If history tells us anything, it’s that there is no set rulebook for business ideas or an equation that will ensure success. We all know that a good business idea involves giving your customers what they want. But the reality is, that business and life are unpredictable and so are its many creations!
My years as a businessman have taught me that ‘niche’ can either propel a business into the spotlight or run it into the ground. In this particular blog, we’re going to take a look at some weird and whacky creations that defied logic yet made millions, and some are still with us today.
You’re probably wondering why this has been included in our list, bottled water makes sense, right? But the logic-defying truth is that people often pay a lot of money for something that, most of the time, can be obtained for free. The concept of bottled water was first developed for medicinal purposes in the early 15th century, but today, its selling point is far less practical. Most people believe that bottled water is safer, cleaner and tastier than tap water, but in most cases, it actually isn’t. Tap water is far more regulated than bottled, making the entire concept, well, a fad. Who knew an industry worth upwards of $319B was built on false assumptions?
Why get a puppy when you can have an adorable pet rock? They’re far cheaper and much less maintenance – and you won’t find any hair on the couch! This crazy concept was developed by Gary Dahl in 1975, who spent a night listening to friends complain about their furry companions. He joked that he’d rather have a rock as a pet, but later took the idea seriously and started selling them in boxes with air holes, straw beds and a 32-page training manual. His business lasted just six short months, but in that time he pocked $15M. Clearly, novelty sells!
I’ll admit there’s something oddly satisfying about breaking a wishbone after Christmas dinner – but not enough to buy a bag of them! Lucky Break in Seattle was founded by Ken Ahroni, who hated the fact only one wishbone was up for grabs after Thanksgiving dinner. Using that exact wishbone from that day, he created plastic alternatives and put them on the market. Believe it or not, his bizarre creation has been a hit, bringing in around $2.5M a year in profit since it launched and producing more than 30,000 a day!
Here in the UK, a watermelon costs around £4, depending on the size – a not insignificant amount, I’m sure you’ll agree. In Japan, however, the watermelon business is no joke – some square-shaped varieties sell for as much as £20,000 a pop! The country’s oldest greengrocer, Sembikya, began growing oddly-shaped fruits in 1834 including grapes the size of ping pong balls, giant strawberries and the world’s most expensive melon, the Yubari King. Today, purchasing luxury fruits in Japanese culture is thought to bring good luck, so it comes as no surprise that business continues to boom 188 years on.
The Boyfriend Pillow
When the notorious Boyfriend Pillow hit the headlines in 2004, it was an instant hit. Its Japanese creators developed a large, cushioned arm & body to mimic the experience of cuddling – which is both sad and genius at the same time. It’s unknown how much has been made from this creation, but the ‘machine washable man substitute’ still remains popular and has since been picked up by various popular sites including Amazon and eBay.
If you thought Pet Rocks was weird, strap in. The Canadian company, Vitality Air, sells air in a can – and people actually buy it. Is this ludicrous or genius? I honestly don’t know. In 2014, Moses Lam and Troy Paquette decided to catch fresh air from the mountains and trap it in a can. To everyone’s surprise (and even theirs I imagine) it started selling worldwide and to this day, they’ve expanded their range to include canned oxygen and flavoured mists, an 8L can of air costing as much as $25. I’m still struggling to get my head around this one but what I will say is fair play!
What can I say? They’re hideous, most people agree. But despite being the butt of many jokes, Crocs have done extremely well, unbelievably so, in fact. The Quebec-based company, Foam Creations, was launched by three friends who wanted to create a comfortable spa shoe for daily use. Whilst the design is now famous (many would say not in a good way!), Crocs rake in hundreds of millions of dollars A YEAR, and continue to create new designs, including those with a heel! In a strange turn of events, what was once the laughing stock is now cool – it just comes to show that with the right amount of attention, even ‘ugly’ can sell.
Scratching your head? Me too! But what we should all take from this article is that not only does ‘different’ sell, but sometimes it becomes the ‘thing’ we never knew we needed. Don’t be afraid to explore niche ideas if you really think it’ll work, but always remember that venturing into the world of the ‘weird’ is a risk and as I have talked about often before, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be hugely successful.
But if you need some advice on how to get started, and want to get some tips from someone who has been around the block a fair few times, get in touch via or follow me on my social media channels for more real-world content.