesses are too fixated on quarterly bonuses instead of the long view.

I believe that Woolworth’s is still a marketable brand, and humbly suggest a format in which they wrap themselves in the flag. The highlights would be somewhat nostalgic of simpler times when people were proud of our country and not ashamed to show it. Cracker Barrel serves nostalgia, wrapped in a practical thing, namely a useful restaurant. Woolworth’s could serve a slightly different and more practical market.

Woolworth still exists in some places around the world, though it went bankrupt in Germany (the company restructured) and the chain closed in the U.K. A spinoff Woolworth, with red W, is still open in Barbados.

This would be based on the following elements:

  • Resemblance to the Original: The physical plant should resemble the original in a warm ‘n fuzzy way; what that is can be different things as the store looked different in each generation.
  • Food Is Key: At the very least, and at the center of the operation, the lunch counter should be included, along with the sweet smell of their coffee shop drifting through the store.
  • Many American Products: Offer, or at least feature, as many American made (not just assembled) products as possible. The trend to the return of U.S. manufacturing has already begun, and barring some catastrophic event will gain the momentum of a cartoon snowball rolling downhill. This will be further bolstered should Trump get elected (an observation, not an endorsement).
  • Motivated Employees: Using the Costco model, employees should be paid an above average rate. This instills the old time work ethic and saves a fortune in reduced losses (damaged goods, theft etc) and increased productivity (including reduced turnover) It has the added benefit of not only avoiding Walmart’s Scrooge persona, but can be exploited for marketing and head hunting.
  • Employee Owners: An alternative to this would be to have the company employee owned in the manner of Harley-Davidson or WinCo Foods (the latter has Walmart running scared)
  • Charity Connections: Taking a page from another competitor, emulate Target by donating to charities, especially local ones of interest to the community. Not only is this a good and a right thing to do, but it should lead to increased sales.


→ 2 CommentsTags: Retail

Five Favorite Retail History Websites

July 4th, 2016 · 2 Comments

By Garland Pollard

There are a not fooling anybody websitelarge number of helpful websites that detail retail history. While Wall Street has finally understood the dangers lurking in American retail, these websites have been detailing what has been happening, some of them for the last decade. Many of them also have ideas and answers and solutions, should the investor class take the time to look and think.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Society for Commercial Archaelogy: This is the Margate Elephant of organizations that has raised the importance of telling the story of roadside commercial history, from gas stations to local motels to national chains. They do important advocacy work; recently they helped save the Queens Pepsi neon spectacular sign, and have done this sort of thing hundreds of times across the nation. Founded by Chester Liebs in 1977, they have a strong relationship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Smithsonian.
  2. Not Fooling Anybody: This is genius, a website about chain stores and their conversions into other uses. The “not foolin” part is that no matter what you do, you cannot erase the original mark of the chain store that was erected, no matter how hard you try. Oddly, as national chains have grown, they open up space for locals as margins deteriorate and the national tenants move on or disappear. Unfortunately, the national aspect of the design tends to imprison the local brand, and it is hard for local companies to break out. Its subtitle is “a chronicle of bad conversions and storefronts past.” The reality? A Fotomat is always a Fotomat.
  3. Groceteria: This is all about supermarkets and grocery stores. I have a special appreciation for it as they have a history of Colonial Stores, the Norfolk, Virginia chain that my great grandfather worked for. I also sort of am obsessed with grocery brands. Colonial was originally D.P. Pender and then became Colonial Stores and later Big Star. The site was put up by Greensboro, North Carolina historian, archivist and librarian David Gwynn.
  4. Peter Blackbird, Brian Florenpatrickhenry_6_060112_penneys_dskyce and Jack Thomas put this site up perhaps 15 years ago, and it is also on Facebook. They were the first ones to understand the value in these malls and also understand their lack of value, despite the protestations of un-imaginative commercial real estate brokers and investors.
  5. Sky City: A compendium of Southern and Mid-Atlantic retail history. This has lots of in depth information on small towns and lesser known chains. Emphasis on deep south, though some great discussions of places from my home state of Virginia, including Eastgate Mall in Henrico County. At right, the simple but handsome modern Patrick Henry Mall in Martinsville, Virginia.

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Rockwell Consumer Brand Returns

June 16th, 2016 · 2 Comments

By Garland Pollard


Rockwell logo at an exhibit at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Rockwell name was intimately connected with the space program, letting everyday Americans “participate” by buying their consumer tools.

As American companies have abandoned their legacy and sold out or turned into ever larger monopolies, new companies, often non U.S., have reaped the great rewards. One such story is Rockwell, which was one of the stellar brands of the United States space program, and best known and most trusted industrial names in the world.

Rockwell began with bearings, and making everything from the Apollo capsule to the Space Shuttle to the B-1. Founder Willard Rockwell was an Elon Musk of his time. The halo of the brand rubbed off on the popularity of their American made tools, each bearing the Saul Bass designed “praying hands” rocket launch logo that appeared in households and across the space program.

The company was clever in its ability to connect the consumer aspect with the industrial and space divisions; that generation of men, not trained “marketing” people, understood that average guys in their workshops wanted tools that were connected to World War II, Air Force and NASA equipment. The suburban male, looking at ideas for home building projects in the Popular Mechanics “Wordless Workshop” might indeed want tools made by the manufacturer of the Apollo Command Module.

The elder Rockwell had the logo on every part of the Rockwell International empire, even patches and playing cards. They were also brilliant at marketing at a sub-obvious level. For instance, in 1974 the company was astute enough to lend out its buildings for a Six Million Dollar Man episode with a UFO and sorta-hot space alien woman that Steve Austin managed to slip onto a lunar module to send back into space after she got stuck on earth. This sort of promotion does little for the consumer (only the most observant will hardly ever read the episode credits), but it does wonders for the excitement and morale of the company. If one can only imagine having Lee Majors hopping around the campus in a leisure suit for a week.

The companies were not only the place of great innovation, but great humor. Two internet items that mention Rockwell are the fictional invoice sent by Grumman to Rockwell over Apollo 13, and the fictional training film for the Rockwell Retro Encabulator. They are proof that greatness, gentle humor and innovation are ultimately connected.

Very often, a great brand comes from a great man.

Founder Willard Rockwell the man was an M.I.T. educated industrialist who believed that the pieces of a great piece of moving machinery was as important as the package, and today that legacy survives in different places as Rockwell Collins, a publicly traded company, Rockwell Automation, (which itself is really the Allen-Bradley company, which began as a rheostat maker in 1903) and the consumer line of Rockwell-branded tools (owned by a Chinese company). There were generations of Rockwells at the conglomerate; Willard Rockwell’s son succeeded him, and his grandson Willard III, a physicist, was also a space industrialist (as well as religious thinker and philanthropist).

The company has been broken up and the pieces are at companies like Boeing, which has an unfortunate and wasteful habit of not preserving the historic brand names it acquires (i.e, McDonnell Douglas). However, the tools brand lives on with the company Positec USA, and perhaps it makes sense that  Boeing does not use the brand, as a company’s name cannot be split between too many companies without diluting the meaning.

The everyday consumer had little to do with Rockwell save the tools brand. Happily, the consumer brand was rescued over a decade ago by a University of Virginia grad named Tom Duncan of Positec USA, which is Chinese owned. Positec is a company started by a Suzhou entrepreneur named Don Gao. Gao is one of many industrialists in China realizing that being the low-value manufacturer is a dead end, and owning your own, U.S.-based brand not only helps improve margins, but keeps your company so it is not dependent on the whims of other middlemen.

While the Rockwell is owned overseas, the company has created jobs in North Carolina. Duncan told The New York Times in 2012:

Too often, Americans have a negative perception of Chinese companies, but I have a unique perspective. I was impressed with Mr. Gao’s operation, which was entrepreneurial and driven by innovation.

We’ve created more than 100 high-paying jobs in the United States, and also a number for our business partners here. We’re also considering transferring some functions that are now done in China to our North Carolina facility.

That there are riches to be found in distressed or unused brands is undeniable. It just takes years, and very sustained effort. There are hundreds of brands like Rockwell out there, needing revival. Good work. And glad it was a UVA guy that did it.

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The Bandit Trans Am, a G.M. Chevrolet

May 28th, 2016 · 3 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Pontiac Hood OrnamentTALLAHASSEE – A reproduction Trans Am, signed by Burt Reynolds, has been a hit on social media and in car shows this spring. The $115,000 car, a specialty item modified from a new Chevrolet Camaro, is a modern interpretation of the car that  gained fame in the hilarious Jackie Gleason, Sally Field and Burt Reynolds 1977 comedy, Smokey and the Bandit.

The car is a limited run, and made by a specialty shop Trans Am Worldwide. Even as it is a small run by a shop, this is a smart step and could be a model for other companies that have mismanaged iconic brands and have had to drop the nameplates. The idea? Find a small, nimble entrepreneurial company that loves your castoff brand, and set them loose.

Initially, the Trans Am was actually a souped up Firebird, and shared a wheelbase with a Camaro. So its current relationship actually makes sense. This car is much more than a rebadge or custom kit. The car is completely re-engineered, and is a vast upgrade from the Chevrolet it was. The Tallahassee company that built the cars has built others, including GTO and Hurst editions. They are not some chop shop yahoos, but a highly sophisticated outfit that uses the latest technology and even OEM colors from PPG. [Read more →]

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Earl Hamner, Lou Dorfsman, Lorimar and the CBS Brand

March 25th, 2016 · 1 Comment

By Garland Pollard

LD_06-1Many believe that a brand is all about contriving some image for a commodity, and once you do that, to a particular degree of coolness or hipness or edginess, you have a brand.

That is wrong. Instead, what is important is good taste, authenticity and eternal values. Seeing today’s news of the death of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator of The Waltons, brings that point home. There are no shortage of articles and stories on the work of Hamner, which will endure forever. As a Virginian and a graduate of University of Richmond, I take great happiness in the success of The Waltons, my only criticism of the show is that it seemed to have too many fires and disasters, and when they went to Virginia Beach, the beach had rocks. [Read more →]

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Bic Round Stic Grip, the Best Pen Ever

February 14th, 2016 · 4 Comments

By Garland Pollard

812Q6-wLhtL._SL1500_Sometimes, the best things are not necessarily the most expensive, or easy to find. Such is the case of the Bic Round Stick Grip, a pen I consider one of the best pens ever.

Of course, Marcel Bich & Edouard Buffard’s original great pen is the 1950 vintage Cristal, that classic of offices everywhere. But I am not a fan of it, even though it has flat sides so that it does not roll. First, the Cristal is quite hard plastic, and while its ok, when you get used to the Round Stic, you don’t want to go back.

And others might like the Bic Click, or the Bic Banana. Or the multi-color Bic pen, that switches from red to blue to black to green. Frankly, they are all elegant classics, but the Grip is the best.

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Texaco Still A Strong Brand

January 17th, 2016 · 4 Comments

By Garland Pollard

The Texaco brand is still a potent icon on the highways of the United States and world. As oil companies struggle with the low price of gas, this is perhaps the perfect time for its parent company to refocus attention on this icon of American history. A downturn is the time to plan for greater things.

Today, the Texaco star is still recognizable, though it is no longer as well known as it was. Part of the confusion came with Texaco’s merger with Chevron. While Chevron has wisely kept the brand (sort of unequal co-equals), it is slightly confused about it, as it has to promote two different brands of gas, even though all of that gas is coming from the same place.

This is the same issue that Exxon and Mobil faced after their merger. Again, ExxonMobil has kept both the brands, and has separate identity packages for them.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Texaco star was all about trust. The slogan was all about trust, and it was seen on NBC’s Texaco Star Theater and Huntly-Brinkley Report. Even today, those who remember the slogan can still recite the words; a reel of Texaco commercials can be seen below. The line goes:

“You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.”

It was sort of poetry, and terribly practical. Gradually, service stations declined and gas became a bit of a commodity. In the 1950s to early 1970s, regulations made gas retailers fill up your car, and so it mattered that you trusted the man who came to  your car to fill it up. No woman wanted a creeper looking into her car, and down her dress, as he got her to sign the credit card carbon copy. [Read more →]

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