Some people say that the best ideas are hatched over the course of an evening spent in a bar or pub. The local watering holes around the world have probably birthed thousands of great ideas, and many of them have been forgotten by the time the cloud of genius produced by the alcohol had worn off by the time the creators awoke the next morning. Such ideas as Southwest Airlines, Buffalo Wings, and dozens of the best selling novels in history have been hatched in pubs.
And then there’s Gary Dahl’s story. Gary, you see, didn’t really invent something in a bar more than he realized that something incredibly common could be marketed well enough to produce a quite handsome profit, thankyouverymuch.
Now, I’m a house and pet sitter and have been for years. For a couple of decades, I owned my own pets, but much of my adult life has been spent taking care of other people’s pets. So, I get it that pets can be a handful, especially for someone who works long hours and has no one at home to walk to the dog or feed the cat. And that’s what Gary and his drinking buddies discussed one long drinking evening in April, 1975.
You see, the care and attention that animals needed often preclude many young urban professionals from having pets. Gary, after listening to his fellow yuppies complain about the care their pets required, offered a not-quite-sober but incredibly lucid and brilliant solution. He told them of a pet that they could have that required practically no care at all, really.
Now, in 1975, Gary was a 39 year old professional copywriter who lived in California. His background was quite uncommon, actually. Born in North Dakota and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Gary had gone to college and worked at that time for an ad firm. Nothing really distinguished him from dozens of other copywriters in the San Francisco metropolitan area. But his moment of absolute clarity over several rounds of drinks with his friends and co-workers made him a success.
He sketched his marketing plan on a bar napkin and showed his less than impressed chums. They thought he was pulling their legs and told Gary so. He insisted that the pet he had in mind would be the answer to their complaints about having the pets own you rather than the other way around. And, what’s more, Gary woke up the next day, sober, and realized that the idea that the drinking gods had conferred upon him in his cups was a sure-fire money maker.
By August, Gary had his marketing plan in place and began selling his pets. And, sure enough, Gary’s pets became the hottest selling pet that year and the must have gift for everyone that Christmas. What’s more, Gary was right. His pet was ingeniously easy to care for. Gary sold them in a box with proper air holes and included a 32-page instruction booklet on how to “care” for the pets. At their peak, over 10,000 pets per day were being boxed and shipped by the makeshift staff of pet wranglers Gary had hastily assembled in an empty warehouse near Los Gatos. At $4 per pet, Gary sold enough of the pets to quickly become a millionaire. His face was everywhere, and he even became a repeat guest on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show.
And to think, it all happened over a few drinks after work. You might have purchased one of them if you’re over 50. You see, Gary’s brainy idea for something insanely easy to care for was so simple that it’s amazing no one had thought of it before.
A pet rock.