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How Products Evolve From Merely Functional To Super Successful By Luck and Re-Marketing

by: Geoff Ficke

An Australian industrial manufacturing Company began producing wooden rings in 1957 for use in sealing containers. The hoops were of no particular import, displayed no obvious breakthrough commercial potential and possessed no apparent use much beyond their original intended application. The wooden hoops, however, had an amazing future once they were transformed from a packaging component into an exercise toy.

The original Australian produced wooden rings were introduced to business partners Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin, partners in a fledgling toy company. Knerr and Melin had founded Wham-O Toy Co. in California after World War II. They gutted out the growth of the business, typically underfunded, always seeking the one “silver bullet” toy that would propel them to success and riches. They had enjoyed modest success with a $.75 sling shot, but not much else seemed to make waves in the toy product universe.

The wooden rings would not seem to offer much in the way of a toy application. But Knerr and Melin were driven and curious. They decided to make prototypes out of hollow plastic and in an array of bright colors. The newly designed plastic hoops were very light and the toy impresarios quickly discovered that their children found an innovative use for the product. They would put the hoops around their waists and move circularly, like a hula dancer. The result was that the Hula Hoop was born and became a fun, exercise fad nationally and ultimately internationally.

Well, fad is really not an apt description of what the Hula Hoop became. There had never been anything like the Hula Hoop. Knerr and Melin began taking the Hula Hoops to Southern California playgrounds and demonstrating the toy for children. They were hooked. This was a colorful, safe, light weight, inexpensive way to have children and families exercise, and not think of it as exercise. To kids it was a fun action toy. To parents it was heaven, too good to be true.

Wham-O sold over 100 million Hula Hoops in the first 12 months the product was on the market. Mr. Melin and Mr. Knerr became fabulously wealthy. The Hula Hoop is one of those classic toys that experiences a revival every few years as a new generation of families discover its simple wonders.

There are products in many industries that enjoy success when repositioned in a completely different way than originally intended. Preparation H, originally a hemorrhoid cream, has been repackaged and used as a base in numerous anti-aging skin care products. Other toys such as Slinky and Silly Putty were morphed from industrial uses. There are many other examples that the creative entrepreneur can use for a tutorial in bridging the span between intended and unintended product use.

Most will never enjoy the success of the Hulas Hoop or the Slinky. However, there is gold to be mined in old products, dormant ideas and home remedies that can be repositioned, repackaged, re-marketed. The key is to find a unique selling proposition and apply it to an element that exists within your personal universe. It rarely will be obvious or readily available. However, if you are curious, stubborn, or passionate you may stumble upon the next Pet Rock or Chia Pet.