Sara Blakely is an American businesswoman and the founder of multi-million dollar underwear company, Spanx.
Blakely has been recognised in both the Top one hundred influential people, and Top one hundred powerful women in the World.
Sara Blakely’s Early Years
Sara Blakely’s original plan was to become an attorney, however, when she failed an entrance exam into law school she was forced to change paths. She accepted a job at Orlando, Florida’s Walt Disney World where she worked for three months. Blakely supplemented her Disney income with work as a stand-up comedian.
After the short period with Walt Disney World, Blakely took a job selling fax machines door to door for office supply company, Danka. By the age of just twenty five Blakely had proven quite the salesperson and was promoted to sales trainer.
Part of Blakely’s ‘uniform’ was to wear pantyhose which she disliked. She didn’t like having to wear them in Florida’s hot climate and didn’t like the look of the seamed foot when wearing open-toed shoes. However, she did like the way they eliminated panty lines and made her body look firmer.
“It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable.” – Sara Blakely
The Birth of ‘Spanx’
When Blakely was going to a private party she cut off the feet of her pantyhose whilst wearing them under a new pair of slacks as an experiement. They consistently rolled up her legs but she did achieve the look she desired.
When Blakely was twenty seven she moved to Atlanta, Georgia and whilst continuing to work at Danka she spent two years and $5,000 on the research and development of her idea. Rather than spending another $5,000 on legal fees she wrote her own patent for her product after buying a textbook on the topic. Blakely then went to North Carolina, home of the most Hosiery mills in the USA to pitch her idea but she was rejected by every representative. They were all used to dealing with big companies and didn’t see any potential in her idea.
Sara Blakely’s estimated net worth is $1 Billion.
Two weeks later Blakely received a call from a male mill operator who wanted to support her concept after being persuaded by his two daughters. As she went on to develop her idea, Blakely realized that the hoisiery manufacturing agency was run by males who weren’t using the products that they were creating.
The prototype product was finished within one year with Blakely and her female family and friends testing the product. This was a big step for the industry as testing on people had never happened up to that point. Whilst making progress on refining her product, Blakely noticed that the industry was using the same sized waistband for all hosiery products. For the development of her product, Blakely had variable sized waistbands to account for different sized customers.
“I think failure is nothing more than life’s way of nudging you that you are off course.” – Sara Blakely
Blakely’s vision was gathering momentum, she proceeded to revolutionize the packaging of hosiery products. She realised that all of the current packaging was beige, white or grey, featuring the same type of model. Blakely opted for bold, red packaging with animated images of different looking women.
The next stop was to find a name for her product and she grew increasingly frustrated after not arriving at a decision after eighteen months of thinking. When she was in the final stages of deciding on a name she wanted to model the ‘k’ sound in companies like Coca-Cola and Kodak and this was further compounded by her knowledge of the ‘k’ sound getting the best reaction from a comedy crowd. Originally, Blakely was going to call her product ‘Spanks’, however she switched it to ‘Spanx‘ when her research revealed that constructed names were more successful and easier to trademark.
The Growth of Spanx
Blakely managed to secure a meeting with a buyer for the Neiman Marcus Group, in which she changed into her innovative product in the ladies restroom to prove its worth. As a result of the meeting, Spanx was sold in seven of Neiman Marcus’ stores, with Bloomingdales, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman quickly following suit. Not resting there, Blakely sent a basket of products to the office of Oprah Winfrey with a card explaining her vision.
Blakely was handling all aspects of the business: marketing, logistics, product positioning and more. In the latter part of the year 2000, Oprah named Spanx one of her ‘Favourite Products’ which caused a boom in popularity and sales. Spanx achieved $4 Million of sales in it’s first year and $10 Million in its second year. Blakely signed a contract with QVC, the shopping channel around this time and sold 8,000 pairs of Spanx in six minutes!
Sara Blakely has built a net worth in excess of $1 Billion by using failure as a stepping stone, always innovating and believing in her vision. Her ability to find a solution has always been incredible, all the while enjoying her life and keeping a smile on her face.
Had Blakely passed herLaw exam, Spanx would not exist and she would most likely not be a billionaire. Rather than allow failure to get her down she used it as a springboard for success.
What have you failed at that could be the reason you are now pushing towards your ultimate success and happiness?