SOMEBODY once said the key to success in business was to find a niche and fill it. I guess failure in business can be tracked to those niches that -- oops! -- turn out to be the approximate size of a blackhead.
I think I recognized one such mini-market in a press release I got via e-mail just last week. With the subject line “Ice Matters,” it looked like it might be a rant from a spokesursine for polar bears concerned about global warming. But no, the release came from a representative for “New England ice,” which he claimed was the only thing worthy of my countless upcoming barbecue cocktail parties. “Finally, drinks taste like drinks, not the chlorine that’s found in many packages of ice cubes,” the press release bragged.
Well, try as I might, I could not find it in me to get excited about this. I did clamber into the lotus position, clear my mind, and try to imagine the sort of person who would care so deeply about “ice as pure as bottled water” that he or she would order it all the way from Boston. I pictured this individual as long, lean, smirking, and as immaculately clad in white as any given 22-year-old in a panty-liner commercial. I set this benign figure in a squeaky-clean post-and-beam house with glass walls, suspended by architectural alchemy over the ocean, and I offered it a refreshing drink. It asked for a beer. Go figure.
Another recent announcement that found itself in my in-basket trumpeted the arrival of toilet paper made of 100% recycled paper — probably press releases for toilet paper composed of 90% recycled paper. I’d make a crude joke about toilet paper certainly being a niche market, but you and I know that would be beneath us.
You can find many entrepreneurial types with iffy items up for grabs — as well as their customers/enablers — if you go onto Craigslist. As you likely know, Craigslist is the hugely successful free online listing service. I was idly looking for a trampoline there recently. In my quest, I stumbled on a much more ambitious parent, who was advertising for a “VERY quiet pony” for her children. My first thought: “They must live in an apartment.”
Then I spotted another seller offering a “beautiful buttermilk Dunn gelding with dark blue eye.” I was tempted to play matchmaker between these two, despite my assumption that any decent horse has at least two eyes. Still, I thought, if the one-eyed gelding has nothing to say, to the apartment with it.
Meanwhile, it was alarming rather than tantalizing to come upon a North Vancouver advertiser offering a “Safety 1st Highchair, Cheap!” and hard not to be skeptical of the glorious merits of the $2 lawnmower listed next. Skittishness also prevailed when it came to the offer of free horse manure, which, to me, has always seemed all too available in modern society.
People can be quite cryptic in their descriptions on Craigslist. When I tried to figure out what a “Fisher Price Aquarium bouncer” might be, I could only conclude that it was a large, muscular fish who would keep cats and seagulls out of the tank. “Boy’s 12-18 Lot” sounded suspiciously like it might consist of orthodontic paraphernalia, smelly running shoes, hair gel, and pimple cream, the lot of many boys in this age group. Mercifully, it turned out to be a handful of shirts.
Meanwhile, “Your baby miss your tummy? Try this!!” shouted one ad from Cloverdale. Intrigued, I forged on, only to discover that “this” was a stuffed bear whose innards contained a recording of “uterus sounds activated by movement.” Finally — something even worse than Raffi.
The one place on Craigslist where people don’t like to mince words is the personals section. Then they go on and on. This makes for quite boring reading unless you’re in the mate market, or you enjoy taking a red pen to other people’s spelling and grammatical errors (guilty as charged). Still, there are a lot of shockingly useless items I’d take home before I’d correspond with somebody who titled their personal ads, as a couple of singles did last week, “FEELING BORED” or “anyone…….40.” Perhaps these vendors thought they’d caught wind of a niche. My snout detected middle-aged desperation, which actually smells a lot like chicken.
But people persist in trying to sell an incredible array of things few folks actually want. How do I know? Lately, I appear to be on some mysterious list for P.R. people with eccentric clients (see “Ice Matters,” above). On Tuesday I heard from somebody in the 310 area code who was promoting an award called “Hair-Brained (sic) Idea of the Month,” established by a site called BaldingBlog.com.
A blog, of course, is an online journal. A blog is also a prime example of blatantly inventing a niche, then filling it with unasked-for drivel, such as the stuff you are reading right now. BaldingBlog.com was established by “renowned” hair transplant surgeon Dr. William Rassman, who uses it to provide news of interest to self-hating bald persons. The Hair-Brained Idea award will be given to an individual, group, company or trend that is deemed the silliest of the past 30 days. I guess Dr. Rassman himself was somehow disqualified from winning it.
As a matter of fact, the award’s first honoree is Los Angeles’ City Council, which recently proposed a “symbolic 40-hour ban” on killing. The plan was rejected in favour of some other equally wholesome but less idiotic-sounding scheme, presumably because the police who couldn’t prevent everyday killings in L.A. weren’t too sure how they’d impose the ban on them.
In truth, I’m not certain how many people will be pleased to learn they’ve been given a Hair-Brained Idea of the Month award. Nevertheless, it turns out that I am the niche for which Dr. Rassman is looking, the sort of person who, despite not currently being bald, will now be regularly monitoring a baldness website for news of the weird.
There’s a sucker born every minute.