3 Things Young Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Past

In early December 2020, the New York Times published this piece on a 1,020-year-old mochi shop in Kyoto, Japan. The shop stands out because the idea of a company staying in business for so long seems not only unlikely but impossible. Today, the average lifespan for a business is 15 years; it wouldn’t survive past 8th grade.  

This is why young entrepreneurs would do well to take a look at some of the world’s oldest continually running businesses. With longevity being such a rarity, your company will stand out by staying put. Now is the perfect time for you to get started. Your youth works in your favor when it comes to thinking very long-term.  

While entrepreneurs must think about the future and which goods and services will be needed in the coming months and years, heeding the words of wisdom and lessons learned from these centuries-old companies will, hopefully, provide an extra edge. Those that came before you have learned a few things along the way. You can benefit from the combined 2,800 years of doing business listed below! 

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan – World’s Oldest Hotel, Hayakawa, Japan 

Opened in the year Keiun 2 (705 A.D.), this hotel has the distinction of not only being the oldest continually run hotel in the world, but it has stayed in the same family for 52 generations. Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan provides visitors with a 5-star spa-like experience centered around natural hot springs. 

Reviewers for the hotel consistently praise its luxurious, spacious rooms, delicious food, quiet location, amazing service and hospitality, and an authentic ancient Japanese hot spring experience.  

What’s the secret to this hotel’s 1,300-year success? The people. Staff roles are passed down from generation to generation because they are paid fairlyß and treated well. A happy staff works hard to provide top-quality client service, which results in positive word-of-mouth.  

Young entrepreneurs thinking about going into the hospitality business – or any business where you will deal directly with the general public – would do well to think about what kind of culture they want to cultivate for their teams. When your staff feels seen, heard, understood, and respected, they want to live up to your expectations. This can’t help but translate into exceptional service for your customer-facing team members.  

Focus on your role as a leader, and your positivity, hard work, and dedication will be contagious through to your satisfied clients. 

Stiftskeller St. Peter, Europe’s Oldest Restaurant, Salzburg, Austria 

Restaurants are notoriously difficult businesses to run. The average lifespan of a restaurant is five years. Up to 90% of new restaurants close within their first year. That said, Stiftskeller St. Peter has not only beaten the odds but at 1,200 years old, it’s the unicorn of restaurants. 

While young entrepreneurs are not likely to open a restaurant in high school or college, there is plenty of advice to be applied no matter what your field. One piece is, as above, exceptional customer service. Remember that whatever your business is, you are there to provide an outstanding product or service to your clients. Their happiness is directly linked to your success as an entrepreneur. 

Aside from quality food and service, the longest-lasting restaurants also offer their customers something unique. In the case of Stiftskeller St. Peter, diners can attend a Mozart Dinner experience that offers a three-course meal combined with the music of Salzburg’s favorite son for a full-sensory event. Your takeaway? Stand out. Make your product or service unique enough to shine among the competition. Go above and beyond, and find your niche. Customers at this particular restaurant get to brag that they listened to the music of Mozart in his hometown at the oldest restaurant in Europe. The excellent food and service is almost an afterthought compared to an experience like that! 

Finally, despite its history and tradition, this restaurant has been able to adapt and change with the times. It’s unlikely that diners in the 9th century identified as vegetarian or vegan when they stopped here for a bite to eat, yet in 2020 the menu includes those options as well as gluten-free meals. Does any of this take away from the experience of dining here? Of course not, and by opening themselves up to change, Stiftskeller St. Peter has become even more inclusive of modern diners – which is good for business. 

Caswell-Massy, America’s Oldest Soap and Fragrance Company, New York and New Jersey, USA 

The oldest continuing business in the United States may not have over a millennium of experience under its belt like the other two on this list, but it has been around since 1752 – before the American Revolution. George Washington was said to be a fan of the company’s fragrances. For a company based in a country that hasn’t yet reached its 250th birthday, that’s quite a pedigree. 

What’s their secret? 

According to their website, they count on “quality, innovation, curiosity, and perseverance” to keep going. 

As with you and your business, Caswell-Massey focuses on putting out a high-quality, consistent product. Customers and clients want to know that they are spending their money on something of real value, so don’t cut corners or skimp on the details.  

As with Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Stiftskeller St. Peter, Caswell-Massey simultaneously focuses on presenting their long history as a mark of confidence to clients and innovating with the changing times. The company began life as an apothecary and spent the last two and a half centuries focusing on their strengths: fragrance and self-care. While this can be a fine line to tread, and one that isn’t always crystal clear, as you get your sea legs under you with your enterprise, you’ll soon have a sixth sense for when to stay the course and when to change things up. 

What all of these companies have in common is a deep respect for traditions with a willingness to keep up with customer demands. This doesn’t mean chasing every fad that comes along; rather, stay open to new ideas. Pay attention to what your customers and employees are telling you. In this way, you may very well create a business that others will look to for advice in another hundred, two hundred, or a thousand years. 

Find out more about the Kantner Foundation, including our college scholarships for young entrepreneurs in Florida, by clicking here. We look forward to your application!

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