Selling Pet Rocks
These days it seems everyone is working on a side hustle or an idea for the next big thing. Maybe it’s societal where most would welcome an extra stream of income. Maybe it’s entrepreneurial, with many believing they can do one better than the next guy. I think it’s also a natural part of the human machine, an active mind if you will.
With fans numbering in the millions, it’s no surprise that reality shows like ABC’s Shark Tank and the CBC’s Dragons Den are so popular. Anyone fortunate enough to make it onto the show, gets an opportunity to pitch their idea to the panel of 5 angel investors. If successful, they could walk away with a new business partner and the seed money to launch their efforts into the stratosphere. A good number get to the major stage, often ending up with solid million dollar evaluations. Nice right?
Just One Idea
Well, if you’ve ever watched these shows, we’ll bet you’ve armchair judged a contestant or two. It’s okay, we all love to do it and it’s human nature. Let’s face it, some of the ideas are great! Some you likely wish you’d thought of first (maybe you did!). And then there’s a few that leave us scratching our heads over what the heck those people were thinking. There’s a few reasons why they call them Sharks and let’s just say some are none to shy in sharing their feelings.
So what’s your shark pitch? What’s your #1 idea in the back of your mind that could become the next big thing?
Stumped? Well, odds are you may have heard the saying there are no good, original ideas anymore right? Well, if that were truly the case it would be a very sad day. Much like writers block with authors, some entrepreneurs can run into a similar situation themselves. Or maybe they suffer from too many ideas rolling around in their heads and not enough traction on any one.
A Matter of Perspective and Timing
What would you say if we told you about an entrepreneur who ‘invented’ a pet rock? No, you read that right, a pet rock to have on your desk and generally take care of just like any other pet. No-one would be dumb enough to fall for that right? Well, in fact they did and so was born a marketing phenomenon! In 1975 and for just $4.00 each, he sold over 1.5 million of them. True story.
In 1975 over some drinks, Gary Dahl was chatting with friends complaining about their various pet woes when an idea struck. An idea for the perfect “pet”: a Rock! You wouldn’t need to feed, walk, bathe, or groom, and it wouldn’t die, become sick, or misbehave. There you had it, the perfect pet and also the perfect gag gift.
While the conversation was mostly a joking one, Dahl took his idea seriously, even going so far as to pen a 32-page instruction manual for the pet rock. The manual was full of puns and gags that referred to the rock as an actual pet. The pet rock craze was the perfect gag gift and did exceptionally well over the holidays.
But the Pet Rock story is absolutely 100% true, so how did Dahl become a millionaire from one of the most crack pot ideas ever to bloom in marketing? How did the Pet Rock do so well? Especially when it was just an ordinary everyday stone you could find almost anywhere? The Pet Rock was both packaged and marketed perfectly.
It came in a small container with air holes, similar to the ones that real pets might come in from the pet shop. The rock itself was laid in a nest of hay, making it look like an egg. It even came with a detailed 32 page care guide with instructions on caring for the rock – which was a genius stroke of cynical humor.
And then what?
A short time after (months), the fad invariably died off (how many pet rocks can you really sell?) so what did Dahl do then? He pivoted and began selling “Sand Breeding Kits”. Yup, you read that one correctly too! These kits were packaged as male and female vials of sand that could be “mated” to produce cat litter, landfills or even deserts. Almost as crazy as the pet rock right? Well, the first 50K sold out fast at $4 each ($200K in revenue), so he ordered another 50K only to see the fad fizzle out right then and there, luckily he managed to just break even.
Next, came his “Red China Dirt” – 1-inch acrylic cubes filled with dirt allegedly “smuggled” out of mainland China and priced at $5 a pop. However, politics sank this one when President Carter formally recognized the People’s Republic just two weeks after marketing began. Dahl was once quoted as saying in response: “End of joke, end of product.”
So What about you?
Granted, a pet rock is one tough act to follow, of that there’s no doubt. That being said, there are still versions of this gag toy available today on amazon – go figure!? Odds are the sharks would never have seen that one coming. But would they have invested in it if they had? Would you?
The point being if one man can market a “crazy idea” so successfully, then why not you? There are absolutely still a bunch of great original ideas floating around out there. Shoot for the Moon – that’s what they say…
Thanks for reading!
Image credit: United Press International