success stories

Sometimes you just have to look in unexpected places to find success stories in business. For this installment of Keys to Success, we peek into three young, eccentric businesses. We love these stories and, anyway, the combination of french fries, Lady Gaga and cuddle pillows was too fun to ignore. Enjoy.

Can’t Go Wrong with Fries, Gravy and Cheese

Ryan Smolkin started a restaurant called Smoke’s Poutinerie in Toronto in 2008, serving the Canadian dish of poutine (in its basic form: french fries, gravy and cheese). But like many startups, Smoke’s had no money for marketing. So, as detailed by CNNMoney, he turned to Facebook and Twitter.

Smolkin spent five hours a day inviting people to like Smoke’s Facebook page, and he would post news about the restaurant, along with some sports bits and pictures of his various poutine creations. Buzz began to build.

“People started inviting their own friends,” Smolkin says. “It was completely word of mouth.”

Now Smoke’s has grown to 60 locations in Canada with estimated revenue of $28 million this year, CNNMoney says. There are plans to expand into the United States.

But social media is still key to Smoke’s success. The business has 17,500 Facebook likes and 14,000 Twitter followers. Smolkin brought on a social media coordinator to help stay in touch with the audience.

“We put up things that people care about and want to see,” Smolkin says. “We give them a reason to come back and they bring their friends when they do.”

With Lady Gaga’s Implicit Endorsement, Small Business Takes a Happy Turn

Fashion is a tricky business. What’s trendy and what’s not is the ultimate in subjectivity. But if the right person likes your work, the sky’s the limit.

CNNMoney recently featured 25-year-old Danielle Hills, who started Gilding Primal Instinct in 2010 with her savings and some help from friends and family. It has been a struggle, and she had to take a day job to help her income.

And then one of her jewelry creations — a bracelet adorned with fake teeth — appeared on the wrist of pop star Lady Gaga at the YouTube Awards on Nov. 3. Gaga also used it as a “grill” — that awkward mouth jewelry (is there any other kind?) — on the cover of her single “Dope.”

Hills had seen her revenue slow down to a crawl, but the Gaga boost meant a quick $2,000 in new orders. Though she says she’s not out of the woods yet, an endorsement by an international celebrity can’t hurt.

“I don’t think the Lady Gaga publicity can singlehandedly turn things around for me,” she says. “But it’s a great opportunity that I hope will lead to other opportunities.”

Need a Hug? Here’s a Pillow

After pondering Lady Gaga’s dental preferences, you might need a hug. So did entrepreneur Alon Schwartz, featured recently by Chicago Grid. Schwartz is “an unabashed cuddler,” according to the website, but his girlfriend complained about his arms and technique hurting her neck.

Determined to get his cuddle on, Schwartz spent $7,000 on developing the Partner Pillow, a rectangular pillow with a gap for the spooner’s arm, so that the spoonee’s head still rests with comfort. Here’s the sales pitch:

“All the problems commonly associated with cuddling have decidedly been solved. Our patent pending technology eliminates the dead arm and neck pain commonly experienced by cuddlers, and our patent pending pillow design allows you to slide your arm out from beneath your partner’s neck without ever disturbing them!”

Schwartz’s business is in its early stages. He’s working with Active Foam Products to produce the pillows.

“Some ideas can get hot,” says Scott Meyer, president of Active Foam. “It takes the right distribution and the right idea to sell and market it.”

It just goes to show that good business ideas area everywhere you see a need. Sometimes, they’re lying right next to you when you go to bed.