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These are 10 Ideas That Ended up Making $100M+


Hey, know what we haven’t done in awhile? A “top whatever” list. Well, others on The Blaze have, but we haven’t (and that’s what really matters).

In today’s edition of the "top whatever," we’re going to look at 10 seemingly simple ideas that became multimillion-dollar goldmines. And although some of the following products and businesses models may differ in levels of originality, they all have one thing in common: they are the result of the hard work and ingenuity of American entrepreneurs.

Here are 10 business ideas that have made over $100 million [all block quotes and photos via CNBC]:

10. Firehouse Subs

2011 Sales: $284.9 million

Chris and Robin Sorensen were both firefighters in Florida when they came up with the idea to open a sandwich shop based on their family’s 200 year history of fighting fires. In 1994, the brothers borrowed on a credit card belonging to Robin’s in-laws and opened their first shop, decorated with fire equipment and a hand-painted mural that depicted the local fire department. They even gave their subs firefighter-inspired names like “Hook & Ladder” and “Engine Company.” Robin worked at the store while Chris continued to work part-time at the fire department.

These days both Sorensens have put their firefighting days behind them. Firehouse Subs is now a booming franchise business, with 514 corporate and franchise locations around the United States  — and the numbers keep growing. The company plans to continue its expansion in the Northeast, Central and Southwest in 2012.

9. Two Men and a Truck

2011 Sales: $220 million

Mary Ellen Sheets never imagined that hauling trash would turn into a multi-million dollar company. In the early 1980s, Sheets’s sons, Jon and Brig Sorber, started doing odd jobs for locals, using their pickup truck to haul trash and brush from people’s yards and moving furniture.

Once the boys went off to college, the phone kept ringing. So Mary Ellen hired two men and bought another truck for $350. At first it was a hobby, but by the late-1980’s, she quit her job to focus on the business full-time. She also made another life-changing decision: she decided to franchise.

Today, Two Men and a Truck has 224 locations in 34 states. Brig Sorber has replaced his mom as CEO, but Mary Ellen Sheets still serves on the board of directors and Jon Sorber is an executive with the company.

8. Life is Good

2011 Sales: $100 million.

Bert and John Jacobs designed their first t-shirts in 1989 and hawked them on the streets of Boston and at colleges along the East Coast. But for five years, success eluded them. Then, in 1994, they struck upon the idea to use a design of a cartoon figure called Jake and the motto “Life is good.” People seemed to embrace the simple message of optimism — the shirts were a hit at a local street fair and retailers soon became interested.

Now Jake’s face and motto are on more than just shirts. You can find him and other characters smiling on products from towels and totes to coffee mugs and dog leashes. And life sure is good now for Bert and John Jacobs.

7. Spanx

Estimated revenue in 2012: $250 million

One night, Sara Blakely cut off the bottom of her pantyhose and the idea of Spanx was born. Armed with $5,000 in savings, Blakely researched and wrote her patent for footless pantyhose and drove around North Carolina begging mill owners to make her product. Most told her it would never sell, but one owner decided to take a chance and help her make her “crazy idea.”

In 2000, her prototype was perfected and she started hitting up high-end department store buyers. In the first three months, she sold over 50,000 pairs from the back of her apartment. Now her “crazy idea” has grown to include a full range of products that are sold around the world, and Blakely is soaring high. In March, she landed on the Forbes World’s Billionaires 2012 list, which estimated the company’s revenue at just under $250 million.

6. myYearbook

In 2011, the company was bought for: $100 million

Siblings Dave and Catherine Cook had just moved to a new high school in when they came up with the idea of an online yearbook to meet new friends. To get started, they turned to their brother, Geoff Cook, who had already started and sold a business while in college. In 2005, Geoff became the first investor and CEO of myYearbook. Within the first nine months, the site had 1 million users. As the company grew, it left the high school realm and started connecting people in general.

In November 2011, social networking site Quepasa bought myYearbook for $100 million in cash and stock, and in June of this year myYearbook was rebranded as MeetMe. All three siblings still work at the company, with Geoff Cook as the COO.

The next big milestone for MeetMe is its merger with Quepasa, which will bring the number of users from 40 million to 80 million, according to Geoff Cook.

5. Pillow Pets

2010 Sales: $300 million

The idea for Pillow Pets dawned on Jennifer Telfer after watching her young sons smash down their stuffed animals in order to sleep on them like a pillow. She set about creating stuffed animals that unfolded into plush pillows.

She and her husband decided to wholesale the products themselves in 2003 through their company, CJ Products, and began by hawking them at a mall kiosk during the holiday season. By the end of the year, after Jennifer introduced Pillow Pets at a home show, they were nearly sold out. The cuddly toy has since exploded, with $300 million in sales in 2010.

4. Tom's of Maine

Bought for $100 Million in 2006

Tom and Kate Chappell moved to Maine in 1968 hoping to simplify their lives. When they found it difficult to find natural, unprocessed foods and products, they decided to create and sell what they were looking for themselves.  They borrowed $5,000 to start Tom’s of Maine in 1970, and peddled all-natural shampoo and personal care products to natural food stores. Their breakthrough came five years later when they launched their leading product — Tom’s of Maine toothpaste.

By 1999, sales surpassed $40 million, and in 2006 Colgate Palmolive bought 84 percent of Tom’s of Maine for $100 million. Now the Chappells have a new venture — Rambler’s Way Farm, which creates wool garments.

See the rest of the list over at CNBC.

Front page photo source: shutterstock

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