Although the entrepreneurial spirit remains strong among small business owners, a lot has changed over the past six decades. Here are some of the major differences between present-day small businesses and those from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s…

Major differences between small businesses then and now

  • During the 1960s, big business dominated the domestic economic landscape which made it difficult for small firms to compete. In the 1950s, small business output accounted for roughly 58 percent of total domestic output. This number dropped to around 48 percent in the early ’60s and, by 1977, small businesses with fewer than 500 employees produced only 46.5 percent of business output in the United States. Today, small business’s contributions are starting to grow again, and the SBA estimates that small businesses accounted for 44 percent of U.S. economic activity (Forbes). 
  • In 1965, the top five industries for startup companies were: housing, computer technology, chemicals, electrically powered consumer durables and automobile services/parts. Today, the top five fastest-growing industries are healthcare, technology, construction, retail, and non-durable manufacturing (Investopedia). 
  • In the 1950s and ’60s, the SBA only classified companies employing less than 250 employees as small businesses. This number increased to less than 500 employees in the 1970s. Today, firms with fewer than 500 workers account for 99.7 percent of employer firms (SBE Council). There are currently 31.7 million small businesses in the United States (CDN). 
  • In 1960, minorities owned roughly 10 percent of small businesses in the United States. As of 2019, the number of minority-owned businesses is 18.7 percent of the nation’s 31.7 million small businesses (Census).
  • In 1972, women owned only 4 percent of all American businesses. By 2018, 22.35 percent of American businesses that employed people in the United States are owned by women (Guidant Financial). 

15 iconic American businesses founded in the 1950s

Dunkin’ Donuts, founded in 1950

Dunkin’ Donuts (Founded: 1950 in Quincy, Mass)
Founded: 1950 in Quincy, Mass

Sonic Drive-In, founded in 1953

Sonic Drive-In (Founded: 1953 in Shawnee, Okla.)
Founded: 1953 in Shawnee, Okla.

Denny’s, founded in 1953

Denny's (Founded: 1953 in Lakewood, Calif.)
Founded: 1953 in Lakewood, Calif.

Williams-Sonoma, founded in 1956

Williams-Sonoma (Founded: 1956 in Sonoma, Calif.)
Founded: 1956 in Sonoma, Calif.

Holiday Inn, founded in 1952

Holiday Inn (Founded: 1952 in Memphis, Tenn.)
Founded: 1952 in Memphis, Tenn.

H&R Block, founded in 1955

H&R Block (Founded: 1955 in Kansas City, Mo.)
Founded: 1955 in Kansas City, Mo.

Mister Softee, founded in 1956

Mister Softee (Founded: 1956 in Philadelphia, Pa.)
Founded: 1956 in Philadelphia, Pa.

Sbarro, founded in 1956

Sbarro (Founded: 1956 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Founded: 1956 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

IHOP, founded in 1958

IHOP (Founded: 1958 in Toluca Lake, Calif.)
Founded: 1958 in Toluca Lake, Calif.

Trader Joe’s, founded in 1958

Trader Joe's (Founded: 1958 in Pasadena, Calif.)
Founded: 1958 in Pasadena, Calif.

Hush Puppies, founded in 1958

Hush Puppies (Founded: 1958 in Rockford, Mich.)
Founded: 1958 in Rockford, Mich.

Pizza Hut, founded in 1958

Pizza Hut (Founded: 1958 in Wichita, Kan.)
Founded: 1958 in Wichita, Kan.

Conair, founded in 1959  

Conair (Founded: 1959 in Queens, N.Y.) 
Founded: 1959 in Queens, N.Y.

Guitar Center, founded in 1959

Guitar Center (Founded: 1959 in Hollywood, Calif.)
Founded: 1959 in Hollywood, Calif.

Little Caesars, founded in 1959

Little Caesars (Founded: 1959 in Garden City, Mich.)
Founded: 1959 in Garden City, Mich.

Small business facts and figures from 2022

  • Only 50% of all small businesses will survive their first five years. Only one-third will make it to ten (SBA). 
  • Small businesses employ about 57.3 percent of the private workforce (NTIA).
  • Scientific and Technical Services; Construction; Health Care and Social Assistance; and Retail Trade combined are estimated to consist of 2.8 million businesses that employ about 51.1 million people and have an annual payroll of approximately $2.6 trillion (Census).
  • 30% of entrepreneurs only have a high school degree, 31% have an associate degree, 17% have a bachelor’s degree, 18% obtained a master’s degree, and 4% have a PhD (Guidant Financial). 
  • Immigrants make up 21.7  percent of small business owners in the United States (New American Economy).
  • Gen X at 46.46% took first place as the largest generational segment. Boomers at 45.45% took second place. At 7%, millennials came in third place. And Gen Z and Post War era business owners — both had less than 1% each (Guidant Financial).
  • 50 percent of small businesses are operated from home (Fundera). 
  • 90% of new American billionaires are self-made (Forbes).
  • 63% of adults believe entrepreneurship is a good career (Babson).
  • 60.87% of business owners primarily went into business because they were ready to be their own boss and 47.64% of them went because of overall dissatisfaction with corporate America (Guidant Financial).
  • With a Global Entrepreneurship Index of 83.6, the US is the best country for entrepreneurs (GEDI). 
  • Only 9% of entrepreneurs have a Bachelor’s Degree in business (TSheets).
  • At 15.05%, Retail was the largest industry category in 2022. At 13.71, food and restaurants were just behind. The next largest category was business services at 10.10%. (Guidant Financial)
  • 46% of people who start small businesses are between the ages of 41 and 56 (Small Biz Genius).

What must a company do or have to be successful in 2022?

Here are some of the top tips for small business owners to be successful in 2022:

  1. Have a mission with great core values that employees can believe in. 
  2. Keep detailed records to know where the business stands financially and what potential challenges you could be facing. 
  3. Take calculated risks to help your business grow.
  4. Look for ways to improve your business and make it stand out from the competition. 
  5. Prepare to make sacrifices in order to make your business work, such as time with your family and friends.  
  6. Remember to provide great customer service. 
  7. Be consistent and keep doing what is necessary to be successful day in and day out. 

Best Advice to Small Business Owners, Goldman Sachs

Frequently asked questions

How has marketing changed over the last 50 years? 

According to McKinsey Quarterly from their 1966 archive, we can observe the following major changes in the marketing field over the last 50 years. 
1. The dominance of the customer. The need to understand and anticipate future customers is becoming more essential than in the past. Because the end users of almost every company’s products are changing in age range, location, and number at an ever-increasing rate.
2. The spread of marketing research. As the influence of marketing grows, marketing research is expanding and becoming more important. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing how market research is done. Globally, the AI market captured over $27B in 2019 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 33% to $266.9B by 2027
3. The rise of technology. In the past, companies did not have the advantage of electronic data-processing analyses, online communications, and information-retrieval systems as tools to help make marketing more efficient. Today, companies can quickly employ marketing analytics tools that help track and forecast how well an ad campaign did with attribution modeling and aggregate marketing data from different channels.
4. The expanded use of test marketing. Test marketing is a way to get feedback about a product before it’s released to the public. This helps to make the product better and hopefully more popular. During the test, businesses share a prototype of their service or product and solicit customer feedback to improve their offerings before it is officially launched.
5. The movement toward integrated marketing from field selling. 50 years ago, a company needed to spend an average of $15,000 to $17,000 of direct costs per year, including compensation, to keep a typical salesperson on the road. Today, companies would invest heavily in digital marketing, by which their marketers and sales reps can reach customers via different channels and marketing types, such as content marketing, social media marketing, etc. 

What present-day companies have a great global marketing strategy?

According to Hubspot, the following 13 companies have excellent global marketing strategies: 
Airbnb
Coca-Cola
Domino’s
Dunkin Donuts
Innocent Drinks
McDonald’s
Nike
Pearse Trust
Red Bull
Rezdy
Spotify
Traffic Ticket Clinic
World Wildlife Foundation

What are the most successful small business ideas in 2022?

1. Run a dropshipping business. 
2. Design and sell print-on-demand products.
3. Sell digital products or online courses.
4. Open an online fashion shop.
5. Become an affiliate marketer.
6. Start freelancing.
7. Become a social media planner/media manager.
8. Design websites, UI/UX, or graphics. 


Bonus infographic: Small businesses then and now

major differences between small businesses now and then
Small businesses then and now.

Originally published on June 18, 2013. Updated on July 29, 2022. 


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