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When ‘Too Good to Fail’ Fails

They certainly were not “too big to fail” like the banks and car companies. But perhaps they could have been considered “too good to fail.”  Now, we know there is no such thing.

Earlier this month, The Taylor Companies, a furniture manufacturer in Bedford, Ohio, announced that it is winding down operations and will close after filling its existing orders. The company said it was closing in part due to not receiving an $850,000 tax break for moving its headquarters to a former brownfield site in its hometown. The economic downturn and cheaper goods from Asia were also factors. See this Plain Dealer article.

But this isn’t the typical “another manufacturing company fails” situation. From Taylor’s website: “Established in 1816, Taylor spans seven generations in a single family, positioning it as the 28th oldest family business in the United States. Taylor is also the oldest furniture manufacturer in the United States. Over the years, Taylor has earned an excellent reputation for designing and crafting fine office furniture that reflects progressive design and possesses marked quality.” (Disclosure: The Taylor Companies is not a Dix & Eaton client.)

The company was known for quality products, an engaged and motivated work force, stable executive leadership, engagement with the Bedford community in Northeast Ohio, and commitment to sustainability. Its efforts in land revitalization, conservation of natural resources, zero waste, recycling, etc. have been considered models. And, as reported, one of the primary reasons for their downfall was their decision to stay in Bedford, clean up a brownfield site and locate there – and then not get the tax break they were expecting. In 2011 alone, Taylor Companies received several national awards for sustainable enterprises and green jobs. 

By most accounts, The Taylor Companies was indeed “too good to fail.” And, yet, here they are – sustainable for almost 200 years, and, then, going out of business. Some will say it’s just an isolated, extreme sign of the times. Others may see it as proof of sustainability’s failure as a guiding philosophy in business. And, of course, all of the external speculation in the world doesn’t account for any internal, day-to-day struggles.

The bottom line is that the markets, the customers, the economy have spoken – there is a lot of good to be found in sustainability, but even ideas, people and organizations that seem “too good to fail” have their limitations.

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