Running a business is tough. Branding and marketing aren’t for the faint of heart. By the five-year mark, about half of all start-ups close their doors forever.

Some businesses, a relatively small number, have managed to survive for hundreds of years. They persevered through wars, depressions, plagues and catastrophic weather. Their secrets to survival are worth paying attention to.

Provide exceptional customer service

The world’s two oldest businesses are both in the hospitality industry. The most important lesson to be learned from their longevity is to always be dedicated to providing exceptional customer service. The second lesson is don’t try to do it all. Focus on being the absolute best at what you do. Build the brand others in your niche will try to emulate.

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Japan: Established 705

For more than 1,300 years, this hot spring hotel and retreat has been catering to those seeking the healing waters of the hot springs. Even more amazing, 52 generations of the same family have been managing the business. They’re masters at providing only the best for their guests, offering modern amenities in an unparalleled setting.

Stiftskeller St. Peter, Austria: Established 803

The second oldest business has been serving the great and not-so-great for over 1,200 years. Famous diners included composers Mozart and Haydn, explorer Christopher Columbus and the alchemist Faust. More recent diners include Clint Eastwood and Karl Lagerfeld. They serve local specialties with a gourmet twist.

Protect your reputation at all times

Today it’s beyond essential to guard your reputation. One unhappy customer can vilify you on numerous websites and social media platforms. You need to have a strategy for locating people who blacken your name and responding to their complaints. Reputation management isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

Cambridge University Press, England: Established 1534

Ever since King Henry VIII granted letters patent to Cambridge University Press to “print all manner of books,” they’ve been doing just that. Their specialty is scholarly publishing. Through the centuries, the Press has valued and preserved its integrity and emphasis on ethics. The Press now operates in multiple locations worldwide.

Be the best

If you provide a superior product or service and don’t lower your standards, you’ll attract a loyal following. This is just as true for modern companies, look at Apple. How many companies ever have had a product in such demand that customers are willing to sleep on the street for days in order to buy it?

Bushmills, Ireland: Established 1608

Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery has a motto that explains it all. They say they’re not the best because they’re the oldest. They’re the oldest because they’re the best.


Your business is only as good as your people. Enthusiastic, skilled employees are a treasure beyond price. Cultivate their skills, some will undoubtedly move on in this mobile economy but not all. Suppliers can be just as important. If your business has suppliers you rely on, cultivate those relationships as if your brand’s life depends on it because it does.

Colgate, U.S.: Established 1806

For almost 70 years, Colgate toothpaste was sold in a glass jar. The toothpaste tube didn’t hit the market until 1896. What hasn’t changed is an emphasis on teamwork. They consider their extended team, including their suppliers, as key to their success.

Stand Out from the Crowd

What is unique about your business? How can you distinguish yourself? How can you make your brand instantly recognizable to consumers? If your business has changed but your branding doesn’t reflect that, rebranding may be the best solution.

A common mistake among start-ups is not paying sufficient attention to branding their business. It becomes a task to pay attention to later “when there’s time” or “things slow down”. But time will never be on your side. Branding should be an extremely significant component of your overall marketing strategy.

Cadbury Chocolate, U.K.: Established 1824

It took Cadbury almost 100 years to adopt modern branding, but they selected their signature purple and distinctive and iconic logo in 1920 and have stayed with them ever since. The company’s focus has been selling a delicious chocolate that is instantly recognizable to consumers.


Macy’s, U.S.: Established 1830

Every year, millions watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. What you may not know is that Macy’s was the first retailer to have a woman executive, promoted from within. They pioneered the then-revolutionary one-price system or selling an item for the same price to all. They also employed creative marketing techniques (at the time) such as quoting prices in newspaper ads.

In recent years, Macy’s has had some problems. It’s been said they’re more of an example of what can happen when you let others innovate while you stand still.

These lessons from the past are just as applicable today as 1,000 years ago. Provide extraordinary customer service, guard your reputation tirelessly, be the best at what you do, develop teamwork, build a unique brand and don’t be afraid to try something new. Build a company for the ages.