As I was browsing through the website of the WD-40 (Nasdaq: WDFC) company the other day, I had what the Tracy Jordan character on 30 Rock might term a "thoughtsicle." I was looking over the company's list of more than 2,000 uses for WD-40. They include:

  • Removing stickers on CD cases.
  • Lubricating hinges on crawfish traps.
  • Removing boa constrictors stuck in engine compartments of cars.
  • Spraying bathroom mirrors to keep them from fogging.
  • Softening stiff leather sandals.
  • Giving bowling balls less "grab" on the lanes.
  • Using full cans as nifty paperweights.

The list made me realize that even though some of the uses were a bit, well, exotic to me, most of us could indeed find some unprecedented uses for the stuff. The bottom line: We'd be more likely to use more WD-40, now that we could think of more things to do with it. It's a win-win situation -- we win, and so does the company.

This simple principle is at work at many other companies. The pharmaceutical industry, for one, frequently gets approval from the FDA to offer various medicines for new "indications." The drug Avelox, for example, which is marketed in the U.S. by Schering-Plough (NYSE: SGP), is approved by the FDA to treat some forms of bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and skin infections, among other things. Genzyme's (Nasdaq: GENZ) drug Thyrogen recently had its application in treating thyroid cancer expanded.

As investors, we might do well to watch for companies expanding the ways customers use their products or services. If you don't see your companies being aggressive in this department, you might want to drop them a note, along with any ideas you have.

You might suggest to Kellogg (NYSE: K) or General Mills (NYSE: GIS), for example, that they try marketing their cereals as quick dinners for harried workaholics. Or maybe Boeing (NYSE: BA) could recycle its retired big jets, turning them into small motels.

Those ideas may be silly, but you never know. Forty years ago, would anyone have thought overnight package delivery could grow into a multibillion-dollar industry for shipping companies like FedEx (NYSE: FDX)? Plenty of products and services were hard to imagine, until they appeared and became indispensable.