[It’s the 4th of July. I don’t want to be at my computer today. In fact, I’m probably out climbing mountains as you read this. I don’t want you to be at your computer, either. So here’s just a quick little story, and I’ve turned the comments off. Tweet it or Plus it if you like it, and happy 4th to all the Americans out there!]

A couple years ago I was hiking with my friend Chris up a nearby canyon. At one spot, the trail we were hiking on intersected a dry stream bed. We noticed that there were some really neat rocks in the stream bed; they were a dark purple quartzite with beautiful grains of something sparkly in them. I had an idea, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Dude… I bet someone would pay for rocks like these.

Chris: No way. No one is going to pay for freaking rocks.

Me: Haven’t you ever heard of pet rocks?

Chris: Yeah, but that was different. Those were “pets.” It was cute marketing. But that was just a one time thing. People today aren’t going to pay for a rock.

Me: Whatever. I’ll bet you $10 that I can sell one of these rocks on eBay.

Chris: You’re on.

Chris and I loaded up our backpacks with 3 or 4 big rocks and set off back down the trail. The rocks were super heavy and our backpacks weren’t meant for carrying such heavy loads, so it was a rather painful experience. By the time we got back to our cars, Chris was cursing me for making him perform free slave labor, and I was even more adamant that I’d sell one of these stupid rocks no matter what it took. I did not just carry big ol’ rocks down a mountain in vain.

I got home and took a long hard look at the rocks. Nothing happened.

I needed to come up with an angle and a market. I mean, I couldn’t just title my eBay listing “Big, Heavy Rock” and expect people to find it and buy it. I brainstormed and came up with a list of potential customers, including

  • gardeners
  • aquarium owners
  • terrarium owners
  • rock hounds

Armed with these ideas, I did some searching on eBay to see if there were any other people selling rocks to these audiences. I ended up finding a few successfully completed auctions for rocks meant to be put in turtle or frog terrariums, but they were fake rocks, not real ones. I figured that if people were willing to shell out money for fake rocks, maybe they’d shell out money for real rocks. It was worth a shot.

I took some great photos of the rock (well, great as far as a rock’s natural photogenicity will allow), wrote up some sales copy, and listed the rock at a buy-it-now price of $25 with free shipping. I could just barely fit it into a $10 flat rate shipping box, so once you factor out PayPal and eBay fees, I’d make less than $15 on the thing. Still, $15 for a rock that I got for free in the mountains (in addition to the bragging rights I’d have over my friend)? Yes please.

Well, the rock sold after a few days. When I took it to the post office to mail it off, the postal worker behind the counter was surprised at how heavy the package was.

“Whoah. What’s in here? Rocks?”

I laughed and said no in a pfff-of-course-not-don’t-be-silly kind of way. After all, there was just one rock in there, not multiple rocks.

I never did get my $10 from Chris. The rock’s buyer gave me positive feedback on eBay. And I never sold another rock online. After all, who wants to go through life selling rocks?