How I Built This: Spanx: Sara Blakely

Full podcast here.

  • (When selling fax machines door to door) Many times I drove around the block multiple times trying to convince myself to walk through the door. Sometimes I’d completely lose my nerve and just say “oh sorry I’m in the wrong place.” and just walk out. (1:56)

  • Spanx is an undergarment made out of an elastic material that tightens and smooths everything around your thighs and butt. (3:31) 

  • I started Spanx with $5,000 I saved from selling fax machines door to door. (4:03) 

  • I wanted to see if there was any market appetite for it and asked a sales associate at Neiman Marcus if she thought anyone would want a footless pantyhose to wear underpants. Her face lit up and said yes I have lots of customers that make their own. (4:37)

  • I needed a manufacturer to help make me a prototype. They wouldn’t answer my calls. So I just showed up at the factories cold. (6:34) 

  • I kept my idea secret for one year. If you talk about your idea defending and explaining your idea instead of pursuing it. (9:06) 

  • Patent attorneys wanted 5k. So I went to Barnes and Nobles a book called Patents and Trademarks and did it myself... I then went back to the patent attorney and asked for help on finishing the claims. He did it for $750. (10:41) 

  • It took two years from the idea to launching the product in stores. (14:16) 

  • I was losing her (the buyer at Neiman Marcus) so I said will you come with me to the bathroom. I want to show you the before and after. When I came out with Spanx on she said: I get it. I’m going to put it in 7 stores. (18:02) 

  • I paid people to buy the product so Neiman Marcus would see there was demand. I would stand in the store next to Spanx and answer any questions customers had. I also moved it next to the cash register. Everyone at Neiman Marcus assumed someone else authorized the move. (19:31)

  • I decided to go on QVC (against the advice of other people). I sold 8,000 pairs of Spanx in 5 minutes. (22:06)