The lowly tumbleweed is a nuisance to most inhabitants of Western Kansas. The Russian thistle bushes are everywhere. They clog drainage ditches, pile up against fencerows, and have even been known to cause traffic accidents.But the weed is blowing only good fortune to Linda Katz of Garden City, Kan., who is proving that you really can sell almost anything on the Internet. You see, this former real estate agent, whoâ€™s married to a roofer, sells tumbleweeds over the Web.
â€œIt all started as a joke,â€says Katz, 49. She asked her son to build her a family Web page so she could communicate with friends and give it the tongue-in-cheek name Prairie Tumbleweed Farm. Never mind that she didnâ€™t even live on a farm, but in a subdivision. Nevermind that you canâ€™t cultivate tumbleweed, which spreads its seed as it tumbles in the wind. For authenticityâ€™s sake, Katz added a price list ($35 for a big weed, $25 for a midsize one, $20 for the small economy model).
Remember, Katz wasnâ€™t looking for business, but it found her all the same, thanks to the power of Web search engines.
Orders started to pour in from all the places where people love Hollywood Westerns: Alaska, Austria, Britain, Hong Kong, India.
Japanese customers proved so eager that she has added a section to her Web site in Japanese. Movie and TV production companies in Britain, Finland, and the U.S. have ordered tumbleweed for props, too, including a $1,000 order for the childrenâ€™s show Barney & Friends. A scientist from New Mexico wanted tumbleweed for research purposes.
Many of Katzâ€™s newfound customers use tumbleweed to decorate their homes, even in lieu of the traditional Christmas tree.
During Katzâ€™s first two months on the Web, the site logged 2,000 visitors. By mid-January, the number had grown to more than 56,000. Katz says sheâ€™s making about 30 tumbleweed sales a week, which suggests revenues of about $40,000 a year.
This post is dedicated to Jonathan and Starr who now live with the tumbleweeds in West Texas.