4 Iconic Inventions that Were Not Profitable

4 Iconic Inventions that Were Not Profitable

A great idea executed well is often all you need to succeed in the world of business, but there are exceptions to this rule. Everyone’s heard the story of Tetris, for instance, a game that was “acquired” by the Soviet Union, leaving the inventor without any royalties from his creation. But while this is one of the most famous examples, it’s far from the only one.

There are a number of iconic creations that simply weren’t profitable, ones that are lightyears from the retail products and MLM products discussed recently on this website.

4. Mini

The little car with the big heart and heaps of style is as iconic now as it was 50 years ago. It was also hugely popular when it was first manufactured, however, it wasn’t very profitable. The car was developed during a fuel crises that saw strict fuel rationing in the United Kingdom. The British Motor Company wanted a car that was compact, stylish, cheap and, most importantly of all, didn’t use a lot of fuel.

The Mark I Mini, produced from 1959 to 1967, was that car and it sold like crazy, but BMC weren’t earning the sort of money that many believed. In an effort to try and copy what they were doing, the Ford Motor Company bought one of the cars and dismantled it to look at each part and see if they could replicate it.

They determined that Mini must have been losing around £30 on each car. That may not sound like much today, but the entire car cost under £600 at the time, so that £30 was 5% of the final retail price and they sold a lot of them.

The Mini continued to be updated and produced and it seems the manufacturer managed to improve their bottom line, but not by a great deal. Following a major merger with The Leyland Motor Corporation in the 1970s, a post mortem was conducted on the BMC and it was revealed that they were making just £16 per manufactured Mini when all of the 16 models of the car were accounted for.

To put this into perspective let’s look at a recent iconic car, the Toyota Prius. These cars average around $24,000 for the basic models, on which Toyota earn an average of $3,100 profit. That’s a fraction under 13%. If we do the same for the Mini, it’s less than 2%.

The Mini was a game-changer and it remains an iconic piece of British history, but it simply wasn’t profitable and it didn’t help to propel its manufacturers into the level of global fame that was expected.

3. Sega Dreamcast

Older gamers look back on the Sega Dreamcast fondly, while younger games, who know of it from reference only, assume that it was a big success. After all, it spawned a slew of popular titles, was the first console to offer online gaming and was much more powerful that its competitors at the time.

However, it sold poorly and actually caused the death of SEGA consoles, forcing the company to focus purely on games.

Before the days of Xbox vs Playstation, it was SEGA vs Playstation and SEGA just couldn’t compete. They sold 11 million units in three years, before being forced to stop manufacture altogether. Sony, on the other hand, shifted 160+ million copies of their Playstation 2 and were able to manufacture for over a decade.

The Playstation 2 was the main reason the Dreamcast struggled, but there was more to it than that. Sony had a better grasp on marketing and they were also coming off the success of the Playstation 1, while SEGA were hoping gamers would forget the disappointing Saturn. Sony also had better exclusive titles and a bigger roster of games.

As good as the Dreamcast was and as easy as it is to look back and question the decision that many gamers made to ignore it, it simply wasn’t the complete package that gamers were looking for.

2. The Hula Hoop

The Hula Hoop seems like the perfect invention on the surface. It’s a toy that every wanted when it was first launched and in many ways it is a toy that has also endured throughout the generations. Add to this the fact that it’s cheap to produce and you have what should be a winner, but therein lies the issue.

Not only was it cheap to produce, but it was also sold very cheaply. What’s more, it was very durable, and the average user only ever bought one of them in their lifetime. Sure, there were kids who had stacks of them in different colors, but for every one obsessed kid with loads of hoops there were a thousand who bought 1 hoop and then left it to gather dust in the garage.

The Hula hoop was also a fad, which means it was immensely popular for a short time and then faded away. This is very difficult for any company to control, let alone one that has just invested huge sums into marketing and manufacturing and now has warehouses full of product they can’t shift.

Wham-O, an American toy company, were the ones tasked with selling the Hula Hoop in the United States. They were also the fist to sell the Frisbee, another toy that came and went. The company wasn’t a flop and are still going to this day, with Frisbees accounting for a large portion of their sales, but it’s the Hula Hoop that is the most iconic, despite being one of the poorest performers in their history.

1. Segway

There was a time when the Segway seemed to be everywhere and you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was popular and had finally won favor with the public, but that simply wasn’t the truth.

The two-wheeled personal transporter was first launched in 2001 and was predicted (by some) to be the future of transport. But it didn’t live up to expectations and the company changed hands several times over the years.

It became somewhat popular with mall cops and other security personal, but it never caught-on elsewhere. It did manage to turn a profit for a couple years with a couple owners, and they were able to sell up and move on thanks to this profit, but if not for the invention of the two-wheeled scooter, Segway could have failed as a company. In 2018 they sold over 1 million scooters, cashing in on a trend that they had started. That’s more than ten times the amount of personal transporters that they sold in the near-two decades leading up to that date.

So, while the device for which the company is named was a flop, the company did manage to find a successful product that helped them to turn a profit.

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