A successful company is the envy of every entrepreneur. But there are some businesses we all look at and wonder just how that the idea actually worked.
Here are seven examples of successful small businesses that may leave you scratching your head.
More Wishes Come True
Ken Ahroni wanted to grant more wishbones, especially during Thanksgiving, but each turkey comes with just one wishbone. His solution was to create plastic ones that feel and sound like the real thing when they break. His company, LuckyBreak, produces 30,000 wishbones a day and reported $2.5 million in sales last year.
Why it works: Who doesn’t want the opportunity to make more wishes come true and stop fights over a single turkey wishbone?
Sunglasses For Dogs
When Veronica DiLullo’s collie had trouble catching a Frisbee in the glare of the sun, she created a custom pair of sunglasses for him. When other dog owners saw her invention, they wanted a pair. So she launched Doggles, a company that sells eye protection designed just for dogs. It has generated millions of dollars in sales for DiLullo.
Why it works: People truly love their dogs--and love buying products for them that help them stand out from the pack. Pet owners also like to dress up their pets in human-inspired clothing. DiLullo created an innovative product by combining these two interests. It also helped that PetSmart agreed to stock her product.
An idea doesn't have to be complicated to be successful—sometimes the simplest ideas work best. Six years ago, Sami Bayrakci was shopping for a birthday gift for a friend. After browsing the Internet for a long time, he just wanted somebody else to make the decision for him. That inspired him to create The Something Store, a business that sends a random mystery item from its inventory for just $10 (with free shipping in the U.S.). While most items cost Bayrakci about $5, he's also shipped some expensive gifts, like iPod touches and a Dell laptop, to keep customers guessing. To date, the site has sold almost 150,000 products.
Why it works: Many people don’t like making gift decisions, especially at the holidays—this site simplifies the process. Consumers also like the joy of a surprise and a bargain. For $10, it’s a cheap thrill that's easy to process: The site takes only PayPal payments, and with just a few clicks, you can check "Hunt for gift for Grandma" off your list.
Seven years ago, Corey Capasso, already a successful commercial networking entrepreneur, wondered if you could add flavor to plastic. With the help of plastics engineer Tim Osswald, director of the Polymer Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he created pellets that added flavor to products without adding calories or fat. His company, Add The Flavor LLC, offers easy integration to a manufacturing process and has helped customers create such flavored products as mouth guards, water bottles, baby products and pet toys.
Why it works: Given a choice, consumers would rather suck on something that tastes like candy rather than, well, plastic. Capasso was also able to form an exclusive partnership with A. Schulman Inc., the world’s largest plastic compounder, to perform his research and development.
Art On Sneakers
Bucketfeet founders Aaron Firestein and Raaja Nemani met in Argentina in 2008, where Firestein was working as a photographer and Nemani was about to begin backpacking around the world. After bonding over a love of art and sneakers, Firestein designed a pair of sneakers for Nemani, who wore them across 25 countries and six continents during his year-long trip. The shoes inspired conversation wherever he went, leading him to meet a lot of new and interesting people. After Nemani's trip was over, he and Firestein teamed up to start Bucketfeet, a company that uses talented artists to create its original footwear.
Why it works: Nemani says the sneakers provide an authentic experience to their customers. “People are looking for authenticity in everything they do, and what they wear is no different," Nemani says. "People don't just want to buy a product … they want to join a community, connect with someone else, all while highlighting their individuality. Because every BucketFeet shoe is designed by a different artist, each pair allows the customer to connect with another person and relate on a very personal level. BucketFeet is as much in the storytelling and human connections business as it is in the shoe business.”
Entrepreneur Debbie Wiener wants to help every family. So she created a design company, Slobproof!, making furniture with fabric that can withstand spills and other messes without staining.
Why it works: Wiener said her design style marries the "common sense of a Jewish mother with the muscle of a professional wrestler." Solving problems for families, babies and pets is a power combination.
A Smashing Success
The Venting Place in Tokyo lets customers buy a plate, cup or saucer and smash it against a concrete wall. Founder and chiropractor Katsuya Hara, who started the business in 2008, says he hopes his business will become the new way people relieve their stress, along with drinking and going to karaoke. The plates are defective and the scraps are recycled to make more dishes.
Why it works: Relieving stress for about $2 is effective. It's cheap therapy for every stressed out employee, parent or small-business owner out there. Customers report it’s surprisingly refreshing.
Seen an unusual or bizarre business succeed? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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Photos: Getty Images, Courtesy Bucketfeet