How To Turn A Terrible Idea Into A Great Business

The Snuggie, the Pet Rock ... not all business ideas initially sound like winners. Here are 5 ways you can build a long-shot idea into a successful company.
Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group
September 27, 2013

Hopeful entrepreneurs think the key to having a successful business is to start with a brilliant idea. They subscribe to the “field of dreams” philosophy—if you build it, they will come.

Unfortunately, businesses are not about ideas but about the successful execution of those ideas. And even seemingly bad business ideas can be turned into a very successful company. If you don't believe me, take a look at these three examples:

  • Starbucks. Think of what Howard Schultz’s business plan probably said: We'll open a series of retail coffee shops that sell each cup of coffee for $5, and then we'll let people sit and stay at the store for as long as they want. Why were they successful? Schultz was able to create “the third place” (after home and office) where people would want to come, consume and buy more.
  • The Snuggie. Why don't we try selling a blanket with sleeves? In 2008, Allstar Products Group, a direct marketing company, aired the first Snuggie commercial. It was one of 80 products the company advertised that year, and no one had picked that one to be the winner. Since then, more than 30 million Snuggies have been sold. Why were they successful? Many believe the way the consumers were able to laugh at the product and the viral parodies that followed pushed it into the hands of many purchasers.
  • The Pet Rock. In 1975, the Pet Rock was all the rage among teenage consumers (okay, I owned one!) who wanted a pet but didn't want to care for one. The Pet Rock was the pet that didn't have to be fed or walked. Its founder, Gary Dahl, eventually sold 1.5 million of these "pets" for $4 each. Why were they successful? Each pet came with a 36-page manual on how to care for the rock and teach it such tricks as to “how to play dead.” This marketable packaging made the pet a huge hit.

From Bad To Better

Got a bad idea but not sure what to do next? Here are five ways to take that dud and create a great business:

1. Find the customer who suffers from the pain the product solves. Ideas aren't really good or bad—it's what you do with the idea that will make your business succeed or fail. If an idea relieves a pain for a customer and he or she has the money to pay for the fix, you can have a very profitable business. Remember, the “best of breed product” doesn't always sell the most. Sometimes consumers just want a simple fix to an existing problem. For example, HandStands sells a sticky pad that prevents cell phones from sliding around on car dashboards.

2. Build long-term relationships with customers and prospects. Customers need to be aware of your product when they're ready to buy. The most effective way to do this is to create and promote a systematic marketing campaign that offers valuable information to the customer on an ongoing basis. This way, the company will always be top of mind when the customer wants to buy. Using email for a content marketing campaign can be very effective when customers want to be educated rather than sold. Send a monthly email containing valuable information in your company's area of expertise. A landscaping company, for instance, could send an article about the best time to plant certain flowers.

3. Hire employees who have executed a similar strategy before. Without effective execution, even good ideas will die. Hire or find members of your team who are passionate about selling this solution to the marketplace and have a track record of doing it. For instance, when Clay Mathile owned pet food manufacturer The Iams Co., he only hired new employees who loved dogs and cats.

4. Get effective distribution. The most successful products have broad and profitable distribution channels. The more people selling a company’s product, the higher the sales potential will be. For example, every desktop computer today (besides those from Apple) comes with a licensed version of Windows. By setting up a deal with every PC manufacturer to include Windows with its desktops, Microsoft made Windows a household name.

5. Don’t be afraid to morph. Many products don’t start out aimed at the right targeted customer and may be destined for another niche. For example, 3M’s weak glue eventually became the glue behind Post-it Notes.

Have you ever had a bad idea that you turned into a successful business? Share with us in the comments below.

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Photo: Getty Images 

Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group