17 February 2023

Brits name Fawlty Towers their favourite TV SME– but how would it fare as a small business in 2023

The much-loved small businesses from the small screen that may not be Open All Hours unless they adapt

  • As Basil Fawlty’s eagerly awaited comeback is announced, Fawlty Towers tops poll of favourite fictional SMEs from TV in a top ten that includes The Rovers Return, The Queen Vic, Arkwright’s Corner Shop, and Roy’s Rolls

  • Yet, Basil Fawlty will need to adapt quickly if Fawlty Towers or his latest enterprise is to survive in the modern world, according to Funding Circle experts

  • Funding Circle highlights Mitchell’s Autos (Eastenders) as one SME that could thrive in the current climate, whilst Central Perk of Friends and Moe’s Tavern are doomed to fail

Fawlty Towers, the chaotic sitcom hotel run by husband-and-wife Basil and Sybil set to return to screens after 40-year hiatus, has beaten iconic soap pubs The Rovers Return and The Queen Vic in a Top 10 poll of the nation’s all-time favourite fictional TV small businesses. Yet, it is among many of our most loved small businesses from the small screen that would struggle to survive. That’s according to the experts at Funding Circle, the UK’s largest small business lending platform, that commissioned the research and assessed the viability of the top 10.

Beyond finance, Funding Circle provides expertise and advice to help its SME customers manage everything from HR to marketing. With businesses needing to adapt to everything from the current economic climate and changing consumer trends through to social media marketing and online reviews, Fawlty Towers needs a serious overhaul if it’s to survive the modern world, Moe’s Tavern of The Simpson’s is doomed to fail, and Mitchell’s Autos predicted to thrive.

The top ten most iconic TV-SMEs, according to Brits:

  1. Fawlty Towers - 31% - Survive
  2. The Rovers Return (Coronation Street) - 28% - Survive
  3. The Queen Victoria (Eastenders) - 28% - Survive
  4. Albert Arkwright’s Corner Shop (Open All Hours) - 20% - Survive
  5. Central Perk (Friends) - 20% - Fail
  6. Roy’s Rolls (Coronation Street) -19% - Survive
  7. Moe’s Tavern (The Simpsons) - 16% - Fail
  8. The Kwik-E-Mart (The Simpsons) - 13% - Thrive
  9. Kathy’s Café (Eastenders) - 10% - Survive
  10. Mitchell’s Autos (Eastenders) - 10% - Thrive

As over a third (39%) of the nation say they have been inspired by an on-screen business, Funding Circle looks at which of the nation’s top ten fictional small businesses would be thriving or not-surviving in the real world.

1. Fawlty Towers (31%) 

Fawlty Towers is a fictional Torquay hotel where chaos and mayhem are served in large portions.

Comment: “Over the past few years, Fawlty Towers will have had a turbulent time with Covid, labour shortages and soaring energy prices. Manuel may have decided to go back to Barcelona. However, domestic tourism has had a renaissance since Covid, and the weaker pound has also made the UK more promising for non-UK visitors. With big events such as the King's Coronation on the horizon, the hotel can capitalise on its ‘quintessentially British’ USP via themed events and packages. But with quality of service distinctly lacking, it needs to address its inhospitable management and service problem first. Online hotel reviews such as Trip Advisor and Google play a big part in people's booking decisions. Disgruntled guests are increasingly eager to share negative experiences, so investing in customer service and front-of-house team training is crucial to survival.”

Verdict: Survive

2. The Rovers Return (28%)

The Rovers Return is a friendly, traditional pub set on the corner of Coronation Street.

Comment: “Rovers Return has managed to remain a key part of the community for decades, but with increasing rent, and fewer pounds in customer pockets, it’s a difficult time for pubs. The business needs to adapt and diversify its offering in line with current consumer trends such as veganism and low alcohol consumption to stay relevant to the core community it serves. Hosting community events such as quiz nights, and gigs and encouraging punters to leave online reviews in exchange for discounts would increase SEO and put them on the radar of new customers.” 

Verdict: Survive

3. The Queen Victoria (28%)

The Queen Vic is a pub that is as much of an EastEnders icon as Ian Beale and the scene of some of the soap's most dramatic moments.

Comment: “The Queen Vic has a proven ability to bounce back from difficult times including frequent owner turnover, but it needs to modernise. Taking the pub from offline to online is essential to staying relevant. Its charismatic and flamboyant owners would be perfect social media fodder and setting up a pub social channel could enable them to market the local in new and engaging ways, and to a more diverse audience. It has the potential to bring fame, fans, and a wider customer base.” 

Verdict: Survive

4. Albert Arkwright’s Corner Shop (20%)

Owned by a middle-aged miser with a gift for selling, Arkwright’s is a small-town grocery store and the setting for the much-loved British TV sitcom Open All Hours.

Comment: “Arkwright’s shop is the kind of shop every street needs. A cornerstone of the community and a place to buy just about anything you need at nearly all hours of the day. The business's biggest threat is online purchasing and competitive supermarket pricing. Tight-fisted and stuck in his ways, Arkwright needs to be flexible and forward-thinking if he’s to future-proof the business and meet ever-changing customer needs. The introduction of a competitive pricing strategy and investing in more interaction with online shoppers perhaps by expanding its services to become a parcel collection or collection+ point is key.”

Verdict: Survive

5. Central Perk (20%)

Central Perk is a New York coffeehouse and popular hangout of the main protagonists in the 90s/00s sitcom Friends.

Comment: “With customers frequenting the shop for hours at of time and only buying one coffee, people appearing not to pay their tabs, and a large body of inexperienced staff displaying remarkable ineptitude - given the increasing number of independent coffee shops competing for business and rising rents, Central Perk could be squeezed out. In today’s climate, it would be hinging on the border of non-survival if it didn’t change its act, and fast.”

Verdict: Fail

6. Roy’s Rolls (19%) 

Popular amongst local Weatherfield residents, Roy’s Rolls is a long-running Coronation Street café. 

Comment: “Roy’s Rolls is a favourite amongst Coronation Street locals and serves an impressive variety of items. The big risk for places like Roy’s Rolls is the threat of big chains opening nearby. Customer loyalty can help a business boom in the best of times and help it survive in challenging times. Roy’s Rolls has a good chance of survival, providing it taps into its popularity within the community and rewards and incentivises repeat custom with loyalty schemes that offer discounts for regulars.”

Verdict: Survive

7. Moe’s Tavern (16%)

Moe’s Tavern is Homer Simpson’s favourite pub, known for its quirky publican, limited beer selection and lack of hygiene standards.

Comment: “Simply put, Moe’s Tavern would be shut down, and sharpish. From a lack of necessities including daylight, working women’s toilets and being in the possession of hygiene reports, to a cockroach infestation, the illegal storage and trade of endangered species and participation in bribery, there are just one too many issues to be addressed. People want good food, non-alcoholic alternatives, and friendly service. In the age of online reviews, the damage to its reputation is irreversible. Even if Moe’s did start over, historical, and undeletable negative customer reviews posted on independent review sites would live on.” 

Verdict: Fail

8. The Kwik-E-Mart (13%)

The Kwik-E-Mart is the local neighbourhood convenience store featured in The Simpsons.

Comment: “Kwik-E-Mart is impressive. Not only has it managed to fight off big chain stores, but it's done so whilst selling standard items at extraordinarily high prices. However, extortionate pricing will be unsustainable long term given the financial climate and large-scale competitors discounting prices. Despite some customer complaints about product quality, the business is great at spotting opportunities and isn’t afraid of diversifying, and this adaptability is the key to success in an ever-changing society. They are likely to thrive, providing hotdogs are removed from shelves immediately. 

Verdict: Thrive

9. Kathy’s Café (10%)

A traditional greasy spoon café set in Eastenders’ Walford; Kathy’s has been at the heart of the community for over a decade. 

Comment: “This is another great local institution and it’s done well to beat off the bigger chains by focusing on quality, cleanliness, and customer loyalty, but they can’t afford to rest on their laurels. With inflation impacting ingredient availability and prices, Kathy’s needs to get creative with its menu. Reducing the number of items on offer, being smart with ingredient substitutions, and introducing lesser-known ingredients would help them to monitor incoming costs and limit the need for customer price hikes.”

Verdict: Survive

10. Mitchell’s Autos (10%)

Also known as The Arches, Mitchell’s Autos is run by the infamous Eastenders family, the Mitchells and has been fixing the cars of Walford since 1990.

Comment: “An industry-wide scaling back of the production of new cars is leading to a huge boom in the second-hand car market. Older cars need a lot more maintenance which would play into the hands of a company like Mitchell’s Autos brilliantly. One consideration is electric vehicles. These cars have different maintenance requirements and parts, and if Mitchell’s invested in training and new equipment such as charging ports, it could provide a big opportunity to grow.”

Verdict: Thrive

Commercial and Strategy Director at Funding Circle, James Mountain comments: “Much like SMEs in the real world, the top ten most iconic TV small businesses are the heartbeat of their communities,  but not all are equipped to handle any obstacles which may lie ahead in today’s climate. It’s vital that small business owners have access to the support and services they need not only to survive but to thrive. The current economy requires adaptability and flexibility and unlike traditional bank loans, applying for a Funding Circle loan is easy and fast. We would welcome an application from the majority of these TV SMEs and provide them with the confidence, tools, and guidance they’d need to run and grow their business.”

For those looking to expand, support, or diversify their business, Funding Circle provides simple, and hassle-free finance with fast approval time. Businesses can apply for funding online and get a decision in as little as an hour.


About Funding Circle     

Funding Circle is a lending platform for small business borrowers. Established in the UK in 2010, and now the leading lending platform to SMEs, the Group also has a material and growing presence in the US. Globally, Funding Circle has provided £14.5bn in loans to c.130,000 businesses.

For small business borrowers, Funding Circle provides a leading-edge customer experience, delivered through its technology, machine learning, and data science, coupled with a human touch. Its solutions continue to help customers access the funding they need to succeed. For lending investors, Funding Circle provides access to an alternative asset class in an underserved market and delivers robust and attractive returns.