Every successful business meets the needs of its customers, but for some businesses, those needs are a little bit strange.
Some businesses help their customers pull pranks; some try to solve life's weirdest problems (like where does that one sock always disappear to?), and some are just so niche, most people wouldn't even think to start them in the first place. But sometimes even the weirdest ideas can become incredibly successful, and these businesses are proof.
From mystery packages and custom romance novels to a retro arcade manufacturer and an innovative sock company, here are 13 totally strange and totally real businesses that might surprise you.
A prank candle company
Scented candles are essentially a household staple, and just about everyone appreciates a good, harmless prank. So what happens when you combine the two?
That's what brothers Tyler and Mark Ward were wondering when they started their business, WTF Prank Candles. The brothers' prank candles start out smelling wonderful, with popular scents like apple pie and freshly cleaned laundry, but after a short while, things go south. The sweet-smelling aroma of fresh forest pine, for example, eventually gives way to the awful smell of skunk. And the person being pranked won't know it until it's too late.
The trick candles come in innocent packaging, of course, and last for approximately 30 hours of burn time (the first 40 percent of which smells wonderful). They sell for $11.95.
A mystery marketplace
Looking to spend some of your hard-earned cash but not sure what you really want? SomethingStore can help.
SomethingStore gives customers who love surprises the opportunity to purchase a brand new (never-used or refurbished) mystery item, or a "something" for $10 — but what is a something, you ask?
According to the company's website, "your something may be a cool shiny gadget, rare book, party game, handmade necklace, reverse clock, box of gourmet chocolates, portable table tennis set, pashmina scarf, set of kitchen knives, pair of handmade earrings, garden tool, kitchen appliance, electronic equipment, fine crafting tool or an office supply item." Basically, anything goes, so long as it's legal to trade in the United States and is worth at least $10.
"Somethings" can be purchased outside of the United States for additional shipping charges, but shipping within the United States is free. The company has sold more than 200,000 somethings since its inception in 2007.
The triple threat of sock companies
Doing laundry seems like a mundane everyday-life activity, but the reality is, every time you put a load of dirty clothes in the wash, you're taking a huge risk. Somewhere in the journey from the hamper to your dresser, you could lose one of your favorite socks. And then what do you do?
With Throx, you never have to handle another lonely leftover sock again. The company helps customers fight the infamous sock monster by selling socks in threes, not pairs. That way, when you lose one, you've still got a backup sock to keep the other company, so you can keep wearing your favorite pair and doing your laundry worry free.
Throx's socks are one-size-fits-all and range in price depending on the design (and there are tons of designs to choose from), though most cost around $10.
A customized romance novel business
For romance-novel fans, this business is literally a dream come true. The brainchild of the husband-and-wife writing team of Kathy Newbern and J.S. Fletcher, YourNovel.com inserts any couple as the hero and heroine in their own personalized romance novel.
The company gives readers dozens of books to choose from, each featuring a different theme and exotic location around the world. Examples include beach themes, detective stories and trips abroad. The starring couple provides a number of details about themselves, and can even insert their own photo on the cover.
Fletcher and Newbern came up with the idea for Yournovel.com when they were out to lunch one day with friends. The group was discussing Newbern's yet-to-be published romance novel when someone wondered aloud what it would be like to read about yourself in that type of book. The two realized that writing personalized romance novels was something they could do and immediately started outlining their first book.
Paperback versions of the novels are $49.95, or $74.95 with a photo. Hardbacks are $94.95, or $119.95 to include a photo. [40 Business Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read ]
A spandex suit retailer
Attention, sports fans: This company gives you the opportunity to show your true colors. Since 2008, Superfan Suits has been creating its full-body spandex outfits for sports fans looking to make an impression at the stadium. The suits, available in a spectrum of colors, cover every inch of the body.
And you don't have to be a sports fan to don one of these spandex bodysuits. The company also offers a whole range of prints, patterns and textures (like flag suits, suits in various colors of camouflage, metallic suits, zebra-print suits and split suits that feature a different color on each half of the suit). There are also themed costumes, like aliens, skeletons and Santa Claus. The company even offers open-faced suits for those who don't like the idea of having their entire heads covered. Additionally, Superfan Suits sell fun accessories like drink koozies, crazy wigs, gloves, masks and capes.
Overall, the company offers 100 different suit variations at various price points, though most fall in the $30-$60 range.
A mobile wedding chapel
Need to get hitched on a budget? The Wedding Wagon may be able to help. This unique mobile company founded in Las Vegas provides a full wedding ceremony out of the back of a van for just $129.
You choose when and where you want to get married — by the colorful fountains of the Bellagio, for example — and the wedding wagon will meet you there with a minister, a witness and a fully decked-out mobile chapel.
For an extra hundred bucks, the Wedding Wagon will even arrange to meet you at some truly beautiful venues, such as Tahiti Village's 10th floor dining patio or Red Rock Canyon State Park.
An ancestor detective service
Untangling the branches of a complex family tree can get tedious. That's where Ancestral Discoveries comes in. The business, started in 2006 by Janice Sellers, helps people who are interested in researching their personal family histories.
"People interested in family history generally come to me either because they've gotten stuck in their research at some point or because they want to know the information but are not inclined to do the research themselves," Sellers told Business News Daily.
Sellers said she's always had a fondness for family history, and when she began helping friends research their pasts, she realized she could make a career out of it. She said she particularly likes being able to connect her clients with their long-lost ancestors and show them interesting things that happened in their families' pasts.
Sellers' services range from $50 to $70 per hour, plus expenses.
An outsourced dating service
For those who find themselves too busy to sort through the world of online dating, Virtual Dating Assistants has taken the work out of finding online dates. This company's seasoned dating experts handle it all, from choosing the right online dating sites to setting the time, date and location of the first in-person meet-up.
The site's dating experts conduct interviews with the singles in order to learn the ins and outs about them, their interests, and their goals. From there, the company helps each single select photos and craft a profile that will help them attract the type of dates they are looking for. The dating experts set up accounts on the dating sites they believe are the best fit, then sift through thousands of online profiles to find matches that meet their clients' criteria. Once the singles approve the dates they're interested in pursuing, the dating expert helps break the ice with a few initial email exchanges.
And as far as pricing goes, Virtual Dating Assistants offers a complimentary 20-minute consultation session to help singles determine their needs, and then determines the cost accordingly.
A dog-sledding business
Adventurists in New Hampshire can get a feel for running the Iditarod thanks to a local company. The Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel offers a variety of dog-sledding trips, ranging from a quick, 20-minute ride to an overnight voyage through the White Mountains. The kennel comprises more than 100 sled dogs, including Alaskan Huskies, Siberians and Malamutes.
The company says its tours let participants interact with the dogs and learn aspects of a culture that many people never get to experience. Muddy Paws also offers dog-sledding clinics for those wanting to learn to be mushers. The four-hour class, which costs $525 per couple (the class requires a minimum of two participants), teaches students all aspects of modern dog sledding.
For those who want to go on a full day of dog-sledding adventures, Muddy Paws also offers an 8-hour experience that costs $745 per couple.
A furniture business for slobs
Have an incontinent cat or a spit-up-prone baby? You might be interested to know that there's a company devoted entirely to helping people like you.
Slobproof!, a Maryland-based furniture and design company, builds custom chairs, sofas and ottomans with specially engineered fabric that withstands spills and other messes without staining.
Debbie Wiener, the company's founder and CEO, said she started the business after marrying a slob, having two sloppy babies and acquiring a few messy pets. Wiener said her design style marries the "common sense of a Jewish mother with the muscle of a professional wrestler." Sounds like a winning combination.
A used cardboard box marketplace
Whether you're moving and need containers for transporting your things or you spend too much time online shopping and don't know what to do with all those pesky cardboard boxes, BoxCycle can help. Founded in 2008, BoxCycle is a used-box marketplace based in San Francisco that streamlines the processes of obtaining and getting rid of cardboard boxes. Retailers, recyclers and individuals are able to sell their used boxes with minimal time and effort, while buyers can easily find used boxes in their area, with convenient pickup options.
Instead of throwing out used boxes, businesses or individuals with an abundance of boxes can go online to BoxCycle.com and post how many boxes they have, and what sizes. In turn, those looking for boxes can see a list of sellers, and their box sizes, in their area. The entire transaction is then completed online.
"For buyers, we offer a lot of information up front to make it easier to find and buy used boxes," founder Ilia Gimelfarb told Business News Daily. And for sellers, BoxCycle takes the hassle out of trying to find someone to buy their used boxes, Gimelfarb said.
Boxes on the site sell for between 38 cents and $1.25 each.
A retro-arcade manufacturer
What do you do when your sweetheart asks for a Ms. Pac-Man machine for Christmas? If you're Michael Ware — founder of Dream Arcades, a California-based company specializing in re-creating vintage arcade games — you just build her one.
Dream Arcades' machines use Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) software to take retro-gaming enthusiasts back to the glory days of Pac-Man, Asteroids and Dragon's Lair.
The company, which says it's the world's largest manufacturer of noncoin-operated arcade games, delivers premade machines as well as DIY kits. Dream Arcades has even delivered an arcade to a U.S. research center in Antarctica. At least those researchers' thumbs are warm.
A fantasy dating company
Are you a (slightly competitive) single gal seeking a more interesting love life? This next weird business is for you. Fantasy Dating Game is like a grown-up version of "Truth or Dare," and it's way more interesting than your last boyfriend's fantasy football league.
Fantasy Dating's creator, Suzanne Casamento, said she built her business, in part, because she was sick and tired of hearing her single girlfriends complain about their lackluster love lives.
Much like fantasy sports leagues, the Fantasy Dating Game allows single women to earn points by flirting with guys at Starbucks, slipping their numbers to cute bartenders and going on actual dates.
Casamento said her site empowers women to take charge of their own love lives and gain confidence through dating.
This story was originally published on Jan. 19, 2012, and was updated on April 27, 2015. Business News Daily senior writer Chad Brooks and contributor Elizabeth Palermo also contributed to this story.