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Great Business Lessons From The "Pet Rock"

Updated on February 27, 2012
From 1975, it still sits on a shelf in my office.
From 1975, it still sits on a shelf in my office. | Source

Lessons For Business From The Pet Rock

In 1975, a perfect example of what packaging and marketing could do for a product was invented. I don’t believe it was any coincidence that an advertising executive created it by the name of Gary Dahl. It was called the “Pet Rock” and it sold for right at $4.00. Estimates are that Dahl sold over 5 million of his pet rocks in a little over six months. Over the years, I have held onto my own Pet Rock purchased back over 35 years ago, and I now keep it on the shelves of my office to remind me constantly of the importance of packaging, imagination and creating a positive experience for the customer.

You can imagine the kind of profits that were created by the packaging of a smooth river rock, with less than a handful of straw for nesting material. This was accompanied by a special little box with air holes and a tiny instruction manual. The entire package was about the size of a watch box.

Opportunities Come From Listening

All of this started as a result of Dahl listening to his friends (which were also consumers) carry on about their pets. Listening made him think of the idea for “the perfect pet”: a rock. He joked about it with his friends. After all a Pet Rock would not need to be fed, walked, bathed, or groomed. It wouldn’t bark or make noise. It wouldn’t get sick or disobey and it could not die. In creating an "instruction manual" for his “Pet Rock”, he used his imagination and sense of humor to create puns, gags and funny explanations for the activities of the pet rock. The manual contained several commands that could be taught to the new pet, including “sit” and “stay”. Potty-training instructions for the pet rock were also included.

As I’ve sat looking at my “Pet Rock” up on my bookshelves near my desk, a number of thoughts have come to mind over the years about the lessons this whole product launch had to teach us. I’ve outline the valuable lessons (or at least important reminders) that the “Pet Rock” package and its creator have taught us. It ended up being a great party gift item!

Create A Good Name, So It's Instantly Understood

There is no doubt about the type of gift and the type of surprise this package contains inside this package. The name says it all. It’s simple and to-the-point. Unlike the name of some businesses and retailers, no one has to wonder what it refers to or what its all about. It’s easily identified and arouses curiosity that is only reinforced by the package!

The Package is Important

In this case the package represents the exterior of your store (Your outside package is your exterior and store window). It must be attractive. It must arouse curiosity. You want people to look in through the wholes or windows----The first Pet Rocks were ordinary gray pond stones with smooth edges bought at a builder's supply store. They were marketed like live pets, which made them fairly unique. They were in custom cardboard boxes, complete with straw and breathing holes for the "animal". The outside of the box said, “This box contains one genuine pedigreed PET ROCK! It also said “IMPORTANT: Open box carefully. DO NOT Remove rock before reading instructions.” Does this arouse curiosity and make you want to get in to the package? What can you do to make people feel the same way about your store?

Draw Attention To It and Present It Right

The package also represents the way your products are presented. You want attractive, eyecatching and unique displays. The pet rock was never displayed in a row of merchandise. There was always a multi-level stack of pet rocks built to display at least a couple of dozen or more on a table or counter with a sign and price.

You want your store interior and the products it contains to be functional, simple and fun! The interior or what was inside the Pet Rock box—Functional, simple, fun. You must determine the right mix of a functional store, the right products and some fun or entertainment. The “Pet Rock” package was well thought out with the rock, a nest for the rock to sit in and a thirty-two page training manual titled “The Care and Training of your Pet Rock”. The instruction manual on how to raise and train the pet rock was in effect the real product. Without the manual, the “Pet Rock” would have been nothing. Obviously without the right products your store would be nothing or irrelevant.

Price It Right

It was priced at $4.00. In 1975 it became a good impulse item and it also became an inexpensive gag gift. It was priced perfectly to sell.

Provide A Good Customer Experience

The package and its contents created fun, laughs curiosity and made it a fun situation and conversation starter for sales clerks. You need to create some excitement and you need some conversation pieces (displays).

Satisfy A Niche Market

It actually satisfied a couple of niches. While it certainly was an amazing and innovative product, it actually filled a need as a unique gag gift or fun impulse gift, and with its uniqueness and word of mouth, it became a “want”. No one had seen anything like it before. It actually even filled a rather lame need, for those who wanted to satisfy the needs of a child and didn’t want to deal with the aggravations of a real pet, such as the mess, noise, food cost etc., it was great!

Emotions Are Always Important Where Sales Are Concerned

The creator actually inadvertently showed us that pet rocks gave some of us more pleasure than could have been imagined from a small package or plain old rock. The truth ended up being that our mind is where true pleasure begins and along with the power of our imagination we can find some unique joy in simple things. While for some, it may have been a $4.00 laugh and something to show our friends; Many children actually cared and gained an imaginary friend through their pet rocks thanks to their imagination as they began treating them and caring for them as though they were an actual pet. The pet rock and the experience it created, actually occupied a special place in the mind created by our imagination.

The Big Lesson

You customer’s joy and satisfaction come largely from the experience and the imaginative thoughts, dreams and impulses that your store, your people and its atmosphere create for them as an experience. Without these other things, your store is just a place with some products on the shelf that many others sell as well. If you want to be more than just another store, “or rock in the stream”, you must listen to your customers and then add the other ingredients of imagination, surprise, emotions, fun or education, and satisfy a niche need. Retailing is certainly satisfying a need, but those retailers who do more than that i.e. inspire, delight, support and entertain will be the ones that in the end that command the consumers dollar with the greatest love and strength! The pet rock certainly commanded the customer’s dollar for all these reasons.

©2011 Retail Redefined and All rights reserved.


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    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 5 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Great Hub! I needed a dose of inspiration this morning, which you have provided. Thank you Kindly!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I remember those -- probably one of the most brilliant marketing schemes I've ever seen. Thanks for summarizing its lessons. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I always admired the whole Pet Rock nonsense. Here this guy did what plenty of people may have though of in a fun moment. But he was able to encourage folks to buy that silly 'product' just due to his packaging and marketing skills. A wonderful lesson for us all.