The Million Dollar Spanx

Being declined from the university you love sure sucks. But it might not be the worst thing that can happen to you. In fact, maybe the different path you will take will bring you a better fortune. A LOT of fortune.  Like it did to Sara Blakely. A woman who is currently a billionaire.

Sara initially wanted to have a career as a lawyer, but after she got declined entrance into law college, she had to accept a job at Walt Disney World in Florida. She later got a job as a door-to-door fax machine seller, which was the first step towards her finding her success.

Getting a business idea came in a weird situation and time for Sara. Walking around with pantyhose in the hot Floridian sun made her life a living nightmare. Besides the unpleasant feeling caused by the pantyhose, she also disliked the appearance the seamed foot on the open-foot shoes she wore, so she did a little experiment. She cut off the foot part of her pantyhose when she went to a private party and wore them under her pants to get the desired figure while feeling comfortable and fashionable at the same time. Although the pantyhose kept rolling up her legs, this is what gave birth to the idea for Spanx.

Knowing nothing about the pantyhose industry, or about the business world, Sara had only her gut and the desire to succeed to guide her. She took the $5,000 she had saved and started researching pantyhose patents and trademarks. To decrease the costs, she wrote the patent herself and had her mother (an artist) draw the original product drawing. 

Even though all the lawyers thought the idea was crazy, it didn’t stop Sara from going with it. And it wasn’t just the lawyers who didn’t believe in her. When she called the manufacturers in her area, she ran on closed doors.

But, one day one manufacturer called her saying he wanted to help her with her “crazy idea”, and when she asked why he changed his mind, his answer was “I have two daughters. They don’t think the idea is crazy”. So, Sara got to work and started developing the very first SPANX. Since she wanted the final product to be eye-pleasing, but also comfortable to wear all day, it took Sara a year to finish the prototype. 

She knew that products with a “K” in them sounded more inviting to customers, so she initially planned on calling her product SPANKS, but at the last minute, she changed the KS to an X. The name was edgy, but the point of SPANX is to make women’s butts look sexier, isn’t it? And since we got into the “edgy” part, why not add the tagline “Don’t worry, we’ve got your butt covered!” to the package?  Surprisingly, it worked for Sara!

When Sara called Neiman Marcus (a renowned seller at the time), she was surprised when she managed to schedule a meeting with a representative and immediately flew over to them to present her product.  And the representative loved it! SPANX started selling in 8 of the Neiman Marcus shops, and with a little help from her friends, who went in the stores and made a fuss about the SPANX, the product started catching up, and the sales kept on increasing.

But having limited funds forced Sara to go all year in stores around America to advertise her product. She even became notorious for lifting her pants up whenever a lady walked by her. Her mother always said that as long as Sara lifted her pants up, and not down to show her product, then she had her blessing!

With a lot of hard work, Sara managed to bring her product on many famous shows, such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, The View, The Tyra Banks Show, and many others. On one of her show in 2000, Oprah even named SPANX her favorite product of the year, and that’s when the sales started going through the roof.

Fast forward a few years later, and Sara was named one of the most influential people of 2012 and expanded her field of work in many other undergarment areas. Even she couldn’t imagine a few years earlier that she would be a judge at The American inventor show.

Having a fear of failure or making mistakes is completely normal. But what makes a business successful is to embrace your mistakes and use them to improve your work.

That’s why Sara tells everyone: “It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable!”

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