By Michelle Prather
Maybe you saw Jennifer Aniston sporting them as Rachel on Friends, or actress Sarah Michelle Gellar putting them in Jay Leno's hair on The Tonight Show. They're tiny crystals with Velcro backs that, when affixed to hair, make those wearing them look like they've just frolicked through a shower of jewels. Then again, you could've just seen one of the many Sparkles knockoffs that have plagued Mellies LLC, the El Segundo, California, hair accessories company founded two years ago by couple David Reinstein and Melody Kulp. Good thing this duo's savvy outweighed their lack of business experience.
While researching woman entrepreneurs for her former employer, The Learning Channel's Slice of Life show, Kulp began wondering why she wasn't making a name for herself. Then Kulp was amusing Reinstein's young cousins one day by placing yard-picked flowers in their hair and decided she wanted to craft something similar for the girls to maintain the look. Musician/composer Reinstein knew that if they found a way to do it, they'd have a destined hit so unique they could patent it-and they did, starting production with their own savings.
Mellies hit star status (boasting one account-the Fred Segal store in Santa Monica) when one hip Los Angeles twenty-something, after seeing Kulp sporting Sparkles, ran to the Fred Segal location in Los Angeles in a frantic quest for them-only to be disappointed and storm out. Reinstein and Kulp visited the second store that day and made their sale. Soon, fashion magazines featured Sparkles, celebrities wore them and stores worldwide were placing orders. This is Year One, mind you.
Unfortunately, demand caused many vendors to resort to buying faux Sparkles, which, despite the pending patent, were rampant. But instead of trying to beat the copycats, Reinstein and Kulp created their own Sparkles knock-off, Lulu's Twinkles. Now sold in supermarkets at a lower price point, Lulu's Twinkles helped sales climb to $9 million last year.
Reinstein and Kulp didn't forget the tough lesson when developing follow-up product HairLights: They didn't tell a soul until its patent was issued this year. They've also learned some creative marketing strategies along the way, like cold-calling department stores abroad, which landed them international accounts. Now, expecting Mellies to gross $40 million by year-end, they can finally stop to breathe. Says Kulp, "We've got the system set up where we can look ahead, rather than live day to day."