Sears and 14 Other Great Companies on the Brink of Death

A furniture store posts a "Going Out of Business" sign

A store with a “Going Out of Business” sign | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Pan American World Airways; Standard Oil; Montgomery Ward; F.W. Woolworth; and Circuit City were all once giants of American business. Today these companies exist only in people’s memories. Changing consumer tastes, evolving technology, and bad business decisions meant the end for these once iconic brands.

Complacency is also a factor in big business failures. According to Julian Birkinshaw, a professor of strategic and international management at London Business School, “Occasionally, a genuinely ‘disruptive’ technology, such as digital imaging, comes along and wipes out an entire industry. But usually the sources of failure are more prosaic and avoidable — a failure to implement technologies that have already been developed, an arrogant disregard for changing customer demands, a complacent attitude toward new competitors.”

To the casual observer, the collapse of quintessential companies may seem to come out of nowhere, but usually there are glaring signs things are amiss. Plummeting revenue, leadership changes, panicked shifts in strategy, and sudden layoffs and store closings can all land a company on the corporate deathwatch list.

Of course, predictions of corporate demise don’t always come true, and some companies are able to step back from the ledge. Not long ago, electronics retailer RadioShack was in dire straits, having filed for bankruptcy, which resulted in the closure of thousands of its locations. But the chain revamped its remaining stores and is mounting a comeback, aiming to turn itself into the go-to store for DIYers looking for parts for their electronics projects. Apple and IBM both made impressive corporate turnarounds, despite being written off as irrelevant.

Yet for every success story, there are also those companies that will never be able to get off life support. They might linger in zombie form for a while, but eventually, these doomed companies will fail. Here are 15 companies that are among the walking dead. Do you shop at any of them?

1. American Apparel

An American Apparel store in Los Angeles, California in 2006

American Apparel, the popular clothing store which first opened in 1997, has met its demise| Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

In the late 1990s, American Apparel took over teenage closets with its made-in-America T-shirts and other basics. The chain expanded quickly, gaining as much attention for its racy ads as its manufacturing practices. The company was once valued at $1 billion in 2007, but the twin problems of the 2008 economic crisis and a series of sexual harassment allegations against founder Dov Charney put it into a death spiral, ABC News reported. The company hadn’t turned a profit since 2009 and filed for bankruptcy twice in the past few years. Finally, Gildan Activewear, a Canadian company, stepped up and bought American Apparel’s intellectual property and some of its manufacturing equipment in early 2017, but not its remaining 110 stores. The brand name may live on in some form, but the company as most knew it is gone.