A pet rock?! 5 stupid ideas that made millions
The unbelievably simple ideas that made their inventors rich beyond their wildest dreams.Peter Iantorno April 20, 2015
"It's so crazy, it just might work." This was the thought process that Gary Dahl had when, one night while chatting to a few friends in his local bar, the conversation turned to pets, specifically his buddies bemoaning the fact that they had to feed, walk and clean up after theirs.
Keen to wind up his friends, Dahl somewhat flippantly announced that he had no such problems with his pet. When asked why, he replied, "I have a pet rock." After the initial laughs and groans, Dahl's thoughts lingered with the idea of having a pet rock, and the more he thought about it, the more he thought that the idea might not be quite as ridiculous as it sounds.
Driven by the audacity of his plan to package up rocks and sell them to the public, Dahl, who was a freelance copywriter at the time, convinced two of his colleagues to help him stump up enough cash to buy a load of smooth Mexican beach stones from a builders' yard. He then worked on the real genius of the product: the packaging, which consisted of a cardboard carrying case with air holes, a bed of excelsior that the rock nestled on and an accompanying manual detailing how to "care for and train" your Pet Rock.
Dahl's copyrighting background served him well when it came to the manual, and it included comic gems such as "how to teach your Pet Rock to play dead", and "how to teach your Pet Rock to roll over" - by placing it on top of a hill... There was something about the humour of the product that captured the public's imagination, and somehow an incredible 1.5 million of them at $3.95 a piece were sold in the months before Christmas, 1975.
Of course, this made Dahl a rich man, and although he later went on to lose a law suit that saw him pay out a six-figure sum to his original investors, he still came out of the whole thing very much in profit.
Last month, on March 23, Gary Dahl passed away at the age of 78. Although the popularity of Pet Rock lasted not much longer than a few months before the public moved on to the next flash-in-the-pan fad, Dahl will always be remembered as the man who made millions out of simple stones.
Here are five other seemingly stupid ideas that went on to make their inventors mega bucks:
Treading very much in the footsteps of Dahl's Pet Rock, the Tamagotchi is the electronic mid-90s upgrade of the fuss-free pet. Since its launch in 1996, parents all over the world snapped up the cheap pet alternatives for their children, contributing to an estimated 76 million units being sold so far.
Estimated sales: $900 million
Invented by engineer Richard James in the early 1940s, the Slinky was originally intended to support and stabalise sensitive equipment on U.S. Naval ships sailing through rough seas. After accidentally knocking one over and observing its unique movement, James took out a loan of $500 and produced an initial run of 400 Slinkys to be sold at toy shop Gimbels. As we all know, the rest is history.
Estimated sales: $3 billion
There's nothing remarkable about Beanie Babies, but when Ty Warner launched the stuffed toys back in 1993, something about them struck a chord, and ever since then they have been bought in their millions. The secret? Warner kept strict tabs on production and would retire certain models after the initial stock ran out, thus driving collectibility.
Estimated sales: $700 million annually at the height of production.
Ever wondered how the internet became full of cat photos with stupid captions? Introducing Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami, who found the photo below so funny they decided to create a website devoted to similar images, posting photos of their own and encouraging others to submit their own entries. The site received more than 35 million hits per month at the height of its popularity.
Estimated sales: In 2007, Nakagawa and Unebasami sold the site for $2 million.
An intentionally ridiculous advertising campaign propelled the Snuggie from late night infomercial-dweller to universal sales star. Basically the same as wearing a dressing gown back to front, somehow more than 30 million of the products have been sold.
Estimated sales: More than $500 million