A winning business idea doesn’t have to be complicated or technical to be successful. In fact, arduous business strategies and lengthy execution time can be a commercial inventor’s worst enemy. Seeing opportunities right under your nose can reap great benefits.
Consider Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver, creators of 3M’s ubiquitous Post-it Notes. Their idea for memo paper that you can stick to just about anything, which hit stores in 1980, helped contribute to the company’s $29.9 billion in net sales for 2012 (Fry and Silver have since retired.) Or take Spanx’s Sara Blakely, whose vision in 1998 for a new type of women’s shapewear revolutionized the undergarment industry and made her a billionaire. These are examples of how commonplace business ideas can strike a chord with consumers and generate huge sales.
The six no-frills concepts featured here all helped their inventors make millions. Take a look.
- What it is: A women’s salon that specializes in blowout hairstyling for less
- Created by: Alli Webb and Michael Landau
- Launched: 2010
- Estimated annual retail sales (2014): $60 million
Webb, a Los Angeles hairstylist, quit working full-time in 2008 and was a stay-at-home mom when she came up with an idea to earn some extra cash: Why not focus exclusively on blowouts, a salon service she could take to her clients’ homes? Her services were soon so in demand that she approached her older brother, Michael, about starting a brick-and-mortar salon. They would offer a blowout for just $40 (versus up to $100 at more upscale establishments) and offer some of the fancy extras that clients might expect from pricier salons: a swanky bar layout with champagne and trendy music playing. Landau was working at Yahoo at the time and admits he wasn’t too keen on the idea. “I’m a man and I’m bald, so I didn’t get it,” he says. “But Alli felt very strongly about it and convinced me to give her [$250,000] to start the business.”
The brother and sister opened their first location in Brentwood, Cal., in 2010 and generated $1 million in sales that year. Today, there are 35 Drybar locations nationwide; the shops serve 100,000 clients a month on average, according to Landau. He attributes their rapid growth over the past year to a new line of hairstyling products and tools that are sold at Sephora and on the QVC channel, as well as at Drybar locations.
Even Landau is amazed: “It was something that was never meant to be a huge business,” he says.
- What it is: A fleece blanket with sleeves
- Created by: Allstar Products Group
- Launched: 2009
- Annual retail sales: The company declines to disclose exact sales revenue, but says 30 million blankets have been sold to date.
You’ve probably seen the TV commercials for the Snuggie, which retails for $14.99. “It’s definitely one of those ideas that’s so simple that a lot of people might say to themselves, Why didn’t I think of that?” says Scott Boilen, founding member and president and CEO of Allstar Products Group, a Hawthorne, N.Y.-based consumer products company.
Allstar, which is privately-held, also produces other “as seen on TV” products, such as the Bacon Bowl and Magic Mesh, but none has the name recognition of the Snuggie. “It had actually been around in various forms for a few years with similar products available in the backs of catalogs, but nobody really knew about them,” Boilen says. His company decided to create its own version, marketing it with those infamous infomercials. The campaign was so over the top that people started posting parody videos on YouTube, which attracted millions more views, boosting viral marketing. Boilen says sales have remained steady after the first-year spike.
“I think what clicked for consumers is that the Snuggie appealed to everyone,” Boilen adds. “Doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, a senior citizen, a mom, a guy — everyone can wear one. The market potential was limitless.”
Glickman, who had worked in his family’s plastic business, was fiddling around with some drinking straws at a wedding reception in 1990 when the idea for a building toy hit him, and he spent two years developing the concept. Glickman’s construction set added an extra dimension of wheels, pulleys and gears to more traditional concepts pioneered by Lego and Lincoln Logs. Several companies, including Hasbro and Mattel, turned him down. But his idea clicked with Toys ‘R’ Us, which began carrying his line in 1993.
K’Nex quickly became a household name. Children could build miniature roller coasters and awesome mini vehicles. “No other construction-toy company at that time had a product like ours,” says Michael Araten, president and CEO of K’Nex and Glickman’s son-in-law.
Araten says that toys like K’Nex engender a feeling in kids “unlike anything they get from playing with a video game or prefinished product.” The company’s products are available in more than 35 countries worldwide.