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

By Geoff Williams

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

Dahl, then 37, recognized a potential gag gift and spent severalmonths writing the Pet Rock Training Manual. (Sampleinstructions on house-training: "Place it on some oldnewspapers. 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 suckerborn every minute." You have to wonder what ol' Barnumwould have made of a late-20th-century America that's gone madfor everything from pet rocks to Pop Rocks, from Cabbage Patch Kidsto Beanie Babies. But if the consumer receives pleasure from aproduct, and if the product does what it's purported to, who isanybody to call anybody else a sucker?

In fact, cigarettes may be the only true sucker product: If you usethem correctly, they're virtually guaranteed to kill you in aslow, painful way. Pork rinds have to be a close second. (Thinkabout 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 theconsumer. Regardless, the products featured in this story are farfrom obvious, slam-dunk sells. But these entrepreneurs made themtheir business anyway, and in a big way.

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

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