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Doing 'different' right: 4 more companies who succeeded by thinking outside the box

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Last week I talked about Odwalla, Geico and Vistaprint and how they set themselves apart in their respective industries and made it big. Continuing are four more inspirational stories from other businesses that have done the same.

1. Toy House: Advertising curiosity. In Jackson, Miss., a city hit hard by the economy, Toy House owner Phil Wrzesinski was struggling to compete against local big box competitors. Then he had an idea. In August 2008, he began running radio ads that had local DJs wondering what was in the men’s bathroom of the store. Droves of customers started coming in to see what was in the men’s bathroom. The product was a nightlight that projects stars on to the ceiling and walls of a darkened room.

The result? Despite the down economy, Toy House has seen a steady increase in both loyalty and sales ever since. Clever advertising can peak interest, create buzz, and get people talking. Show your company has an edge. It will set you apart from your competitors.

2. Dillard’s Septic Service: Doing the dirty work (literally). James Dillard, owner of Dillard’s Septic Service, Annapolis, Md., runs a business most others might consider “beneath” them. Yet Dillard earns a six-figure income doing what many of us would call mundane, boring or downright disgusting. In fact, in the 2009 Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans list, many less-than-glamorous fields and products, including discount tires, roofing, salsa, lumber and tequila have produced extraordinary income.

All of these business owners found their niche and, through it, their differentiation. Think about a product or service you can offer that no one else will. Products or services others are afraid to touch can mean big opportunities for you.

3. Man Cave: “Manning” up before the rest. Who would have thought a Tupperware-type party for men would be a good idea? Founders Nick Beste and Kevin Carlow saw the success stories from female-centric companies, like Tupperware and Partylite, and thought, why not? As a result, they created Man Cave, an in-home party where hosts throw “Meatings” complete with a set of “Man Laws.” They aren’t just the leader in their industry; they are the industry–and they anticipate crossing the $3 million mark by this month.

Don’t shy away from an idea just because it’s never been done. In fact, discovering an untapped market can be like striking gold in this economy. Instead of following trends, you have to be brave enough to be a trendsetter. It can be the gateway to a big idea and a big payoff.

4. Realtor and Inventor Jean Newell: Recognizing it’s all about who you know. Newell invented a personal utility pouch–a multizippered minipack designed to carry all the tools a real estate agent needs. Her objective was to get on QVC, but she was turned down again and again. So she reached out to her network of other agents, buyers and sellers requesting help to find a contact person at QVC and within a few days, she had 40 e-mails from people providing contacts. She created a quick video to show how she would promote the bag and sent it off to QVC. Within two weeks, she was accepted.

It’s vital for you to find ways to leverage what you have to offer. Get in front of people who can connect you to the places you want to be and don’t be afraid to ask the people you know. Leveraging your connections can be the difference between making it and breaking it right now, so you really can’t afford not to.

Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Kuzmeski has personally consulted with some of the world’s most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs and professionals. For more information, go to


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