The recession that began in 2007, and by some accounts is only barely over now, shut down and largely reversed the growth of most American companies. Those that grew through the period were uncommon. Those that grew rapidly were rare.
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24/7 Wall St. has looked for companies that did extremely well during the recession. Given the severity of the downturn and how sharply both consumers and businesses pulled back their spending, these were expansions seemingly without explanation.
The companies on this list shared several characteristics that enabled them to expand during a downturn. Among the most common characteristic that these resilient companies shared was a highly regarded brand built over many years.
Apple is probably the best example of this. Another is that the company has services which are very inexpensive or even free. Facebook falls into this category, as does Redbox, the DVD rental kiosk. Also, almost all the companies on the list entered the recession during a cycle of significant growth.
The last characteristic that every one of the companies on this list has is deep pockets, especially when compared to its competitors. It cannot be underestimated that during a brutal economic downturn, nothing can replace a large bank balance.
Starbucks (SBUX) went through a major retrenchment in 2008 when it discovered that it had too many retail outlets to handle the traffic for a $4 latte. The coffee retailer fired 12,000 people two years ago. Clever merchandising and an economic rebound have put Starbucks back on track. It has created a customer rewards program, offered a wider variety of food and drinks, and has added free Wi-Fi to its stores. Starbucks plans to add 250 new stores this year and 500 next.
This successful clothing line and home furnishings operation, popular with the upscale set, found that the downturn did little to hurt the appeal of its brand -- one that has been a large part of the retail landscape for four decades. Polo (NSYE: RL) opened over 100 stores last year, bringing its worldwide total to 631.
The Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) success story goes beyond the remarkable demand for iPhones, iPods, and Macs. The brand is now so strong in consumer electronics that appears immune to normal economic cycles. It recently had yet another record quarter. Moreover, the size of its success has badly damaged smart phone giants like Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM), which makes the BlackBerry. One key to Apple's success is that it shows off its products in stores set up in the affluent shopping areas of major cities around the world -- a well-regarded Apple blogger filmed the insanity that accompanied Apple's most recent store opening in Philadelphia. Apple had 200 stores at the beginning of the recession in late 2007. It now has 261, and the number is only growing.
Facebook has probably become the most popular website in the world and may have even surpassed Google in users, according to some traffic measurement services. The social network has crowded out the Web 1.0 portals like Microsoft's MSN, Yahoo!, and AOL. Facebook had 300 million members last September, 350 million last December, 400 million in February, and passed 500 million earlier this month.
Ford (NYSE: F) was a bankruptcy candidate when U.S. auto sales bottomed in 2007 and 2008. However, it was the only one of The Big Three to stay out of Chapter 11. The company picked up market share with a new line of cars and light trucks that were both fuel-efficient and well-designed. Ford sold 743,496 vehicles in the first half of 2009 and 953,146 in the first half of this year. The company may pull ahead of GM as the No.1 U.S. car company between now and the beginning of 2011.
Chipotle (NYSE: CMG), the hugely successful Mexican restaurant chain, was acquired and later spun off by McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) two years ago. It has outgrown most of its competition since then. Company management says its plans to add 24 locations this year and at least 120 in 2011.
The blog, news, and commentary site now has more visitors than any online newspaper site in the U.S. except The New York Times. And it may pass the Grey Lady in the next year. Huffington's fast-paced commentary, wit, and its way with photos and headlines has helped its audience grow from 6.8 million unique visitors in June 2009 to 13.4 million last month, according to Compete.
Walmart (NYSE: WMT) is already so large that it is hard to imagine that it could add locations. Last year it had revenue of over $400 billion, making it the largest company in America. It has 2 million employees around the world, and the company's CEO recently said Walmart will create 500,000 jobs over the next five years. Walmart's presence in hot markets such as China has more than made up for its slowing growth in the U.S. The firm's store count went from 7,904 last year to a total of 8,445 so far in 2010.
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