The fact: more than a million people bought rocks as pets. The lesson: you can sell anything to anybody.

He was like any of us, just somebody with a dream-and a rock. It was April 1975 when Gary Dahl, a California ad man, started grousing about the chores of taking care of a pet. Suddenly, Dahl was spinning a yarn to his friends about his pet rock-which had a great personality, and was easy and inexpensive to care for. And so simple to train: With just a little help, pet rocks roll over and play dead very well.

Dahl, then 37, recognized a potential gag gift and spent several months writing the Pet Rock Training Manual. (Sample instructions on house-training: "Place it on some old newspapers. The rock...will require no further instruction.") He included a rock with each book and charged $3.95 for the set. (In 1999's dollars, that would be $11.25.)

To even his own amazement, Dahl sold 1.5 million.

P.T. Barnum is reported to have said, "There's a sucker born every minute." You have to wonder what ol' Barnum would have made of a late-20th-century America that's gone mad for everything from pet rocks to Pop Rocks, from Cabbage Patch Kids to Beanie Babies. But if the consumer receives pleasure from a product, and if the product does what it's purported to, who is anybody to call anybody else a sucker?

In fact, cigarettes may be the only true sucker product: If you use them correctly, they're virtually guaranteed to kill you in a slow, painful way. Pork rinds have to be a close second. (Think about it. Pieces of fried fat in a bag?)

So if you want to create a sucker for your product, remember, it's all in the eye of the beholder-or the wallet of the consumer. Regardless, the products featured in this story are far from obvious, slam-dunk sells. But these entrepreneurs made them their business anyway, and in a big way.

Geoff Williams has never forgotten a touching father-and-son moment in the late 1970s when his dad drew his young boy aside and said, "Son, this is my pet rock." "I'd like to say I thought he was crazy," Williams admits, "but I suddenly wanted one, too."

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Next »

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Suckers!.

Loading the player ...

3 Keys to Getting Better, More Restful Sleep

Ads by Google

Share Your Thoughts

Connect with Entrepreneur

Most Shared Stories