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Ten Unexpected Products That Made Millions in Profit
If you’ve got an idea for a product to pitch to a company or manufacturer yourself, you just might be sitting on a million-dollar idea. Sure, it’s not the most likely thing ever. Million-dollar ideas don’t just pop out of thin air every day—and certainly not to every person. But you’d be surprised at what becomes a hit with the public and what makes big money unexpectedly.
In this list, we’ll take a look at ten products that made seven figures’ worth of profit—and much, much more than that—despite not being expected to be successful. These unlikely ideas led to riches for their inventors and/or manufacturers. But nobody expected that when the first pitch came across the desk and the first product was sealed up and shipped out!
People who know Crocs seem to fall into one of two camps: They either love wearing the slip-on shoes or absolutely hate how they look and would never be seen near a pair. There isn’t much middle ground on these often brightly colored and always opinion-revealing plastic clogs.
Back in 2002, the Colorado-based shoe company started pushing out its unique product across the country. Soon, they had a hit on their hands and began manufacturing Crocs to be shipped out across the world. Over the next couple of decades, hundreds of millions of Crocs have been sold, and they are now available for purchase in about one hundred countries across the globe. The company’s stock trades at over $100 a share, too, and its annual sales have long since passed the billion-dollar mark. There’s no question the company is a massive success.
But who could have thought that would happen 21 years ago when they first started? Say what you will about the product’s comfort and reliability, but it is not exactly a fashion statement—even if fashion magazines are now even going so far as to name them among the most stylish and trend-setting products on earth. What a change from a few decades ago!
9 Koosh Balls
Koosh Balls were first released in the late 1980s by a small toy company called OddzOn. Against all odds (pun very much intended), the bizarre, rubbery balls were a hit with ’80s kids. Soon enough, they were a hit with ’90s kids, too. Parents loved them as well because they were softer than baseballs and softballs, meaning kids were less likely to injure each other or break something in the house if they got a little bit too rambunctious.
Priced at about $5 a pop by the mid-1990s, Koosh balls were economical for most families. And over that decade, they became a staple in virtually every American household. Just ask any ’90s kid. We guarantee they had one or two (or ten or twenty) lying around. We may know from experience…
Anyway, Hasbro took notice of OddzOn’s success in cornering the Koosh ball market, and they wanted in. So, in 1997, the toy giant bought the balls from the tiny company for a cool $100 million. And the OddzOn brand got bought out after the Koosh sale, too. A New Jersey-based firm called Russ Berrie and Co. picked up OddzOn and the rest of its products for a cool $30 million a year after Hasbro bought just the Koosh vertical. That’s quite a payday for a silly little rubber-stringed ball!
8 The Slinky
The Slinky is a great example of a product that was unexpected in its success with the public but also entirely unexpected in how it was invented in the first place. In the 1940s, an engineer named Richard James worked on a project to determine if it was possible to keep sensitive war-related shipping contents secure on ships traveling across the ocean. He was hoping to aid the war effort and make transportation and logistics a bit easier for military outfits and international business. Along the way, he accidentally developed the springy, fun Slinky we all played with at one point or another as kids.
As legend would have it, the Slinky supposedly sold out in less than an hour after it was first released at a Philadelphia department store just before Christmas in 1945. From there, the toy was a huge hit all across the country. Hundreds of millions of Slinkys have been sold in the seven decades since that debut. And the product was even inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2000! Not bad for an accidental invention.
Just like you would expect, the profits have been significant, too. The Slinky has earned its manufacturers around $3 billion over its lifetime. And it’s trying to make a bit of a comeback, too. In the last decade, the company behind the toy (appropriately called POOF-Slinky) has doubled down on its manufacturing and is seeing major growth once again in the ever-competitive children’s toy sector.
Who could forget about Furby? The late 1990s were the heyday for Furby dolls. In 1998 alone, Hasbro sold about two million of the plush, somewhat disturbing creatures with intense, ever-following eyes. They appealed to kids all over America, and they were a huge hit right at the dawn of the internet age. Then, a year after their late ’90s debut, Hasbro shipped out more than 14 million more Furby dolls in a second wave of mass appeal—and mass profit.
The dolls themselves may have been weird looking. And many people (including skeptical executives at Hasbro) didn’t get what the appeal would be to kids and teens all over the United States. So it was a shock to the toy brand and the rest of the business world when Furby fans bought the company nearly out of stock of their favorite plush collectibles.
As you might have expected, Furby dolls quickly became something of a collector’s item. Retailing for north of $25 during their late ’90s heyday, the toys would often be re-sold by shrewd fans looking to make money on the secondary market. That second collectible sale didn’t help Hasbro’s bottom line, of course. But the popularity in the first place was all the toy giant needed. During those first few peak in-demand years, Hasbro’s annual revenue topped half a billion dollars, with Furby’s popularity a major portion of the profit portfolio.
6 Billy Bob Teeth
There are a few gag gifts on this list, but none are more confounding to us than Billy Bob Teeth. They were produced by a company of the same name and were initially meant to be a small-time enterprise pushing gag gifts. See, “Billy Bob Teeth” are merely a set of rotten-looking and missing fake teeth that you place over your real teeth. Then, you smile at unsuspecting friends or acquaintances and scare them half to death with your messed-up mouth. That’s it. That’s the whole biz. But amazingly, it scaled to massive success.
The company that makes these gag teeth is the brainchild of a man named Jonah White. In total, he has sold tens of millions of these teeth to people across America and all over the world. The company has netted more than $50 million in profit in their time in business, too. And all they are doing is selling redneck-looking fake teeth! If this doesn’t say something about the bizarre landscape that is the 21st century, nothing does.
To White’s credit, though, it seems like he knows this whole situation is ridiculous. When St. Louis Magazine caught up with him for an interview back in 2012, Jonah confirmed those massive profit numbers but added his own initial skepticism over the idea. “Ninety-nine percent of people told me I was a fool, and I’d be out of business in no time,” White said of his uncertain early going in the fake teeth business. “I had no doubt it would be huge.” Now, he’s laughing all the way to the bank—fake teeth and all.
5 Chia Pet
The Chia Pet may not look like much, but for the last fifty years, it has raked in big bucks for its inventor, Joseph Pedott, and his company, Joseph Enterprises. The grow-it-yourself Chia Pet first hit the shelves way back in the 1970s. Pedott was brilliant not only with this timing to market the kitschy product but also with how he marketed it. The Chia Pet became a late-night television infomercial staple, along with a few of Pedott’s other products, like the Clapper. Then, those goofy and memorable products went viral (well, viral relative to how that happened in the pre-internet 1970s and 1980s), and boom! Profit!
Pedott died in 2023 at 91, but his legacy lives on in the Chia Pet. At its peak, his company was moving about 500,000 items to customers every single year. That’s a lot of “ch-ch-ch-Chia!” And it’s a lot of money, too. By the time Pedott died, his business estimated that they’d sold and shipped more than 25 million Chia Pets to Americans and other consumers around the globe. Today, Chia Pets sell for around $20 per piece, depending on the product. So, we’ll let you do the math on that one; at the very least, it’s safe to say there are quite a few zeros at the end of that final tally!
4 The Snuggie
The Snuggie was launched during a tough time for most Americans: right in the middle of the back-breaking 2008 financial crisis. But for many reasons, the blanket-slash-sweatshirt caught on. And it’s been riding that wave ever since! We can’t help but wonder whether recent global events may have helped it along even further, too. After all, with stay-at-home orders and months-long lockdowns, there’s been nothing but time to sit on the couch, stream your favorite shows, and wrap yourself in your sweatshirt-blanket of choice, right?
Recent business moves aside, the Snuggie has always been a bit of a curious product. Back when it was first released to the public via a series of memorable and funny infomercials, New York Times Magazine infamously called it “the Pet Rock of the Depression 2.0 era.” (Don’t worry, we’ll get to the Pet Rock on this list soon enough.)
But while the Snuggie may have advertised the complete and total laziness (or relaxation, depending on your perspective) of the wearer, there’s no debate about how well it did in the marketplace. By the mid-2010s, more than 30 million body blankets had been bought and shipped out to presumably happy customers. And Allstar Products Group—the company behind the Snuggie—has netted more than $500 million in profit for their efforts to keep all of us comfortable while we binge-watch our favorite shows. Cha-ching!
Who needs a real pet when you can have a digital one? Tamagotchis are a couple decades old now, and they seem a little dated based on the current-day fads we’ve all seen pop up. (Ahem, the Metaverse, anyone?) Still, back in the day, Tamagotchis were all the rage for kids who wanted to “take care of” a virtual creature.
The “animal” was locked in a little egg-shaped toy and hatched out of an on-screen egg. From there, you had to feed, water, and raise it just like you would with a real pet—except, you know, in a completely fake way. Then, after a few days of being cared for like that, the animal would grow its wings and go back to “its home planet” to live, presumably, in harmony. With your job done, you could go off to live the rest of your days knowing you saved a creature and gave it life. Or something.
That idea for a “virtual pet” may sound amusing at best (or stupid at worst), but it was big business for one toy brand. The Tamagotchi product’s parent company was Bandai America, and they made a killing off the toy. Since Tamagotchis first hit the shelves, they have sold more than 80 million of them to virtual pet lovers worldwide. The sum total of those sales is now closely approaching a billion dollars. And they have adapted their product line for the modern era, too: They now offer a fully digital miniature pet. It’s just like the old egg-shaped Tamagotchi line but in the cloud!
2 The Pet Rock
The Pet Rock became a completely unexpected cultural phenomenon nearly overnight in 1975. A marketing genius named Gary Ross Dahl “invented” the bizarre (and, honestly, useless) product and started pushing it out to the masses. Inventive and original television ads and other cutting-edge marketing gimmicks made it the talk of the town—er, of the nation—in what seemed like an instant. Nobody could figure out where the Pet Rock had come from or what made it so special. And while all (okay, maybe just most) Americans knew it was dumb, they were also amused by its originality and bizarre story.
It helped that Dahl sold the pet rocks for just $4 each. So they were cheap enough for people to buy and give to friends and family members as a gag gift. And oh, did Americans buy up these pet rocks. Dahl purchased the rocks and their cardboard boxes for just pennies per unit and then flipped millions of them to the American public through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In the rock’s shipping box, he also included an inventive 36-page (!) manual on how to care for the family’s new, um, pet. Dumb? Absolutely. Humorous enough to catch on? You bet!
In total, Dahl sold nearly two million Pet Rocks to people who loved the crazy idea and had a few dollars to spare. In a 2004 interview with the New York Times, the marketing whiz and, uh, “inventor” claimed that he came away with some major coin for his efforts. “I put about $5 million of today’s money in my pocket,” he told that outlet. That’s not bad at all!
1 Beanie Babies
You didn’t think we could make it through this list without mentioning Beanie Babies, did you? These little toys were so popular in the 1990s that their value skyrocketed through the decade. The most rare Beanie Babies started selling for hundreds of dollars—and sometimes more—with thoughts that they would only keep going up in price as people coveted the most unique versions of the cute little toys.
Of course, we know how that all ended. The Beanie Baby bubble soon burst, and many people were left holding the bag (of… toys) with nobody to sell to and nowhere to offload the now-useless products. The trend died off, the toy market moved on, and today, we remember Beanie Babies as a fad of the past and laugh about it. Well, most of us laugh about it. People who spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on single Beanie Baby dolls may not be laughing quite as hard…
Anyway, there is one group who is certainly laughing all the way to the proverbial bank on this one: Ty Warner. He was the billionaire behind the toy company who owned and manufactured Beanie Babies back then. In his heyday, in those hectic times, he was pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profit every year. And yes, he’s worth a cool nine figures today. That’s quite a lot of dough for a small stuffed animal!