A Collection of Interesting Businesses

By - January 5, 2013

The following is a collection of short reports and notes on businesses and money making ideas that have caught my attention over the years. In keeping with the theme of the website they are some of the less-common and/or more interesting businesses. Some are also more-or-less unproven as a consistent way to make a profit, but I like to include anything that will entertain or motivate readers.

Rug Rental Business

You may not know that many offices do not own the rugs they have in their entries. They pay a service that leaves a clean rug regularly (every week is common), and takes the dirty one to be cleaned. The clients don't have to worry about buying, replacing, or cleaning rugs. They can use their capital and time for more important purposes (not a bad sales pitch if you decide to get into this line of work).

This business does require a fair amount of start-up capital, although if you have a decent business plan (or a home with equity) you might arrange financing. One thing about the rug rental business is that you can arrange drop-off and pick-up days how you want, at least until you grow to the point where you need to schedule every day. That means you can operate your service for just a few days work per month to start.

Custom Fortune Cookies

There are a number of companies offering customized fortune cookies. Since their product ships fairly easily you can find them online. A few years ago I read a profile of a woman who started one of these businesses (it may have been the first online) for about $1,000. Her company made fortune cookies to order for weddings and other events. Checking online (December 2012) I see that the cookies, when customized, start at around 50 cents each and often sell for over a dollar for some fancier types.

Goose Frightening Service

Perhaps that is not the best description of this service, but you may have to scare the geese a bit to get them to leave the golf courses and other green areas owned by your clients. A company called "Geese Police" was one of the pioneers in this field. They use trained dogs to herd geese and remove them from golf courses, lawns and parks for a fee. By the year 2000 the business was earning almost two million dollars in gross revenue, and had begun to offer franchises. I wrote about this in my book 101 Weird Ways to Make Money.

Natural Mosquito Repellent

Australian Joseph M. Symond invented a wrist band that repels mosquitoes using only natural substances. His product is called "Bug Bam," and is now sold all over the world. My first thought upon reading about his success was that there are probably several other natural substances that can repel mosquitoes, and many other ways of applying or using them (think necklaces, anklets, hats, and so on), so there is room for more innovations in this area.

Time Capsules

Want to preserve those wedding memories, or have future treasure hunters or anthropologists find a record of what life was like in your time? Then you need a time capsule. It can take a lot of money to start a business like this, because of the costs of manufacturing many varieties of time capsules. But there are still only a few doing business online as of 2012, so there might be room for more. Time capsules are designed to be hidden away or even buried, so they must be waterproof and rot-resistant.

Unusual Used Goods

Businesses that buy and sell surplus, used and damaged goods are nothing new, but there are still some unusual and interesting niches to be developed in the industry. I have recently seen companies selling used or slightly damaged shipping containers online, for example. These are the large metal boxes used to carry good around the world on ships. Customers for the used ones use them as storage sheds or emergency survival bunkers.

I also recently read a profile of a business that sells used flatbed rail cars. He buys them from the railroad companies and then re-purposes them as quick bridges for farmers and ranchers who need to span a ditch or stream. Now that's a creative way to recycle something most people wouldn't know what to do with.

Video Yearbooks

The idea here is to have an hour-long video that shows a bit of the events of the school year. It can be sold alongside the regular school yearbook. Those who do it charge between $20 and $30 per copy. A student might even do this one, and with a large enough class size could make a few thousand dollars. An outside entrepreneur must talk to school officials to film at events (and to sell to the students), but he or she could work on videos for five or six schools at a time.

Mobile Oil Change Business

Some people will pay extra to have their oil changed in their car at home or at the office or wherever they are. They don't want to wait in line at a regular oil change place. A busy business person might have to take more than an hour out of her day to drive to the facility and wait for the job to be completed.

There are some of these businesses around already. In fact, I wrote about the business for my book 101 Weird Ways to Make Money, and in the book I have an interview with a woman who used to own one of these businesses.

Home Insurance Inventory Service

Many insurance companies recommend or require that their policy holders have photos or video of their possessions in order to file a claim. This service business basically involves walking through the client's home (or office) with a video camera and filming everything, preferably with the owners spoken notes about each item and the original cost. The client then keeps the tape in a safe deposit box or other safe location. It's a very simple business, and requires a relatively small initial investment. You can read more about this service here:


Returnable Can Collection Business

Quite a while back, I took over $1,700 worth of returnable bottles and cans from the break room of the casino where I worked, in a little over a year. These "returnables" are found in states that require beverage cans and bottles to have a deposit on them. I also gathered them from the houses of friends and family who didn't want to bother returning them for the 10-cent deposit on each one. This was in Michigan, but in any state that has a bottle return law, I imagine there are many people who won't throw those cans away, but also let them pile up because they hate to take them to the store to redeem them.

In fact, as a young man I was once doing some yard work for a woman, and as I left she suggested that I pay her $30 for the 600 to 700 cans and bottles in her garage. It's amazing how many cans people will collect in there cupboards and garages and shed. An hour later I had run them through the self-service sorting machines at the grocery store and received $66 for my $30 investment.

It's a sticky business, but if you find the right areas and go door-to-door offering to buy people's cans at half of their value you might make a decent income. The great thing about this little business is that anyone can start it for virtually no cost. One old man where I used to live (Traverse City, Michigan) paid for his rent with returnable cans and bottles, all collected using his bicycle.

Fish Tank Cleaning Service

I was at the dentist's office years ago and I saw a man come in the front door and begin to clean the fish tank. He had contracted with several offices and businesses to maintain their fish tanks and keep them supplied with fish food. Naturally, he also sold fish tanks, fish and accessories. I was not familiar with this business, and didn't think much more about it until I was recently in another dentist's office where there was a big aquarium.

As I recall, he ran his route twice a month, stopping at each location to clean the tank, restock food supplies, and make any recommendations as to when it was time to get more fish or which could live with which others. I am not sure what he charged monthly for this service, but checking into one of the companies website in December of 2012, I see they advertise "plans starting as low as $65.99/month."

There are many places where they like their fancy fish tanks, but probably don't want to care for them, or where they don't know how to do so properly.

As always, watch for more interesting and unusual businesses and other ways to make money in the Unusual Ways Newsletter (see the form in the side bar to subscribe).

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