Comeback Corporations
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20 Famous Brands That Made Remarkable Comebacks

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Call It a Comeback? You Bet

The pandemic meant bankruptcies and going-out-of-business bonanzas for plenty of companies. But even the worst doom-and-gloom scenarios haven't always spelled the end for some of the nation's best-known companies. Here are some of the most recognizable comeback kids — including iconic snack company Hostess, which survived not one but two bankruptcies to give pandemic-weary customers the Twinkies and other nostalgic snacks they so desperately crave. 


Related: Companies That Have Filed for Bankruptcy Since the Pandemic Began

Hostess Twinkies
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Hostess

A few years ago, it seemed like the century-old company behind Twinkies and Ding-Dongs was down for the count, thanks to just two bankruptcies in just eight years. But a new CEO turned things around by emphasizing product innovation and streamlining the manufacturing system for the brand's famous snacks. Add in pandemic demand for comfort food — especially nostalgic products — and the company has grown by 10% annually for the past few years. Not bad for the junk-food staples of your childhood.


Related: Foods We Miss From the '70s and '80s

Sbarro
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Sbarro

Declining mall foot traffic has been bad news for retailers, but restaurants like Sbarro have also suffered. The quick-service Italian chain has been a food-court staple ever since the '70s, when it opened its first mall location in New York City. Still, instead of throwing in the towel after two recent bankruptcies, a vastly streamlined Sbarro has decided to restore its focus on pizza, remodel existing locations, and open sleek new stand-alone neighborhood stores. It has more plans to pivot, too — the pizza chain is coming to gas stations and other non-traditional pizza spots in the U.S. and U.K. 


Related: We Tasted 13 Frozen Pizzas and This Is the Best

Lego
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Lego

It may rule the toy aisles today, but not long ago, Lego was struggling to survive. The Danish icon struggled mightily around the new millennium as the company turned its focus from kid-friendly basics to overly complex, costly-to-make sets with motors and fiber-optics. In 2003, it had crushing debt of $800 million. But a new CEO vowed to streamline the business, cutting down on production costs, selling its theme parks, and reaching out to customers to ask what kinds of building sets they most wanted. The company even made its own blockbuster movies instead of relying on its lucrative tie-ins with Star Wars and other franchises. In 2021, the company had a staggering $8 billion in revenue, a 27% rise over 2020, and opened 165 new stores.


Related: Chief Pizza Officer, Lego Builder, and Other Jobs You Won’t Believe Exist

Hertz car rental
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Hertz

It seemed like the car rental company was teetering on the brink of being taken down by the pandemic — with no one traveling, no one needed rental cars, either. Hertz stock fell to 40 cents in 2020 and the company laid off 12,000 people, with another 4,000 getting furloughed. But by mid-2021, Hertz was doing so well that it was making stock buybacks to put money in the pockets of shareholders. Some critics have said the company is doing that at the expense of its customers, who were paying daily rental costs that were up by a staggering 147% in August over pre-pandemic levels. 


Related: 24 Tips and Tricks to Save You Money on Car Rental

Applebee's
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Applebee's

Much has been said about the decline of family dining chains, and Applebee's is one of the most recognizable names among them. The chain has spent the better part of the decade squeezed by the rise of fast-casual restaurants. A few years ago, it had also lost its comfort-food focus, instead trying to cater to a small segment of calorie-conscious consumers with healthier menu items. But a new CEO did an about-face, promoting classics like riblets, chicken tenders, and indulgent pastas; there was also a $1 "Dollarita" margarita deal that proved a runaway hit. While pandemic shutdowns crushed sales in 2020, they've come roaring back, in part due to a name drop in a popular country song


Related: Restaurants That Changed American Dining Forever

Apple
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Apple

Yes, this tech titan was once teetering on the edge of extinction. In the late '90s, the company had taken a financial beating for years. Co-founder Steve Jobs returned in 1997 and immediately made a tough decision: Apple would strike a five-year, $150 million deal with its archenemy, Microsoft, to release a Mac version of Office. He also nixed the costly Newton personal digital assistant and went all in on the colorful, sleek iMac. A few years later, the iPod, iTunes, and the Apple Store were born, solidifying the company's comeback. In 2007, the iPhone propelled Apple into a universe beyond computers and the upper echelon of American business.


Related: 33 Companies That Changed American Culture for Better or Worse

Delta
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Delta

With apologies to the old United slogan, Delta is flying friendlier skies these days — but not so long ago, it was forced to declare bankruptcy. Buffeted by higher fuel costs, competition from low-cost carriers, and the decline in passenger traffic after 9/11, it entered Chapter 11 in 2005. But the airline was determined to roll out an ambitious reorganization, fending off a takeover attempt by US Airways in the process. In the years that followed, Delta grew into the juggernaut it is today by merging with Northwest Airlines, reworking its hubs, and refocusing on crucial customer service issues like maintaining on-time flights, according to Airways Magazine.


Related: Unbelievable Airline Incidents Through the Years

Netflix
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Netflix

The streaming entertainment giant has become a staple in American homes, but in 2011, it faltered in a big way. In an effort to capitalize on the streaming that would quickly become its bread and butter, Netflix did away with a popular $10-per-month plan that allowed both unlimited streaming and DVDs through the mail. It its place, the plans were $8 each, and were offered separately. It was a disaster: 800,000 subscribers fled and its stock tanked, with some financial analysts writing off the company altogether. Of course, Netflix would go on to prove them wrong, and by doubling down on streaming, it positioned itself to grow. Also helping: the debut of quality original programming like "House of Cards" in 2013 and the monster South Korean hit "Squid Game" in 2021.


Related: Netflix Launched a Killer Feature That Makes It My Favorite Streaming Service Again

25 Things to Buy at Toys 'R' Us Before It Closes
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Toys R Us

While Toys R Us kids probably shouldn't pop the bubbly quite yet, there's evidence that one of the nation's most beloved toy stores is staging a small comeback after its liquidation in 2018. Macy's will be opening Toys R Us shops in 400 department stores nationwide in 2022, and the brand recently opened a flashy flagship store in New Jersey, complete with an ice-cream parlor and a two-story slide. 

Marvel
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Marvel

The '90s were not kind to Marvel. That decade saw the collapse of the comic-book industry, which had previously been increasingly propped up by collectors who suddenly quit spending as prices rose too quickly. After a 1996 bankruptcy and years of wrangling with shareholders, Marvel merged its action-figure division, Toy Biz, with the larger company and turned its attention to the big screen. Although it would first license the rights of its characters to other film companies, it independently produced 2008's "Iron Man," which made close to $600 million and attracted a $4 billion takeover from Disney the next year. Since then, Marvel has churned out mega-hits like "Black Panther" and "The Avengers," its superhero-like comeback complete. Even with the pandemic hitting movie theaters hard, "Black Widow" became the highest-grossing domestic film with $181.5 million.

Best Buy
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Best Buy

It might be hard to remember, but Best Buy once looked like it would go the way of ill-fated competitor Circuit City. Back in 2009, hit hard by the recession, it was teetering on the brink of closure, and the following years saw poor sales, stiff competition from Amazon, and turmoil among leadership. But a new CEO, Hubert Joly, executed a deft turnaround plan that included price matching, in-home services, and a more robust supply chain. In 2021, the company’s revenue grew an impressive 20% year over year to $11.85 billion, according to Forbes.

Starbucks
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Starbucks

It hasn't always been smooth sailing for coffee giant Starbucks. In 2008 and 2009, it shuttered close to 1,000 stores as it reeled from a recession that sent customers in search of a cheaper cup of joe. But that wasn't the only issue identified by CEO Howard Schultz, who returned in 2008 to the post he'd left in 2000. He contended that the chain's rapid expansion had also made it overly generic, driving away core customers. So he shut down thousands of stores to retrain workers, spent big on a conference in New Orleans for store managers, and implemented ideas on how to better stores that were solicited directly from customers. Did it work? Sales numbers since the downturn speak for themselves, coming back strong after a brief pandemic dip.


Related: 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Starbucks

FAO Schwarz
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FAO Schwarz

Although it never had the reach of Toys R Us, FAO Schwarz was equally iconic. The brand was actually purchased by Toys R Us in 2009, but was forced in 2015 to shutter its famous location on Fifth Avenue in New York City, its sole remaining store. But the highbrow toy brand isn't dead yet: Its new owners, ThreeSixty Group, opened a new FAO Schwarz on Rockefeller Plaza in 2018, which briefly closed its doors during the pandemic but has since reopened. Plans also include new stores at several U.S. airports, locations in London and Beijing, and various licensing agreements.

Converse
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Converse

One of the most recognizable shoes in the world is the Chuck Taylor All Star, but that couldn't save Converse from a bankruptcy filing back in 2001. The brand had lost ground to competitors, including Nike and Reebok, that were finding a niche both on and off the basketball court, and its old-school image had seemingly found its limits. It agreed to a takeover by Nike in 2003 and soon rebounded, as Nike deftly modernized the brand while maintaining its core appeal. Converse's sales of around $200 million in 2003 skyrocketed to over $2.2 billion in 2021.

Chipotle
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Chipotle

It once seemed like this darling of the fast-casual restaurant segment could do no wrong, but in 2015, a long string of food-safety crises including E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks threatened its survival. But the company pivoted, re-focusing its efforts on digital ordering, speedy pickup, and deft marketing. Also helping: The introduction of a loyalty program called Chipotle Rewards and a more expansive menu. It all seems to be working, with the chain's savvy pandemic response helping it become the No. 1 restaurant on a top 500 chain restaurant report.


Related: Restaurant Chains We Miss

A&W
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A&W

This quintessentially American burger and root-beer chain found itself in steep decline after a 2002 acquisition by Yum Brands, the fast-food mega-corporation that owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. But fed-up franchisees bought the brand in 2011, brought in new leadership, and implemented a successful turnaround plan that restored the chain's focus on homemade root beer, all-beef burgers and hot dogs, and hand-breaded chicken. The back-to-basics plan has also included thinning out the co-branded locations A&W shares with other restaurants still owned by Yum.

Jack in the Box
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Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box's run-in with E. coli makes Chipotle's recent food-safety problems appear almost trivial in comparison. From the end of 1992 into 1993, an outbreak of the bacteria traced to more than 70 of the restaurant's locations ultimately sickened more than 700 people and, sadly, killed four. After botching its initial reaction by trying to blame its meat distributor, Jack in the Box implemented new food-safety standards and altered its food-preparation methods, helping it eventually pull out of the ensuing sales tailspin a couple years later.

Burberry
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Burberry

One of the world's most recognizable luxury brands found itself in a pickle in the mid-2000s after it was adopted as favored dress by trouble-making soccer hooligans. Pubs and other business began banning anyone wearing Burberry and the once-lofty label knew it had to pull back on licensing to restore its exclusive reputation. A new CEO refocused on the company's once-iconic trench coat, bought back licenses for the company's designs, boosted prices, and brought in young, fresh-faced celebrities to turn around its reputation and drive sales among well-to-do buyers once more.

Abercrombie
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Abercrombie

Several years ago, the struggling Abercrombie brand had an image problem of its own making, with a CEO who reveled in excluding customers who didn't fit Abercrombie's oversexed mold, and lawsuits from employees over various issues, including being forced to wear company clothing without reimbursement. But starting in 2014, the chain started embracing a more wholesome look, closing underperforming stores and beefing up its mix of products. The efforts eventually led to a big bump in sales, and the chain was named Business Insider's Retailer of the Year at the end of 2018. Although retail suffered overall during the pandemic, Abercrombie was surprisingly profitable in 2020, largely due to online sales. 

Charlotte Russe
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Charlotte Russe

Liquidation is usually the last stop on the long road of decline for any retailer, but not Charlotte Russe. The trendy women's clothing retailer was yet another recent victim of malls' increasing unpopularity, filing for bankruptcy and liquidating shortly thereafter. But a new owner, Canada-based YM Inc., purchased the brand, relaunched its website and opened five new bricks-and-mortar stores. And that's just the tip of the iceberg — there are now 190 locations.