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Cover Story: What a Joy!

1 Mar, 2016 By: Thomas Haire Response

The success of the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film spurs DR Hall of Famer and innovator Joy Mangano to new heights. Up next: conquering brick-and-mortar retail.

According to legend, Joy Mangano — inventor, businesswoman, marketer, Direct Response Hall of Famer, and subject of an Oscar®-nominated performance by Jennifer Lawrence — got her start creating products as a teenager, when she came up with a fluorescent flea collar for dogs. She was frustrated a year later when Hartz Corp. released a similar item — and, the story goes, Mangano pledged that the next time she had a great idea, she’d bring it to market.

However, Mangano says, the legend isn’t quite right.

“The flea collar didn’t come first,” she says. “My first product came from a force of nature — as a young girl, I loved music. I’d get together with various friends — this was when I was seven or eight years old — and create music. I was inspired to use percussion instruments — drums, maracas, tambourines — to build my own one-man band.”

And that wasn’t her only creation at a young age. “I tried to change the toaster into something more powerful and useful, and I ended up blowing it up,” she recalls with a laugh. “Then I got really interested in organic gardening, so I wanted to rip up my parents’ back lawn, so we could grow fresh vegetables.”

So when Mangano says that she’s “always looked at the world through products and solutions,” it’s not an exaggeration. She adds, “As I got older, I found out that it’s very easy to make an expensive product, but to make something inexpensive and of great quality, that’s much tougher. I really began to understand that the keys to bringing innovative products were that they had to make sense to consumers and be something they really needed — like a new take on a mop or a closet hanger. My drive is to identify the customer’s needs and make their lives better.”

To say Mangano has accomplished that — millions of times over — is an understatement. From the debut of her Miracle Mop on QVC in 1992, and her transition to HSN at that decade’s end, to the record-setting sales of products like Huggable Hangers and My Little Steamer, Mangano’s Ingenious Designs LLC (owned by HSN since 2000) has created and marketed some of the most successful products in direct response/electronic retailing history.

And as the industry has transitioned and grown into the wider omnichannel world of performance-based marketing, Mangano has not slowed down. Her success story, as portrayed in David O. Russell’s “Joy,” which was released on Christmas Day 2015, shows no signs of letting up — a record-setting HSN relaunch of the Miracle Mop and successful launch into four of America’s leading brick-and-mortar retailers started 2016 with a bang.

Guts, Loyalty, Joy

After divorcing from her husband Tony — whom she’d met while they were students at New York’s Pace University — in 1989, Mangano was a single mother (to daughters Christie and Jacqueline and son Robert) on Long Island when the idea for the Miracle Mop was born.

The mop was designed to simplify the cleaning and wringing process, keeping the user’s hands dry. By 1990, Mangano had a prototype and began selling mops locally before moving her business into a corner of her father’s body shop in Deer Park, N.Y., in 1991.

A year later, Mangano sold 1,000 units of the Miracle Mop on consignment to QVC. But, the product sold poorly without Mangano pitching it. Though she’d had no previous experience as an on-air personality, somehow Mangano convinced the powers that be at QVC to allow her to appear with her invention.

“It was gutsy,” Mangano says. “At that point in life, though, I had nothing to lose. They’d put the Miracle Mop on the air with one of their hosts, but they had no ability to tell the real story of it. You know, I say success is a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. QVC was going to return all the unsold mops to me. So I went for it. I told them that this is a great product, but it wasn’t presented the right way, and I asked them to put me on.”

QVC’s executives granted Mangano the opportunity. “It was hard for me to do — I’m an inventor/designer, not a TV presenter. I didn’t have that mentality, but QVC saw something in the product, and me, and they said okay. From there, we made history,” she says.

Mangano sold more than 18,000 units in less than 30 minutes, changing her life — and the housewares business — forever. Within four years, QVC had sold millions of Miracle Mops — and Mangano was a regular presence in consumers’ homes via the network. With products like the Rolykit, the Jewel Kit, and the Piatto Bakery Box, Ingenious Designs’ partnership with QVC enjoyed great success throughout the 1990s.

In 2000, Mangano hit the jackpot again, when she debuted Huggable Hangers on HSN — velvet-flocked, no-slip hangers with a thin profile designed to maximize closet space, which were an instant success. By 2010, Mangano had sold 300 million of them on HSN alone, with total sales today estimated at 700 million.

“It came about the same way as most of my other products — I’m always looking at problems and trying to solve them,” she says. “I had closet organization on my brain at this point in time, and I was visiting a very high-end couture store, where I saw a $10,000 gown hanging on a $100 velvet hanger. That’s when I realized that velvet surface was so important, and I began to design the hanger in my mind: I kept thinking, ‘ultra-slim, strong, colorfast, and space-saving.’ It remains such a huge seller because it’s a staple, it gives the consumer instant gratification, and solves such a common problem.”

You might have noticed that Huggable Hangers set HSN sales records — not QVC. That’s because, around the time of their debut, media mogul Barry Diller, who’d moved from QVC to ownership of HSN (which would become part of his InterActive Corp.) brought Mangano’s talents to his new network via HSN’s purchase of Ingenious Designs.

“When I began at QVC, Barry Diller was the CEO,” she recalls. “He truly brought celebrity to the electronic retailing world, and I was doing amazing things at that time. When he left and purchased HSN, not too long after that, he called and said, ‘I want you to come to HSN.’ I’m a very loyal person, so I made the choice and it was a great decision. I am an executive of the company now, and I wear more hats than anybody — entrepreneur, president of a big division, TV executive, on-air talent, product inventor, set designer.”

Mangano also credits HSN’s resources for her continued ability to design and develop products, as well as work with and create other celebrity-driven brands with stars like Serena Williams, Rosie O’Donnell, Esteban, Keith Urban, Todd English, Iman, Ming Tsai, Randy Jackson, Lorena Garcia, and more.

A Family Affair

Throughout two-and-a-half decades of success, Mangano’s team has become one of the most impressive in the electronic retail world. More impressively, her desire to create a feeling of family in her business has been so powerful that she’s surrounded by family nearly every day.

Her oldest daughter, Christie, serves as Ingenious Designs’ senior vice president of brand development, while son Robert is the company’s executive vice president of business strategy and development. Youngest daughter Jacqueline is a frequent on-air fashion and lifestyle expert on HSN.

And other long-time confidants have even joined the family: Matt Hoke, Mangano’s on-air producer for many years, married Christie and the couple recently welcomed their first child.

“It couldn’t be better than to be able to love the people around you while you do what you love,” Mangano says. “I really care about the people around our company every day, and I can’t love anyone more than my own children.”

It’s an “evolution,” as Mangano calls it, that stretches back to those early days of her running the company out of her father’s business. “In the beginning, it had to be family because of the ability it gave me to get everything off the ground,” she says. “Having that phone and desk in my father’s auto body shop was so important.”

Mangano says that her children’s — and Hoke’s — expertise is “superior.” She adds, “I learned over the years to surround yourself with those you know. If they come with the talent that makes sense for the business, I tend to be the kind of person who wants them here.”

That tight-knit feeling of family comes across in the lightly fictionalized “Joy,” Russell’s award-nominated film based on Mangano’s story that hit theaters on Christmas Day. Though certain characters are composites or creations to help push the film’s powerful, yet funny, narrative forward, Mangano told InStyle Magazine, “Let’s just say that I severely inspired the movie.”

And it’s clear that both Russell’s story and Lawrence’s portrayal are near to Mangano’s heart. “I’m so proud the movie paid tribute to our industry in a way it deserves,” she says. “It’s such an honor, and it still feels surreal. I can’t say enough about the brilliance and honorableness of David in creating a classic, and Jennifer being recognized for her amazing talent. To be an inspiration for a movie that’s going to impact so many people for years to come, I’m just so proud and appreciative.”

A Storybook Success

Following on the heels of the opening of “Joy,” you might think Mangano would take a little time to reflect and rest on her amazing laurels. You’d be wrong.

On Jan. 3, Mangano was back on HSN, debuting her newly redesigned Miracle Mop in a 24-hour marathon session that ended with sales of nearly 250,000 mops.

Mangano makes it clear, though, that this version of the Miracle Mop is just as important to her as the first. “As an inventor and designer, you’re always looking at technology and materials to improve your initial products,” she says. “So, in 25 years, what’s changed that can make the Miracle Mop better? With what’s available now, I really wanted to reinvent the product, but the only thing harder than inventing is reinventing. I spent 10 years looking at how best to improve the Miracle Mop, and I was obsessed with making it the same price as the original — $19.99. This relaunch truly completed a circle for me.”

Mangano even had a special customer call in during one of her appearances. “It was amazing to have David O. Russell call in while I was on the air. It was just icing on the cake,” Mangano says.

A week later, Mangano’s Joy brand launched at retail in partnership with Target, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, and The Container Store. And though many of Mangano’s products had what she calls “a small footprint” in retail outlets over the years, this branding/retail play was two years in the making.

Mangano told Adweek that the production of “Joy” delayed the initial plans, but also allowed her company to work with agency Beardwood & Co. on a true brand launch. Products included in the retail effort are: Miracle Mop; Huggable Hangers; Memory Cloud Pillow; My Little Steamer; Better Beauty Case; and Forever Fragrant.

“I’ve always believed in the circle of commerce,” she says. “We’ve always been successful in electronic retail, and we really wanted to find the right way to expand our influence in stores”

She said the timing of the launch also made sense not only with the buzz coming from “Joy,” but also with the retailers’ usual “New Year, New You,” concept. However, she adds, “‘Joy,’ the movie, is much different than a retail brand. These are two different messages — and this retail launch is not about celebrity. It’s all about product. What drives me is making great product.”

Finding the right retail partners was also crucial to Mangano and her team. “Business is about forming the right partnerships, and these retailers have shown the ability to create successful launches with many partners,” she says.

On the weekend of Jan. 9-10, Mangano made appearances at key New York locations of Macy’s and The Container Store. “It’s been an explosive launch,” she says. “To be at The Container Store, at Macy’s — and to interact with everybody — it’s so gratifying. To hear from my customers — ‘Oh, I can’t believe I am able to touch and feel the product and to buy it now’ — it was wonderful.”

Mangano clearly believes the retail launch will help push her HSN sales to new heights — and that HSN can build that retail presence, as well. “It creates this groundswell of goodwill,” she says. “Retail shoppers can look at my brand and know the authenticity behind it.”

But that exciting weekend wasn’t quite over — on Sunday evening, Jan. 10, Lawrence won the Golden Globe® for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical. “To have her win the Golden Globe that weekend in particular — how does life get any better than that?” Mangano says. “I was so proud and so happy.”

Just a few days later, Lawrence’s performance earned her a Best Actress Oscar® nomination. For a normal person, this waterfall of personal and professional success might be a lot to handle. But for Mangano, it serves only as more motivation.

“It is making me work harder. I feel even more responsibility to come through with new things. If I ever thought I was going to retire, that’s gone,” she says. “By continuing to do what I do, it will only add to the story of the movie — and the movie’s already shed light on what I’ve been doing for 30 years! If the movie is an inspiration to people, it’s my responsibility to add to that by continuing to create.” ■

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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