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What You Can Learn From Fictional Businesses

Sean Peek
Sean Peek
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Jan 25, 2023

These seven businesses from TV shows and movies can teach entrepreneurs lessons on how — and how not — to run a company.

Many of your favorite TV shows and movies take place in a made-up world, full of fictional businesses. Creators develop these fake companies — going as far as crafting logos and jingles — and immerse viewers in make-believe environments where these businesses feel real. Certain series and films, particularly those centered on a business, wind up creating loyal fans of companies that don’t exist in real life. 

A recent study from Smallpdf uncovered which fictional businesses Americans search for the most, with Los Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad taking the top spot. This pretend enterprise and other faux businesses can teach their audiences — and entrepreneurs — a lesson or two about the dos and don’ts of running a business. Here are seven fictional companies that real-life business owners can learn from.

Dunder Mifflin Paper Company (The Office)

The Scranton branch of paper-supply company Dunder Mifflin is led by notoriously out-there boss Michael Scott. However, there are many redeeming qualities that make his management style a success and inspiration to real-life business owners. Scott focuses heavily on getting his employees to know, respect and befriend him — even if it means standing up to higher-ups on their behalf or spending extra time helping them improve. 

Key lesson: Although managers shouldn’t try to become best friends with their employees, they can take a page from Scott’s leadership style by developing an open environment where employees are empowered to speak up and be transparent with management. Doing so can go a long way in addressing and resolving any issues an employee may be facing. Take time to get to know your employees and create a positive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable opening up about problems they may be encountering. Improving manager-employee relations can also boost employee satisfaction and retention.

Did you know?Did you know? Michael Scott’s unconventional management and mentorship style ultimately helped Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch become the top-performing in the company, proving that it pays to think outside the box.

The Krusty Krab (Spongebob Squarepants)

In one episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Mr. Krabs — owner of the fast-food restaurant The Krusty Krab — enlists the help of his daughter, Pearl, to modernize his restaurant. However, she lacks any prior knowledge or insight into the business and begins implementing changes without any form of business strategy or research. Her changes quickly cause The Krusty Krab to lose sight of itself and no longer satisfy its original customer base. Instead, they cater to an entirely new, unsustainable audience. 

Key lesson: Rather than bringing in a family member who is unaware of how the business operates, Mr. Krabs would have benefited from gaining employee input and listening to those around him who know how the company operates and what their customers want and need. Always consider a business strategy from multiple angles before you implement it. Ensure you have the right team behind you to help make your plan work, and don’t lose sight of your business’s mission and what earned the loyalty of your existing customers in the first place.

TipTip: To create an effective business strategy, make sure your plans reflect your company’s core values and goals.

Los Pollos Hermanos (Breaking Bad)

Los Pollos Hermanos is a fast-food chicken restaurant founded by Gus Fring and his business partner. As the boss of the restaurant chain, Fring is generally respected among his employees. However, his management style and overall intimidating demeanor often turn that respect into fear. Still, despite being feared by employees, Fring does have positive traits that make him a successful business owner. For instance, Fring always plans ahead and is quick to use skills learned outside the workplace to strengthen himself as a boss and leader. 

Key lesson: Fring adapts lessons learned as a drug lord — from knowing how to stay one step ahead to listening and remaining calm during his decision-making process — and turns those skills into ways to better his legitimate business. Use lessons learned from past experiences, both inside and outside of the workplace, to better yourself as a boss and a business owner. Additionally, know the line between establishing a level of respect and evoking fear among your employees. [See game-changing business lessons from Emmy nominees, including Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul.]

Central Perk (Friends)

Central Perk, the coffee shop used as a hangout for the characters on Friends, was owned by a man named Terry, who only showed up twice in the entire series to check on the shop. Instead, the establishment was seemingly managed by an employee named Gunther who, on numerous occasions, hired workers who may not have been the best person for the job. For example, without a boss present, Gunther hired Rachel despite her lack of experience and a formal interview process solely because he had feelings for her. 

Key lesson: Rachel was ill-fit for the job and constantly vocalized her dislike for her workplace. She often charged the wrong amount for drinks and upset customers by messing up their orders — all of which were bad for business. Be present in your workplace or hire a leader who can be. Otherwise, you may wind up with unmotivated or poorly performing employees who cost your company more than they bring in. 

Wonka Industries (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Willy Wonka is the innovator behind one the largest candy companies in the (fictional) world — with an estimated revenue topping $29 billion, according to Paymentsense. When Wonka held a once-in-a-lifetime promotion allowing select winners to go into his closed-off factory and explore the candy-creation process, the participants got a behind-the-scenes look at all the latest innovations the inventor was working on. However, the group learned many of these would never make it to the distribution phase for one reason or another.

Key lesson: Wonka works hard to ensure every invention is useful, well-suited and safe for the consumer. Throughout the factory, there are various rooms and testing areas used to perfect the product before it hits the market. Wonka doesn’t rush his products and instead takes time to innovate the best product possible, which helps rocket his company to the top. Being an innovator can push your business forward and, ultimately, make you a leader in your respective industry. However, don’t rush the process if your product or service isn’t ready for market.

FYIFYI: Taking time to develop your products and services can save your company money in the long run, as releasing something too soon can lead to issues with design and implementation and cause customers to lose trust in your business.

Monsters, Inc. (Monsters, Inc.)

Henry J. Waternoose, the boss behind Monsters, Inc., ran the business without thinking of innovative ways to improve it. Instead, monsters used antiquated ways of obtaining power for their city. However, when James P. Sullivan, aka Sulley, takes over the business, he shifts the company’s modus operandi and adopts a new, “friendlier” way of getting electricity that produces better results than the original method. 

Key lesson: When the Monsters, Inc. company strays away from its original process, which the former boss warns will bankrupt and destroy the organization, its transition to a cleaner form of energy only helps the business become more successful. Be willing to change with the times. Keeping with old methods, rather than looking for ways to increase efficiency, can hold a company back. Not every change will pay off, though. Take comfort in knowing most successful entrepreneurs fail at least once. [Check out what you can learn from the must-see business movies of the 2010s.]

Did you know?Did you know? The Monsters, Inc. team realized laughter produced roughly 10 times as much power as screams, but they wouldn’t have made that discovery if it weren’t for a change in management with a new leader who was willing to try something different.

Bob’s Burgers (Bob’s Burgers)

Bob’s Burgers is a burger restaurant run by Bob Belcher and his wife Linda, along with the help of their three children. Bob is constantly coming up with original, innovative ideas for his restaurant to try and keep his doors open — despite pressure from his greedy landlord, who wants to take back the property. 

Bob never gives up on his business or its mission and gets creative with his offerings, serving up various burger specials (and a pun on the side).

Key lesson: Bob’s passion shines through in every episode as he proudly describes his latest creations. He is willing to take risks to make his restaurant a success and he is always evolving based on customer feedback — be it by adding new menu items, sprucing up his restaurant or welcoming customers with new promotional efforts. Understanding the importance of a consumer focus, as Bob does, is an essential skill all entrepreneurs must master. Consider customer feedback and suggestions and be willing to make and implement changes as needed. However, don’t forget your business’s mission in the process.

Image Credit: Dragon Images / Shutterstock
Sean Peek
Sean Peek
business.com Contributing Writer
business.comb.
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.