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How I went from drama teacher to Invention Marketing “Guru” ©
Armed with a masters degree in drama and three years teaching experience, I moved from New York to the New Jersey suburbs with my husband in 1970. To my surprise, unlike the NYC high schools, the Jersey schools did not have drama departments. I found myself unemployed, teaching only part time at a University.
To keep myself entertained I learned to navigate the Jersey highways to get to every mall store that carried fashion accessories. I would evaluate each item I saw, asking myself “What is the right price for this product, are the materials and colors as attractive as possible?” and redesign it in my head to make it more appealing. This “back seat” merchandising hobby continued after I gave birth to my daughter Aviya, who enjoyed this activity in her stroller.
One day at the mall I picked up a copy of The Bergen Record and noticed an ad in the classified section that intrigued me, “Looking for people to bring new and exciting products to the market.” In my academic circles “Business” was a dirty word, so I didn’t follow up on that ad. However, from that day forward and still today, I believe that statement is my mission. The best I can be for myself and others is to make new, exciting, useful and attractive products available to people for enjoyment in their everyday lives.
In 1976 when we moved to Manhattan I decided to give up teaching and go for it! I started representing designers of costume jewelry and hair accessories, taking their samples to stores that might like them. My first customers were Henri Bendel and Bloomingdales but I was clueless when they asked me what my “Terms” were. I went back to school at night and took a lot of business courses while also doing training programs with American Women’s Economic Development; and met other new women business owners to commiserate with.
Accessory Resource Gallery grew in the eighties and I opened a showroom, hired a staff, added scarf, hat, belt lines and other goodies to the product mix. People could not buy enough accessories in the eighties. Then in 1990 the recession finally hit the industry. Retailers were going out of business in droves. To keep our designers’ spirits up in those bad times we recommended that they add unique and amusing items to their product lines. We conducted “brainstorming” sessions and came up with a jeweled watergun necklace for one of the lines. The trade publications loved it and we started to become known for unusual items.
Then in 1991 a gal from Dallas came to New York looking for a salesrepresentative for her new patented hair accessory, Topsy Tail, that turned a ponytail inside out to make a beautiful hairstyle. We went crazy for this unique little invention and predicted that the rest of the world would agree. In a very short time we sold millions of dollars of Topsy Tail to retailers.
Word spread about our “inventions marketing” and inventions were turning up at our doorstep. Soon we were handling such wonderfully original products as Hairdini, Earz Earpockets, Polaroller rolling icepack, and Franties fragranced panties. Womens Wear Daily named us the “Guru of Novelty Marketing.” We were finding that marketing inventions was taking up much of our time and it was a different process from marketing accessories. We created a new division of the company called “Accessory Brainstorms” to handle patented inventions adding beauty, comfort and lifestyle products to our categories. Recently, Accessories Magazine honored us as “Most Inventive Company.”
During the company’s invention expansion I had to go back to school yet again to learn about patents and legalities, out of responsibility to the many inventors who look to us for advice. Each day I think about the gift I have been given to be able to fulfill upon my mission. Lucky for me that New Jersey high schools didn’t have drama departments.
Joan Lefkowitz, an original marketer of TopsyTail ™, is president of ACCESSORY BRAINSTORMS, NYC, a licensing agency, sales representative and consultancy for Fashion/Beauty Accessory and Lifestyle Inventions. Accessory Brainstorms is always looking for inventions in these categories, and offers one-on-one consulting. ACCESSORIES Magazine awarded Joan for “Most Inventive Products” and cited her as one of the 100 most important accessories industry “Movers and Shakers”. Contact at www.accessorybrainstorms.com.