Advice From The World’s Youngest Self-Made Female Billionaire

By Areslia Gala
Dallas Morning News.

Entrepreneur Sara Blakely had never taken a business class and knew nothing about the retail industry when she launched her line of shapewear for women in 2000.

Now, Spanx is a well-known brand worn by Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities as well as women looking for smooth lines. And the 43-year-old Blakely is known as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, according to Forbes magazine.

Blakely and Spanx opened a store Friday at NorthPark Center, the company’s first retail store in Texas and eighth overall.

The Dallas Morning News spoke with Blakely about the brand’s retail strategy, her connection to Dallas and being an entrepreneur. Here is an edited excerpt:

Why did you open a store in Dallas?

Dallas is a very fashionable city, and it’s a city where there’s a strong sense of dressing up. Spanx is a fantastic fit, no pun intended.

I know from selling in Dallas at a lot of boutiques and at Neiman Marcus, where I got my start, that Spanx is just a product that women in Dallas really, really love and support. The support is mutual.

What obstacles did you face when establishing Spanx?

My hardest challenge was getting anyone to take me seriously. It took two years just to get the product and the prototype made. People kept telling me that no one would make it.

The first time I heard something different was when I was sitting with the buyer at Neiman Marcus. That was my first real moment of validation and the first time someone was like “I get this.” After she said yes, I called my manufacturer and told him that we needed more Spanx because Neiman Marcus just bought it, and he didn’t believe me.

What motivated you to market to Neiman Marcus when you first started out?

I focused my invention on quality, and all I cared about was its quality and performance. I wasn’t focused on price. I wanted to create a product that delivered on promise and what undergarments were not doing at the time. I chose Neiman Marcus because it’s a wonderful store and so well-regarded and high-end. I also felt the consumer that shopped there would be willing to pay for the quality of the product.

Why did you decide to open a storefront when you already sell in high-end stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom?

Our stores are a form of advertising. Not many customers see all the products in one place. The stores become a showcase of possibilities of Spanx and all that we offer.

We’ve never had the chance to service the customer directly, and we have such devoted customers that are really passionate about our brand. It’s been such an emotionally powerful connection between us and the customers, but it’s always been through a third party.

What is your advice for first-time entrepreneurs?

Fill a need that doesn’t already exist by creating something new or making something better. Be very clear and concise about why you’re different. Differentiation is very important.

Trust your gut. I was a frustrated consumer, and a lot of ideas are started by people who are frustrated and have the gut to fix something.
I had no friends in fashion or retail, but I found a solution that I believed in. It’s important to fill a void and be very clear to the customer about what makes your product better and why.

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