Money from (almost) nothing: 8 mundane items that became money-making products

In a world of music-playing phones, Internet-enabled refrigerators and satellite-based car navigation, some companies still find success with such low-tech products as urine, dirt and even air. This is not the "money for nothing" Dire Straits sung about in its classic hit, but it's awfully close.

For example, a clever duo from Ireland was inspired by the ground under their feet. Business partners Pat Burke and Alan Jenkins founded the Auld Sod Export Company to sell "Official Irish Dirt" by the pound to those who want to "own a little piece of Ireland no matter how far from the Emerald Isle (they) are." According to an article in The New York Times, the company shipped $2 million worth to the United States in the first 5 to 6 months of launching its web site,, in November 2006.

But they are not the only ones who have taken the simplest of items and turned them into a sales success story. Here we highlight freelance writer Jonathan Berr's list of 8 mundane products that make (or made) money from (almost) nothing.

Pool Noodles
Prices for these swim toys vary, but typically cost $1 to $5, depending on the size and retailer. According to Industrial Thermo Polymers, in 1988 it "produced the first-ever commercial 'Noodle' toy." Today, the Tundra Pool Noodle is North America's top selling water toy. Growing sales would indicate the multi-million dollar fad shows no signs of slowing. Not bad for several feet of colored foam.

To many women across America, Spanx undergarments are worth their weight in gold. So it's no matter that a pair of "Hide and Sleek Panties" sells for $26 to $30 when the wholesale price for regular panties is about $1. The hottest thing in women's lingerie since the Wonderbra, the Spanx factory cranks out 36,000 bodyshapers per day.

Animal Pee
In 1986, the folks at Lexington Outdoors, an outdoor supply store in Lincoln, Maine, began selling urine from predators such as wolves, foxes and mountain lions to hunters. The product, known as Predator Pee, unexpectedly became a hit with gardeners eager to keep pesky varmints such as mice and deer away from their plants. Business is good, growing at 10% to 20% a year. The product retails for $19.99 for a 12-ounce bottle. The urine is collected from animals in captivity via floor collection drains.

Worm Poop
If you don't have a need for bottled urine, perhaps you'd like to purchase some worm poop? According to TerraCycle Inc., worm poop is an ideal, natural fertilizer. That is why they package the naturally occurring waste in used 20-ounce soda bottles and sell it for $7.99 (prices may vary). Proving where there's worm waste and soda drinkers, there's money to be made.

Pressed Pennies
Go to virtually any commercial tourist destination and you are sure to come across a souvenir penny press machine. Insert a couple of quarters and a penny and you get a squashed coin with a reminder of your trip imprinted onto it (like a Mickey Mouse face) in return. It's a cheap souvenir for you and a great return for the machine owner.

Bottled Air
Wales in a Bottle is just one example of a company that has found a clever way of making money by bottling and marketing the air we freely breathe. The perfume-sized bottle sells for $39, with free world-wide shipping. If you're homesick for Wales, this might be for you.

Canned Oxygen
Taking bottled air one step further, the folks at BigOX sell flavored oxygen. An Internet search found single cans selling for $14.95. "Oxygen is known to help with headaches, drowsiness, fatigue during strenuous exercise, helps promote healthy skin, and generates healthy red blood cells for over all well being," said Dan Jungers, the managing partner of the company behind the product.

Pet Rocks
Last, but not least, the poster child for products like these is the Pet Rock. This fad took place in the 1970s and Pet Rocks were ordinary gray pebbles bought at a builder's supply store and marketed as if they were live pets. They sold for $3.95 each and made the creator, Gary Dahl, a millionaire.
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