10 Fictional TV Small Businesses and the Lessons They Offer
Think you can't learn a thing or two from Gus Fring or the 'Schitt's Creek' gang? Think again.
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Just because a business isn’t real doesn’t mean it can't inspire. Without the burden of actually having to make money with their fictional franchise concepts, Hollywood has brought to the public a number of memorable brands offering all kinds of insight. Let’s take a look at 10 specific small businesses that some of TV’s most entrepreneurial-minded writers have schemed up, including the lessons they can teach us about running a great company (or at least an entertaining one) offscreen.
Los Pollos Hermanos (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul)
They may not have Popeye’s chicken sandwich, but Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and his team know chicken. With many locations and multiple revenue streams, LPH offers an addictive product that’s just to die for. Gus tell us on his website, “It’s the best ingredients. The spiciest spices. All prepared with loving care! And always delivered with a friendly smile. That’s the Los Hermanos Pollos promise.” While most restaurants speak in these terms, LPH does seem to thrive in its execution. Gus Fring understands that the little things matter: good food delivered quickly in a clean and friendly environment. Easier said than done, but Los Pollos Hermanos does it well. Plus, they do that other thing.
Business Lesson: Stick to the fundamentals, be consistent, and protect your secret recipes.
Central Perk (Friends)
Central Perk wasn’t just any coffee joint. This was where the cool kids hung out. With those big mugs and cushy couches, it was the living room for an entire neighborhood. The only thing better than a good beverage is a great atmosphere in which to enjoy it, and the baristas knew how to brew great hot drinks for customers without being intrusive. Despite being in love with Rachel, Gunther didn’t even speak until halfway through season two. Way to protect the customer experience!
Business Lesson: Build your business into a destination, and love your customers from a distance.
Arnold’s (Happy Days)
Long before Central Perk was pulling coffee shots, this teen-oriented 50’s diner was jerking sodas, flipping burgers and showcasing local talent. The diner was such a cool venue to play that the real-life band Weezer — with a little technological magic — performed there in their video for the song "Buddy Hollly". A central setting in Garry Marshall’s idealized 1950’s midwestern landscape, Arnold’s was the perfect Friday-night teen hangout. Happy Days already jumped the shark when Fonzie, well, jumped the shark, but when producers burnt down the restaurant and rebuilt it with a different décor, neither the diner nor the show were ever the same. The rebuild was financed by Fonzie. Seems generous until you consider all the years of maintaining an “office” for which he never paid rent.
Business Lesson: Remodel without over-rebranding, and beware of flammable uniforms.
The Missouri Belle Casino (Ozark)
Summer days are great on the lake, but what to do at night? Thankfully, Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) have provided tourists and locals with some floating fun. The Missouri Belle Casino offers an array of slot machines and tables where guests can court Lady Luck. On any given day, there seem to be a lot of people losing large sums of cash, but rather than quitting, these loyal customers always seem to return with a fresh stack of Benjamins. The staff consistently looks crisp and clean, as The Missouri Belle takes their laundering very seriously. Credit the Byrdes for restoring the classic steamboat with the help of Kansas City’s most organized crew and an investor to whom they feel, er, eternally indebted.
Business Lesson: All business is a gamble. Work hard to put the odds your favor — and some extra cash behind the drywall.
The Michael Scott Paper Company (The Office)
Managing the regional office of a large paper company is one thing. But going out on your own to take them down? That’s the entrepreneurial spirit. Dunder Mifflin underestimated Scranton’s regional manager when they drove him away. Never did they guess Michael Scott would poach so many customers with cheaper pricing and a pancake luncheon. What his two-person team lacked in size, intelligence and overall business acumen, they made up with heart and free time. It was inevitable that Dunder Mifflin would buy them out and restore the Scranton office’s dysfunctional family.
Business Lesson: Hang onto your best managers, even if they tell the worst jokes.
The Rosebud Motel (Schitt’s Creek)
This tiny roadside inn proves you don’t have to be big, fancy, or occupied to stay in business. Even sophisticates like the Rose family found a way to make it home. Under Johnny Rose’s (Eugene Levy) leadership, the place is up and coming, having won an award at “The Hospies” for Best Customer Service in the category of Motel Under 20 Units. It may not look too great on the outside, but at least you’re not sleeping in your car.
Business Lesson: Anything can be improved with complimentary cinnamon buns.
The Gaslight Café (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
This 1950s dive bar that launched the career of hysterical housewife “Mrs. Maizel” is actually based on a real, same-named Greenwich Village coffeehouse frequented by New York’s beat poets and folk culture from 1958-'71. While the true-life location hosted a mind-blowing list of performers, including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, the fictional iteration is a home for no-ones and never-will-bes. And that’s its charm. It’s a place where all are welcome, onstage or off. It’s grimy, it’s disgusting and everything you’d want when glamour’s not your thing.
Business Lesson: Dirty jokes are better in dirty surroundings.
Pritchett's Closets & Blinds (Modern Family)
What was it that allowed Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill) to get rich in the closest business? Passion. Jay loved closets and was proud to be a well-regarded force in the industry. Though he constantly complained about his nemesis and former Closet Fornia co-owner, Earl Chambers, who left to start Closets, Closets, Closets, Closets, the betrayal may have lit the fire that inspired him to go all in with PC&B. As Jay said in the episode entitled “Bad Hair Day,” “Frazier had Ali, we have Closets, Closets, Closets, Closets. It’s a stupid name, but they’re great bowlers.” Earl’s sense of competition was also his own driving force. As he tells Jay in the episode “The Cover Up,” “Beating you is half the reason I get out of bed. Locking horns. We made each other better than I ever thought we could be.”
Business Lesson: Find another brand you’re inspired to chase — and out-bowl.
The Krusty Krab (SpongeBob SquarePants)
The competition for closet domination in Los Angeles is nothing compared to the underwater burger war of Bikini Bottom. The Krusty Krab always seems to win every battle with the Chum Bucket, thanks to Mr. Krab’s closely guarded Krabby Patty recipe and his obsession with profit and savings. Rival Plankton is so determined to replicate the Krabby Patty that he struggles to produce anything good (or non-toxic) in his own kitchen (or laboratory). For a variety of reasons, the Chum Bucket is completely destroyed in no less than a dozen episodes, but Plankton always insists on rebuilding right across the street from The Krusty Krab, where he can keep his rival in his crosshairs.
Business Lesson: Keep your eye on your own business, especially if you only have one eye.
Fisher & Sons Funeral Home (Six Feet Under)
The funeral business may not sound very lively, but it’s a recession-proof service everyone eventually needs. And if you do it like the Fishers, you can run it from home! Family drama sometimes tripped up the operation, but thanks to stray golf balls, mountain lions and other weekly dangers, there was always a steady flow of customers to keeping the death business alive. Sometimes the deceased would even speak during embalming, offering wisdom to help the cast navigate through their personal life questions.
Business Lesson: Always listen to your customers.