Friday, April 8, 2011

Under $5 Little Ingenuities That Made Millions

Under-$5 products worth millions

These 7 inexpensive items are so simple, you probably wonder why you didn't think of them yourself. If you had, you would have made some real money. 

Post-it products © Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Post-it Notes
The United States is a nation of innovators. Some of their inventions are grand and revolutionary, like the Internet, while others are small and idiosyncratic. A seemingly small-bore change sometimes has a dramatic effect on the way people organize their lives or get things done.

Consider Post-it Notes. The sticky yellow pads are an example of an inexpensive product that has generated at least $1 million in sales. Post-it Notes got their start with a failed adhesive at 3M (MMM), one of America's most inventive companies. The glue wasn't sticky enough for ordinary uses, but 3M's Arthur Fry began using it to attach removable notes to his reports. Colleagues soon started requesting the sticky notes for themselves.

From its humble beginning, the concept behind the Post-it has been applied to about 4,000 products. Not bad for a failed adhesive.

Girls drinking with Krazy Straws © Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images
Krazy Straws
Parents know that kids can be finicky eaters and drinkers. Back in 1936, inventor Arthur P. Gildersleeve of Denver came up with a new twist on this age-old problem. He tried bending straws to attract children's interest and make it more likely they would overlook their aversion to milk and juice. Gildersleeve's simple invention can be found in stores all over the world, marketed under names like Krazy Straws and sold in a variety of colors and shapes.

N'Dea Jackson (left) and Ki Anna Dorsey show off their Silly Bandz © Mark Gail/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Silly Bandz
If you have kids, you're probably familiar with Silly Bandz, those silicon rubber bands that were created nearly a decade ago by Japanese designers who wanted to introduce a more environmentally friendly rubber band as an office product.

The bands can be bent into a multitude of shapes, including animals, rock stars, letters and numbers. Despite a host of imitators, Silly Bandz sells 1 million packs a week.

Pet Rock creator Gary Dahl © Bettmann/CORBIS
Pet Rocks
It started as a joke in 1975. Hearing friends complain about their pets, advertising executive Gary Dahl opined that a rock was the ideal companion because it gave its owner no trouble. Dahl put together "The Pet Rock Training Manual" on the proper care and handling of rocks, and packaged each with a rock that came in a cardboard kennel and cost $3.95.

Within six months, Dahl was selling 10,000 Pet Rocks a day. It is estimated that he made more than $15 million during the first half-year of "production."

A patriotic-themed antenna ball © Bo Zaunders/CORBIS
Antenna balls
Jason Wall became a millionaire selling antenna balls, little round toppings for car antennas adorned with smiley faces, red cherries, ladybugs and other feel-good designs.

Wall was inspired by the "Jack" character in commercials for the burger chain Jack in the Box (JACK). He began selling his invention at auto supply stores near his California home and later contracted with Wal-Mart (WMT) to sell his antenna balls.

Koosh balls and inventor Scott Stillinger © Acey Harper/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Koosh balls
Another simple ball that made millions for its inventor is the Koosh ball, created by Scott Stillinger in 1987.

Stillinger wanted a ball that was easier for his children to toss and catch. He tied rubber bands together to create the soft ball, named after the sound it made when it hit the ground. Stillinger started a company, OddzOn Products, to make Koosh balls and related products. He later sold the company, but the balls are still on the market.

So what do you think?

I know I am always trying to think of new things to help/improve or just tantilize people.

Slinky toy © George Diebold
This simple invention by Richard James was introduced at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia in 1945 and was a raging success from Day One; all 400 of the store's Slinky toys were purchased within 90 minutes. Since then, more than 300 million Slinky toys have since been sold, making it a classic and inexpensive staple in kids' toy boxes. 

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