The Snuggie. The Flowbee. The Whoopee Cushion.
The history of commerce is marked by small businesses that provoked skepticism in the experts, if not outright contempt. But the buying public embraced their unusual concepts, and the entrepreneurs who believed in them, toiled over them and took a chance on them got the last laugh.
The nonconformist spirit that gave us many one-of-a-kind business ideas is alive and well today, despite a still somewhat sluggish economy. It can be found within the companies that offer products and services founded on ingenuity, inspiration and utter disregard for the phrase, "You're crazy."
CNBC.com presents 10 small businesses founded on unorthodox ideas. Some have proven track records of success, while others are still struggling just to stay open for business. But either way, their very existence violates conventional wisdom and provides inspiration for future entrepreneurs to forge ahead with original ideas.
Read ahead and see 10 small businesses you won't believe exist.
The Profit, a reality series with multimillionaire Marcus Lemonis turning around struggling companies, premieres on CNBC Prime on Tuesday, July 30, at 10 p.m ET/PT.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 06 May 2013
Ruth Regina is a motion picture and television makeup artist of 50 years whose clients have included Jackie Gleason and Al Pacino. She is also an eighth-generation wig maker, and she has brought this skill to bear with Wiggles Dog Wigs, a company that, as the name suggests, manufactures wigs for dogs.
According to the company website its history goes back to a fateful day 20 years ago, when Regina's niece asked for a wig for her basset hound. The rest is history, and since then Wiggles has enjoyed its share of media attention, including a 2007 appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
Sometimes, the cure for weeds can be worse than the disease. Apart from being expensive, some herbicides may contain dangerous chemicals that scientific studies have shown can cause cancer. Goats, meanwhile, love to eat weeds and have no harmful side effects, but who really needs to buy one?
Luckily, the good people at We Rent Goats will let you borrow a minimum of 100 critters for the nominal fee of just $350 to $550 per acre. The website describes goats as "natural-born weed eaters" and describes their grazing as "an ecologically beneficial way to clear unwanted weeds or brush and promote the growth of native grasses."
A hangover is one of the more horrific physical ailments one can experience. A marriage of splitting headache, seasick nausea and aversion to daylight worthy of Count Dracula, it's a high price to pay for having one too many, and it's made worse when drinking at one's own home, which often gets trashed in the process.
Luckily, a business known as Hangover Helpers exists to cater to the needs of this vertical. According to its website, it will provide a bottle of Gatorade and a breakfast burrito cooked in your own kitchen, then "sweep, mop and vacuum every room where the party happened [and] take care of all your dirty dishes, pots, pans and trash," all on the basis of just $20 per roommate.
When a loved one passes away and deserves more than a wooden funerary container, Couture Caskets offers a wide range of alternative designs. According to its website, the company offers "artistically challenging" creations that allow clients to "think outside of the box."
The company uses what it calls CourCask™ technology, which "allows a burial casing to resemble a specific object." It offers such designs as a ball of yarn or paw print for cats, and cars, airplanes, yachts or beds for its human subjects. It also offers clients the option of choosing the size, shape and color of their own design.
When considering a house pet, choices usually come down to either a dog or a cat. However, the consumer who is prepared to move beyond such antiquated concepts might consider My Pet Chicken, which offers goods that allow a bantam rooster to become a treasured member of the household.
Most of the goods sold on My Pet Chicken's website are geared toward the customer who wants to keep chickens in the backyard as an ongoing source of eggs. However, it also sell goods that allow people to own chickens as house pets, such as a "Chicken Fun Toy," a heated pet bowl and, perhaps most importantly, chicken diapers.
Sometimes, when you're feeling low, you want to receive a surprise gift. At other times, you have to buy a gift for someone else but draw a blank. The SomethingStore offers solutions for both of these scenarios by sending you a box containing a random object to give or keep as you wish, for just $10.
According to its website, the "something" can be a rare book, a reverse clock, a box of gourmet chocolates or any of several dozen other arbitrary possibilities. It will not, however, be pornography, drug test circumvention aids, endangered animals, radioactive materials, firearms or "body fluids," so don't get your hopes up.
Hannah Rosin's 2012 book "The End of Men" proposes that male cultural dominance is in decline, and in a world populated by metrosexuals, retrosexuals and gastrosexuals, that premise is tough to deny. Luckily, Butch Bakery guarantees that men still look as virile as Telly Savalas and as macho as Chuck Norris when they eat a cupcake.
The company's website says that Butch Bakery makes "manly cupcakes, for manly men." This means that it eschews the "frilly pink-frosted sprinkles-and-unicorns kind" to which society has become accustomed in favor of such testosterone-laden varieties as plaid, wood grain and woodland camouflage.
Those who sleep on their stomachs or sides experience a problem that those who sleep on their backs do not, that of indented lines on the cheeks and forehead from spending eight hours with one's face shoved into a pillow. With age, these lines create deep wrinkles and droopy facial skin.
The Mumbani™ Fresh Face pillow has been invented to combat this worrisome state of affairs. According to the company's website, wearing this anti-wrinkle accessory on a nightly basis "keeps the facial skin in place while sleeping," thereby leading to a youthful and vibrant appearance.
Money can't buy friends. But thanks to one particular Internet business, it can hire one for $10 an hour. As its name implies, RentAFriend.com allows clients to hire the temporary services of a buddy, pal or chum, so that one need never bear the solitary indignity of going stag to the movies or dinner.
The website is emphatic that no one should look to RentAFriend.com as a way to meet a potential romantic partner, and even resorts to all caps to get the point across. It says that it "is NOT a dating website, and NOT an Escort agency," so don't go getting any funny ideas.
Some mornings bring utterly foul-smelling breath. Brushing, flossing and using mouthwash can help, but on those exceptional mornings it's just not enough. This leaves only one action—brushing one's tongue. The Orabrush and Tongue Foam system has been invented for exactly this reason.
Its website describes it as "the world's best bad breath system," whose "ultra-soft, pointed bristles reach deep into the uneven crevices of your tongue and loosen stinky bacteria." After brushing, the scraper is then used to collect and remove the flotsam, jetsam and other detritus dislodged by vigorous brushing, thereby leaving nothing in the mouth but a pleasant scent.
When Marcus Lemonis isn't running his multi-billion dollar company, Camping World, he goes on the hunt for struggling businesses that are desperate for cash and ripe for a deal. In the past 10 years, he's successfully turned around over 100 companies. Now he's bringing those skills to CNBC and doing something no one has ever done on TV before … he's putting over $2 million of his own money on the line. In each episode, Lemonis makes an offer that's impossible to refuse; his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. And once inside these companies, he'll do almost anything to save the business and make himself a profit; even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.
The Profit premieres on CNBC Prime Tuesday, July 30 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.