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6 Weird But Successful Small Business Ideas

By Heather Levin

monkey maskTough economic times can inspire a lot of creativity when it comes to new business ideas. For example, though a recession was in full-swing, 2010 saw the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in decades, according to the Kaufman Foundation.

But it seems counter-intuitive. After all, starting a new business is incredibly risky. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), over 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years, and of those that make it, another 50% fail in the next few years.

Those aren’t good odds for anyone. But when times are bad, sometimes things can’t get much worse – especially for people who’ve lost their jobs and perhaps even their homes. So the prospect of starting a new business just isn’t as risky as it might otherwise be. Moreover, for many people, creating their own job becomes their only option.

Though, there are plenty of jobs that are considered “recession proof,” such as plumbers, morticians, accountants, and grocers, there are also plenty of weird and wacky new business ventures that have thrived in a down economy. These businesses might make your eyes widen with disbelief. I know mine sure did when I found out about them!

So what are some weird and wacky businesses people have started?

Weird & Wacky Small Business Ideas

1. Bed Bug Barrier

bed bug barrierIf you’ve ever been to a hostel or hotel infested with bed bugs, then you know how terrible those little mites can be.

Well, Tony Abrams made a fortune by inventing barriers to keep the bedbugs from biting. His business, Bed Bug Barriers, creates and sells barriers that go underneath the legs of a bed. These barriers trap the bedbugs as they attempt to crawl into the bed to bite sleepers.

Think it’s crazy? He’s made millions with this idea.

2. Rent-A-Chicken

I know what you’re asking: why on earth would someone want to rent a chicken?

Well, some people who are interested in urban farming want to get chickens. However, that’s a big step. What if they don’t like caring for chickens? Then, they’re stuck with a coop and several chickens they don’t want.

This is where Rent-A-Chicken comes in. This husband and wife team in Traverse City, MI will bring you everything you need to care for a brood of hens for the summer. For $250, you can see whether or not you really want to try raising chickens on your own. In fact, there’s another business just like this in Australia called Rent-A-Chook.

Wacky? Yes. Useful? You bet.

chicken coup

3. Hangover Helpers

Here’s the situation: You and your friends were up all night partying. Now, you’re suffering from a horrendous hangover, you’re dehydrated, and your apartment is trashed. The thought of having to make yourself something to eat and then clean up that colossal mess is just too much to handle.

So what do you do? You call the Hangover Helpers. These two college guys in Boulder, CO help their hung over clients crawl back into the land of the living with as little pain as possible. The guys show up at your house armed with a breakfast burrito and Gatorade for you. They then clean every room where the party happened. This includes cleaning dishes, pots, and pans, and recycling all of your beer bottles.

Think this idea is too crazy to actually work? These guys have already been featured in Forbes Magazine, on CBS, and on the talk show, Regis and Kelly. They have enough business to keep them busy as long as they want.

hangover helpers

4. The Smashing Place

Have you ever intentionally broken a plate? I’m talking about when you’re stressed or angry, and you just hurl the thing across the room and watch with a real sense of pleasure as it smashes against the wall. Feels pretty good, right? You might even feel the stress or anger leak right out of you.

Well, that’s the whole idea behind The Smashing Place. This business, located in Tokyo, allows clients to come in, buy a plate or a cup of their choice, and smash it against a concrete wall. They can swear, stomp their feet, or do anything else they want to relieve stress. I have a feeling a business like this would really take off in a place like New York.

broken blue plate

5. I Do, Now I Don’t

When Josh Opperman’s fiancée left him after a three-month engagement, he was crushed. All she left him was the fancy engagement ring he’d worked so hard to save up for. However, when he took the ring back to the jeweler to return it, he got a nasty shock. They only offered him $3,500 for the ring he paid over $10,000 for. Yikes.

So he started I Do, Now I Don’t to get even. I Do, Now I Don’t is a website that allows people to sell their engagement rings (or any other fancy jewelry) to other users for way less than going to a jewelry store. Think of it as the Craigslist for fine jewelry.

The site has been an incredible success and has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, Fox News, and in The New York Times.

i do now i don't

6. The Pet Loo

If you’ve ever had a pet while living in an apartment, then you know how painful it can be to take them out for potty when it’s 10 degrees with a fierce wind. Or maybe you work long hours and always have to rush home to let them out. Or maybe you’re a senior citizen and it’s hard to make multiple trips in and out of your home.

Well, all these reasons are why The Pet Loo was invented. The Pet Loo is a square of fake grass, which sits atop a simple waste containment system that you put inside your home or apartment. It’s just like a mini-backyard where your dog can relieve himself. Although The Pet Loo is based in Australia, similar businesses have sprung up here in the States. Good idea? No doubt.

In fact, people are putting their Pet Loos in their laundry rooms, their basements, on balconies, and even in their grass-less backyards.

the pet loo

The Take-Away

So these are six strange businesses that worked, but what can you take away from them? Well, if you’re thinking about starting a business, don’t go for “weird” just because it worked for others. That’s a sure way to fail. The key to all these unusual businesses is that satisfy a need, even if many people don’t realize they have that need (like with the Tokyo business, The Smashing Place).

This highlights a vital element that can’t be overstated; every successful business needs to provide value to people in some way.

1. Get Inspired
For unique business ideas, look at your own life. Successful businesses are often started when the inventor or owner is annoyed by an unmet need they have.

For example, what chores annoy you the most? Are there things that frustrate you on a daily or weekly basis? Often, simple questions like these can offer important insights to solid business ideas. You also might get some inspiration from these 18 side businesses you can start today.

2. Write It Down
Next, write out several ideas and resist the temptation to just go with your first one. I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost ten years now and had early business ideas that would’ve failed had I not kept on brainstorming and analyzing them.

In fact, largely due to this process, the first business I started was a great success. So invest the time to brainstorm and think through several ideas.

3. Make It Happen
There is a wealth of resources for starting your own business, including tips on how to keep expenses low, small business tax deductions, and useful online resources for small business owners.

Additionally, make sure you find your nearest SCORE chapter. This nonprofit organization is an incredible resource that could very well make the difference between success and failure, especially if you have little or no business experience.

Final Word

Starting a business is rarely easy, but it’s a lot easier when you’re doing something fun or something you care deeply about. I’ve been involved in several businesses and had a blast creating every one of them.

Have you ever had a weird or wacky business idea that you moved forward with? How did it turn out?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://www.financialmoneytips.com @Moneyperk

    This was a good read, thanks!! There are some very interesting businesses out there that’s for sure!
    While I think it is important to start a business that gives value to the people, you will have higher chance to succeed if you start something that will keep your interest forever. Something you are passionate about and have a good background within the industry can help anyone out tremendously.

    • Heather

      Moneyperk, passion is definitely a must for long-term success. The moment you start losing interest in what you’re doing your willingness to give it your all definitely goes down, and with it your chance of sticking with it through the tough times.

  • http://www.broketo.ca Melissa

    If the bed bug barrier thing actually works, that guy must be making a KILLING in cities like New York, Toronto and Austin, where the bed bugs practically rule the cities. I’m considering picking one up just in case. It’s a brilliant idea!

    • Heather

      Melissa, I think he is doing quite well, since he can sell to any hotel, as well as hostels and Bed and Breakfasts!

  • J.B.@ My University Money

    Great Article. I love the rent a chicken!

  • Rob

    Great post do Hangover Helpers have a UK office?

    • Heather

      Rob, as far as I know they’re only in the US. Perhaps this is a business you could start in the UK!

  • Thorpe Obazee

    I must admit that those are weird business but the weirdest I’d say are the rent-a-chicken and the pet loo businesses.

  • Azak

    Complete nonsense!!

  • Yemi

    Very interesting read. I would like to be a freelance writer. Any suggestions on how to go about this?? Thanx

  • http://www.facebook.com/mln143 Tony Kumar

    Great post as i was searching for allegiance income online on Google and i come across your site it is awesome and contain no. of useful contents

  • Ramesh Kothandabani

    Bed bug barrier seems interesting,is it possible to get dealership for Malaysia market ? Any suggestions please ?

  • Jonah

    One shouldn’t fear failure in a business. Your confidence in self will help you face every challenge in the way of becoming a successful entrepreneur!

  • Ankit Shrotri

    I would like to have an inspiring friend like you :)

  • Sam Tewelde

    i love how the first step is get inspired.

  • http://businessampm.com/ shuvro chowdhury

    Hey Levin,

    Nice post. I think this 6 weird small business ideas are very effective and in this way we can achieve our business goal. Thank you for sharing this post.

    Regards,
    shuvro chowdhury

  • me

    Any job that wants YOU to PAY to WORK FOR THEM is a scam!!!!

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