Odes to Joy

The woman who rules the home-shop­ping world is com­ing to cine­plexes and a mall near you

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - Etc. - By Jil­lian Good­man

Four days af­ter Thanks­giv­ing, Joy Mangano’s home is fully dec­o­rated for Christ­mas, down to the lit­tle wreath on the front grille of her car. Orig­i­nally de­signed by Stan­ford White, her stately, ram­bling house has been added to over the years, and it now has 13 bath­rooms and more than 40,000 square feet. Be­sides her adult chil­dren—Christie, Bobby, and Jackie—her com­pany—In­ge­nious De­signs, of which she’s the founder and pres­i­dent—and her prod­ucts, the house is Mangano’s pride and joy. In­side, the mer­chan­dise that’s made Mangano the big­gest star on HSN is every­where: There’s a pair of Joy Read­ers folded neatly on a cof­fee ta­ble near the enor­mous Christ­mas tree; there are a few gui­tars from her col­lec­tion with coun­try singer Keith Ur­ban propped up near the pi­ano; and there’s at least one bun­dle of For­ever Fra­grant Fresh Sticks in ev­ery room. “I love prod­uct,” she says. “I see the world through prod­uct.”

A lot’s hap­pen­ing for Mangano this hol­i­day sea­son. On Christ­mas Day comes the release of Joy,a movie in­spired by her early days as an in­ven­tor and sin­gle mom, di­rected by David O. Rus­sell and star­ring Jen­nifer Lawrence. Then on Jan. 9, Mangano will release a col­lec­tion of Joy prod­ucts at Tar­get, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Be­yond, and the Con­tainer Store. For the first time, in-store shop­pers will be able to get their hands on My Lit­tle Steamer, a por­ta­ble wrin­kle eraser; the Bet­ter Beauty Case; the Me­moryCloud Pil­low; and those For­ever Fra­grant Fresh Sticks, which Mangano de­scribes as “the mar­riage of a fine fra­grance and an odor elim­i­na­tion.” Her vel­vet-flocked Hug­gable Hangers—her top-sell­ing prod­uct (it’s spawned a thou­sand im­i­ta­tors)—are part of the col­lec­tion as well, though they’re al­ready on sale at Tar­get and the Con­tainer Store. The pièce de ré­sis­tance is a re­designed Mir­a­cle Mop, the prod­uct that made her fa­mous al­most 25 years ago and the en­gine of Joy’s plot.

Mangano first showed the Mir­a­cle Mop on QVC in 1992. At the time, she was a sin­gle mother of three from Long Is­land in New York, strug­gling to sup­port her fam­ily with part-time jobs. She and hus­band Tony Mi­ranne had di­vorced a few years ear­lier, and she’d gone deep into debt to fi­nance the pro­to­types, a mop with a re­tractable, twistable han­dle to wring out wa­ter and a head made from 300 feet of con­tin­u­ously looped cot­ton yarn.

Sell­ing prod­ucts on TV was still fairly new and risky—QVC had been founded only six years ear­lier—but Mangano needed the shot. She talked the net­work’s buy­ers into pur­chas­ing 2,500 mops on con­sign­ment. Sales were mod­est un­til she in­sisted she be al­lowed to go on-air and pitch them her­self. In her first 20 min­utes, she sold 18,000.

Mangano’s pitch is more en­thu­si­as­tic than pol­ished. “Pic­ture your­self sit­ting there, watch­ing,” she says. “You can tell when some­body’s au­then­tic about what they’re say­ing. For me, I’m part of that prod­uct. I’m so pas­sion­ate about it, it’s like talk­ing about my chil­dren.” To date, she’s sold more than $3 bil­lion worth of mer­chan­dise.

Barry Diller bought HSN in 1995; three years later he ac­quired her com­pany, bring­ing Mangano over to the net­work. (Diller was also chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of QVC in the early ’90s.) HSN’s au­di­ence is 87 per­cent fe­male, ac­cord­ing to the net­work’s CEO, Mindy Gross­man, who spun the com­pany away from Diller’s IAC/In­terAc­tiveCorp in 2008 and took it pub­lic. “Th­ese are women who want to make their life more ef­fi­cient, be­cause they’re busy. They’re work­ing,” Gross­man says. “I’ve trav­eled with Joy—women come up to her in air­ports, and the first thing they say is, ‘Thank you for making my life eas­ier.’”

Mangano has the largest cus­tomer base at HSN. Her fans have been known to pre­order prod­ucts in such num­bers they sell out be­fore Mangano even re­veals what they do. Re­tail is a dif­fer­ent arena. She’ll be able to reach many times the num­ber of peo­ple—her part­ners have a com­bined cus­tomer base that far out­num­bers HSN’s 60 mil­lion shop­pers—but in the stores, those cus­tomers will be on their own. There will be no Joy Mangano there to ex­plain the prod­ucts’ many “fea­tures and ben­e­fits.” So she and her team have re­designed the brand­ing, the logo, and the pack­ag­ing—ev­ery­thing down to the lit­tle chalk sketches on the la­bel meant to evoke the draw­ings she makes when she’s de­vel­op­ing an idea.

They also set about re-cre­at­ing the Mir­a­cle Mop, which had re­mained es­sen­tially untinkered-with since 1992. One great ad­van­tage of the orig­i­nal mop was that you could wring it out stand­ing up. The new version is com­pletely “self-wring­ing”—an

“in­ner helix” stretches the strands of the mop head taut as you ex­tend the han­dle. “It should be a $50 mop, but I was pos­sessed to have the same price as we did when we launched the orig­i­nal,” Mangano says. “Amer­ica and the world is go­ing to get it for $19.95. It’s in­cred­i­ble. We’re so ex­cited about it, really. When is a mop the star of a movie, right?”

Joy isn’t tech­ni­cally about Mangano. The film never uses her full name or calls any­thing a Mir­a­cle Mop—but it is the story of a sin­gle mother named Joy who lives on Long Is­land, in­vents a mop you don’t have to squeeze with your hands, and makes a for­tune sell­ing them on TV. “I ac­tu­ally didn’t be­lieve the pro­duc­ers when they said, ‘Joy, we’re writ­ing a movie about your life,’” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK, fine, call me tomorrow.’”

That the re­tail launch oc­curs so soon af­ter the film’s release is some­where be­tween canny plan­ning and a happy accident: Ev­ery­one at In­ge­nious De­signs swears they were plan­ning the brick-and-mor­tar move be­fore the movie came into play. But, says Mangano’s daugh­ter Christie, who’s the se­nior vice pres­i­dent for brands at In­ge­nious De­signs, the release put a con­ve­nient “cap” on their de­vel­op­ment process. “You can’t do a re­brand af­ter some­thing like that,” she says.

Mangano’s son, Bobby, also works at the com­pany, as ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness strat­egy and de­vel­op­ment. ( Jackie, the youngest, works for HSN as an on-air fash­ion ex­pert.) Christie’s and Bobby’s of­fices are right next door to their mother’s. Even Mi­ranne, Mangano’s ex-hus­band, is at the com­pany as its ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for re­tail sales. “We were al­ways around it,” Bobby says. “My first job ever was with the mop looms, when you’d move them to the sewing ta­ble. In or­der to move them, you needed to keep all the strings aligned, and some bril­liant per­son—prob­a­bly Joy—said, ‘Let’s use straws.’ For some rea­son, some­body or­dered straws with wrap­pings on them, so my job was to un­wrap the straws. I re­mem­ber think­ing, even at 4 or 5, Why didn’t we just or­der them with­out the wrap­pers?”

Christie and Bobby are both ex­tremely proud of their mother. (They call her Joy at the of­fice and Mom at home.) “I couldn’t be more flat­tered and hon­ored, truly,” Mangano says of all the at­ten­tion the movie has gen­er­ated. “There’s a point where it’s sur­real. But I still do what I so love to do, which is cre­ate prod­ucts.” At the mo­ment, she’s work­ing on a line of lug­gage she can’t talk about yet, and she’s re­launch­ing a toaster oven she first re­leased in 2009. Mangano will also be go­ing on tour with her re­tail col­lec­tion in Jan­uary, hit­ting up her part­ners’ stores coast to coast. Shop­pers should be in for quite a show. “I prom­ise you,” she says, “if they put a mop in my hand, and a floor un­derneath me, I will be there do­ing it.” <BW>

“I love prod­uct.

I see the world through

prod­uct”

Mangano at her home in Long Is­land

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