A Collection of Interesting Businesses
By Steve Gillman - 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
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.
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).