The Huggable Hanger, the Miracle Mop and the Jewel Kit: In the inventing world and the shopping world, Joy Mangano is a true icon.
To date, she has sold over 800 million Huggable Hangers, and that number is expected to top a billion by the end of this year, the 20th anniversary of their creation. Producing an evergreen product that sells for 20 years is no easy feat -- far from it!
That's why I caught up with Mangano earlier this month, to ask how she has managed to keep coming up with fabulous products that sell year after year, and congratulate her on the phenomenal success of her now-iconic velvet no-slip hangers.
She told me that her ideas for products stem from everyday life. She adores her customers, she stressed to me, and pays close to attention to every detail she creates. That may explain why her simple improvements have resonated with consumers for so long.
“My whole life has been a focus group, because I look at the world through products,” Mangano explained. “I love products -- it’s what I do organically.” She’s her own best customer, she said, but she constantly seeks out feedback from anyone and everyone interested in the product she is working on. “I get input every waking minute of every day,” she said.
For example, she told me that the inspiration to invent a better hanger struck when she was in Paris and spotted a $10,000 evening gown hanging on a three-inch-thick $100 hanger. She was amazed that there was not a better solution to hanging such a garment. That was her “a-ha” moment. She saw a need that was not being filled and decided to innovate.
She also reasoned that if she could make a hanger good enough to support a pricey gown, it would be good enough for everyday needs. But, first, a better hanger would have to be shaped differently, and made from better material which would not allow clothes to slip off. (The velvet material from the interior of her Jewel Kit was the inspiration for the Huggable Hanger material.)
She also recognized that closet space is prime real estate, especially in larger cities, so the hanger would have to have a slimmer profile to conserve space. Simply by changing the shape and material, Mangano said, she solved problems that traditional hangers didn’t. She found a way to improve an everyday product that most of us don’t really even notice.
In this way, Mangano illustrates something I've written about many times: You do not have to reinvent the wheel to come up with a marketable product. In fact you shouldn’t! If you're an inventor, focus on making simple improvements to existing products that offer a big benefit, the way Mangano does.
As for that hanger, Mangano takes great joy in the fact that wherever she goes, people tell her how much they love it. “They cross every boundary a product can cross!”she said.
Of course problems can arise with simple products like that hanger. What about intellectual property, like patents and trademarks? How important are they to her? “Intellectual property is critical, but it’s not all you need," Mangano said. "Equally important is branding. When people buy my products, they know every detail about them has been thought about by me.
"In any business, you need to build a foundation of trust with your customers. It’s all about your customers.”
I couldn't agree more. Speed to market and great customer service are two of the best ways to protect your product ideas. Her advice for product developers, then, is to “be your own best customer. Be courageous, and if things don’t work out as planned, find an alternative to solve a problem. Stopping means you’re done.
"I never think about stopping.”
Mangano added that she knows there’s always another way to keep moving forward. To me, that's a quality that defines what being an entrepreneur is all about. And does she have a new product she’s been working on?
“Yes, yes and yes!” Mangano confessed excitedly without revealing her hand quite yet. All she could say for now is that it will “change the cleaning industry.”
I, for one, can’t wait -- because Mangano's love of her customers comes through in everything she does, and her attention to detail is second to none. That’s how you invent beloved products that sell for two decades, as hers have. When I spoke to her, she was preparing to celebrate the HuggableHanger's 20th on April 22 on HSN, plus the announcement of an upcoming book, Inventing Joy.
Happy anniversary, Joy.