When Sara Blakely failed the Law School Admission Test, she took a job at Disney World for three months. She also would occasionally perform stand up comedy. Now, she is one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet. Here is her incredible story, and what we can learn from it.
After Disney, and giving up her career as a standup comic, her next job was selling fax machines door-to-door. She was forced to wear pantyhose in this role, but she hated the way her open-toed shoes looked with the seam from the panty hose sticking out. At a private party, she cut off the feet of her pantyhose, and she killed two birds with one stone: She didn’t have to deal with the seam sticking out of her open-toe shoes, and at the same time she eliminated her panty line and made her body look firmer (this footless pair is actually in a shrine at SPANX headquarters).
She then moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and spent two years and $5,000 researching and developing a version of these pants for distribution. However, lawyers would have cost her $3,000 – $5,000 to develop a patent. Instead of paying that, she went to Barnes & Noble, bought a textbook, and wrote the patent herself.
Next stop, North Carolina, America’s hosiery production state. She presented her idea to representatives all over, but they all rejected her. Blakey explained in 2011 that a big reason her idea was turned away was because the hosiery industry was oversaw by men, who (from her knowledge) never used the products. Two weeks later, a representative from Asheboro, NC called Sara and told her his daughters convinced him to support Sara’s idea.
The prototype was finished in a year, and it was one of the first times the industry tested a product with normal people. And what she found was that the hosiery industry had been using the same sized waistband for their products. Her product would be the first in the industry to use multiple sized waist bands for different sized people. She also was the first to use a packaging color other than black, white, or grey (she used red). She named them Spanx.
From then on, she met with a rep from the Neiman Marcus group. As a result, she would be sold in seven of their stores. Following them would be Bloomingdales, Saks, and Bergdorf Goodman. She sent samples of her products to different celebrity talk show hosts, including Oprah Winfrey with a gift card that explained her product and why she wanted to make it in the first place. In November 2000, she said Spanx was one of her favorite products. Sara resigned from her sales job, and achieved $10 million in sales in her second year of operations.
So what can we take from Sara’s incredible story?
TRY TURNING A NEGATIVE INTO A POSITIVE
Sara’s inspiration came from a complaint she had. Creating a seamless (no pun intended) experience for consumers is important, and if you spot those “seams”, then act fast. You never know which one of those gripes with products will turn into multi million dollar ideas.
DON’T LET WHOSE IN CHARGE HOLD YOU BACK
Many would have quit early on with the excuse, “well it’s all men running the industry so I don’t stand a chance!” If Sara had gotten discouraged by all the people who really didn’t know what they were doing (as we can tell by her huge profit), then she would still be selling fax machines door to door.
IMPORTANCE OF FINANCE
When you have a good idea, it’s best to act on it. Whichever stage of the game you’re at, keep moving forward. Sara spent $5,000 on starting up her vision, and without a doubt much more soon thereafter. If you’ve already started your business, don’t let it fizzle out because of something like money. We at UCS know that as a woman, you’re facing an uphill battle because of the way our society works, and we want to help. Find info and apply for a small business loan here.