AIB Featured Business Leader – Lori Greiner
US Shark Tank star, Lori Greiner, is a woman of determination and ideas. She grew up in Chicago, where she majored in journalism at Loyola University and worked for the Chicago Tribune while studying. She was reading scripts, writing plays and selling costume jewellery to make ends meet when she came up with the idea for a jewellery organiser. Although it was the first idea she backed aggressively, it was by no means the first idea she’d had. “I was always thinking of ideas”, she says, “and then later I’d see it out there and think ‘ugh! If only I’d just done it!” After coming up with a book idea in 1995, only to find that someone had just published something exactly the same, she had had enough, and determined to see her next idea through to fruition.
That next idea was an earring holder. She developed a prototype in wood and conducted market research by literally stopping people on the streets and asking for their opinions. Next, she took out a $350,000 loan and spent $10,000 of it developing a prototype. Then she hit the phones, keeping the phone on redial until she finally got through to a J.C.Penney buyer who agreed to see the prototype. “I would call just a thousand times”, she remembers. That buyer challenged her to sell her product in all 14 J.C.Penney stores, and Greiner agreed. The next step was more physical legwork: Greiner spent her weekends in shopping malls demonstrating her new product. She also got the product onto the Home Shopping Network, where she sold out 5,000 pieces in the first five minutes.
Within a year, Greiner’s fledgling company – For Your Ease Only, of which she is both President and Founder – had made over $1 million in sales. Within three years, that number had climbed to ten million. Six years in, her husband Dan Greiner quit his job to become the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the company, and the two have continued to work together to date. Pulling off a marital feat that most of us could never dream of, they even share a working desk in their home and split duties to keep the company running smoothly.
Greiner has continued to develop and add products to her range, which has concentrated on making everyday easier, especially for women. But it was initially a steep learning curve. As well as the creativity that goes into developing new ideas for the marketplace, Greiner had to learn about the manufacturing process, to ensure that her dreams could be made into realities.
She also, in order to protect her ideas, taught herself about patent law. A notoriously complex area of law, it’s nonetheless something Greiner considers important to understand for herself so that she can determine ahead of time which of her products is more likely to qualify for a patent. It’s another example of her determination to understand all aspects of the product development world, and no doubt one that contributes to her ability to tell if a new idea will be a ‘hero or a zero’, as her catchphrase goes.
It’s that grit and willingness to follow through with her ideas that has made Greiner into the influential businesswoman she is today. She holds over 120 patents, has created more than 400 new products, and is estimated to be worth around $US50 million. After seventeen years in the business, she says she’s developed an intuitive sense of whether a product will succeed or fail, and she’s taken that expertise to US entrepreneur show Shark Tank, where she’s starred as the “warm-blooded shark” since 2011. Now in its eighth season, the show has seen Greiner gain widespread recognition, and helped her publish her first book Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! twenty years after that first publishing impulse. She also has her own show on QVC, the biggest shopping channel in the US, called Clever & Unique Creations by Lori Greiner.
Greiner says that to be a market success, a new product must not only solve a problem, but also have mass appeal and be marketable at a reasonable price. She cautions would-be entrepreneurs against spending a lot of money upfront producing a large quantity of their products before establishing whether there is market interest for it. Market research and pre-orders should come before production to minimise risk. One of Greiner’s mantras for entrepreneurs on Shark Tank is that you can never be too well prepared. She has made it a point to assist other people in their careers both on the show and off, with several up-and-coming entrepreneurs naming her as the biggest influence on their success.
Shark Tank has just renewed its contract for another season, with Greiner continuing in her highly visible role. With her business going from strength to strength, and that book finally in publication, she’s happy to keep doing what she’s doing for now. But there’s no fear of her slowing down. She gets her best ideas on aeroplanes, and with a travel schedule as hectic as hers, that means a constant flow of inspiration – which is good news for all of her loyal followers.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Huffington Post, Forbes, The Squander, Wikipedia, Success, Philly Inquirer and Entrepreneur.
Photo credit: QVC