In a summer overflowing with blockbuster action films and sequels, one film rises above most in terms of anticipation--and marketing savvy. After all, the characters have been around for 18 years and are recognized worldwide. And despite being fictional, The Simpsons characters have taught us plenty about entrepreneurship, even if it's what not to do.
Real-life business owners could learn a few things from how The Simpsons Movie has been marketed as well. A dozen 7-11 stores have been retrofitted to look like Quik-E-Marts, complete with Squishees instead of Slurpees and Krusty-Os for sale. (Unfortunately, there's no Duff beer in the coolers.) The town of Springfield, Vermont, won a heated contest on USAToday.com to become the Springfield to host the film's premiere. And JetBlue, now "The Official Airline of Springfield," is promoting its new "Woo-Hoo, JetBlue!" aircraft featuring Homer's stubbled mug.
To honor our favorite dysfunctional family--and their neighbors, friends, enemies and acquaintances--we decided to go (unofficially) straight to the source for business advice. What does it take to run a business in a town where the mayor is corrupt, the police chief is beyond bumbling, the local mob runs everything, and the citizenry is one quirk shy of insane? Let's find out.
As the local purveyor of all that is Squishee, Apu and his convenience store are a Springfield favorite. Snacks and convenience items are always a great equalizer, whether you're a kid shoplifting a Playdude or an insatiably hungry snack machine like Homer. An immigrant from India, Apu supports his wife and octuplets while running a tight but always courteous ship. Even when he lays down the law against thieves like Snake, hooligans like Bart or messy pigs like Homer, Apu will always say, "Thank you, come again!"
Biggest Accomplishments: Turning a frozen old man into a freak show attraction; passing off tofu dogs as real hot dogs; raising eight children on a convenience store salary; renting rooftop garden space to Paul and Linda McCartney
Success Secret: "Courtesy is a convenience store operator's best weapon, as well as knowing the procedure for armed robbery and using the deadly arts to protect my reasonably priced merchandise."
Biggest Mistake: "Do not mix business with pleasure, even if the Squishee supplier has the divine face of a lotus flower. Your wife will most assuredly request prompt payment on your karmic debt."
Krusty the Clown
The Krusty empire
Krusty the Clown yukked his way to fame as a beloved children's entertainer, and along the way, he never met a licensing deal he didn't like. The money tends to come in handy when Krusty neglects to pay his taxes or gambles and boozes his money away. His top brands and businesses include the fast-food chain Krusty Burger, Kamp Krusty, Krustylu Studios, Krusty-O brand cereal and Krusty's Home Pregnancy Test. Krusty has had his share of bad times--his assistant Sideshow Bob framing him for robbery comes to mind--but he always lands on his clown-shoe-clad feet.
Biggest Accomplishments: Surviving cancellation; reuniting with his father, Rabbi Krustofski; retiring at least five times; staying out of jail (as much as he can)
Success Secret: "You gotta do it for the kids. All the gags, all the shilling, being treated like some dumb sap by the network executives, it's all for the booze and the floozies--um, I mean kids. Huh hu huh hu!"
Biggest Mistake: "Never trust nobody. Your best pal will shiv ya in the back when you're getting a pie in the face."
Stalwart Simpsons' neighbor Ned Flanders risked it all to pursue his dream: a store for the leftily inclined. It's a great niche, but just like Job in the Bible, Ned and his store have been beset by struggles. First, Ned nearly went bankrupt as Homer refused to send word-of-mouth business his way. Later, the store was looted after a hurricane.
Biggest Accomplishments: Surviving startup; competing with the neighboring Leftopolis; building a niche business on word-of-mouth marketing; supporting his family--and tithing to eight churches--with his business
Success Secret: "I always remember that on each dil-doodly-dollar I make at my store, it says 'In God We Trust.' Clean living, bowing to the will of the almighty and denial of all worldly pleasure is Ned's path to business treasure."
Biggest Mistake: "Ooh, that would be my angry outburst and pottymouth after the hurricane. God gave me an F-fiddly-F on that test."
Business Tips from Moe, Mr. Burns and More
Comic Book Guy
The Android's Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop
The surprisingly intelligent and learned Comic Book Guy has smartly positioned himself as the cultural critic of the culturally devoid Springfield. Though he doesn't garner the respect of anyone but impressionable geeky kids like Millhouse, sci-fi dorks, fellow MENSA members and Renaissance Faire participants, his catchphrase "Worst episode ever!" has made him and his store Springfield institutions.
Biggest Accomplishments: Purchasing Bart's soul; bilking Martin's mother out of precious Star Wars memorabilia for a cool $5
Success Secret: "While most Springfieldians believe I am just the rotund 'nerd' who purveys comic books in an attempt to pollute the minds and empty the pockets of their youth, it is their inferior intellect that allows me to rule with an iron fist--at least in my own store."
Biggest Mistake: "Without a doubt, succumbing to the frailties of my fleshy mortal shell and having the worst cardiac episode ever, and then allowing the formerly banned Bart and Millhouse to ruin my store while I tried to de-stress in the arms of my beloved sex-agenarian, Agnes Skinner."
The dingy, ratty, infested pit that is Moe's Tavern is actually the center of Springfield social life--at least for Homer and his pals Barney, Lenny and Carl. Moe has tried more than once to turn his tavern into an establishment that doesn't terrify women and make children cry, including a turn as a trendy nightclub and a revamp as a family-friendly restaurant that was ruined when Moe started screaming at everyone. But squalor, beer, sticky floors and ancient pickled eggs are more up Moe's alley.
Biggest Accomplishments: Stealing Homer's recipe for the Flaming Homer (secret ingredient: kid's cough syrup); having Aerosmith play at his bar; staying open as a speakeasy during prohibition; his four loyal patrons somehow surviving all that liver damage and drunk driving
Success Secret: "Serve the scumbags their beer and stay one step ahead of the restraining orders. I ain't no good at nothin' else, and I always says, 'Focus on your strengths.'"
Biggest Mistakes: "Other than not killing myself? I'd hafta say yelling at that brat whose 'teef hurt.'" Wasn't my shining moment. But I shoulda never let those squawkin' rugrats in my joint. You can put that cold sodie where the sun ain't ever shined, kid!"
Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, assorted monopolies
The arch villain of Springfield rules his empire with an arthritic fist, often forgetting the names of his employees, but never neglecting to swindle customers and obtain more money and power. His right-hand man--and secret admirer--Smithers takes care of the details, like ensuring Burns doesn't keel over mid-power grab.
Biggest accomplishments: Maintaining a stranglehold over Springfield's power supply; keeping his employees in terror; not dying
Success Secret: Burns was too busy masterminding a new evil plan and distracting the nuclear safety commissioner from completing the annual inspection to conduct an interview with us. But Burns' advice is already in the annals of business management theory--or at least it should be: "Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to stay in business."
Biggest Mistakes: We think this may have been the question that led to Burns refusing our interview request. So we'll hazard our own answer: Being ruthlessly evil and greedy, or employing Homer Simpson. It's a toss up.
Mr. Plow, Simpson & Son's Patented Revitalizing Tonic and Pretzel Wagon, among others
Perhaps more than any other family in sitcom land, the Simpsons are an entrepreneurial bunch. Homer sees all situations as potential money-making opportunities, and Bart is following in his footsteps. Homer has gone into business with his father, and his long-lost brother, Herb, was a successful entrepreneur--at least until he met Homer. Even Marge ventured into franchising with a pretzel wagon.
The abbreviated list of the many Simpsons' ventures includes: selling rides on the elephant Bart won in a contest; selling sugar found in the street after a traffic accident; plowing snow; selling Grandpa's love tonic; running an internet business, which was bought out by Bill Gates; selling kitchen grease to rendering plants; bootlegging beer during prohibition; offering security services; running a daycare center; and selling tickets to see an unearthed angel fossil.
Biggest Accomplishments: Mr. Plow, until the snow thawed; the daycare center, until Homer was forbidden to see the children and kidnapped a few of them; the grease business, until groundskeeper Willie found out Bart and Homer were taking his "retirement grease"
Success Secret: "If at first you don't succeed--d'oh!--try again the next time you find some free junk in the road." --Homer J. Simpson
Biggest Mistakes: "All the ones where I got arrested .or bankrupted .or in trouble with Fat Tony." --Homer J. Simpson
Editor's note: The Simpsons characters were too busy promoting their new movie to actually talk with us about their entrepreneurial ventures. Their responses have been fabricated for your entertainment.