Video Transcript

00:10 Sara Blakely: Okay. So, I had the product, I had my packaging and I had the name, and now I wanted to sell it. I called the local Neiman Marcus at my store in Atlanta, and I said, "Hi, it's Sara. I've invented something. Can I come show it to you?" And even the receptionist at Neiman's kind of laughed at me. She said, "We have a buying office and that's in Dallas." I said, "Oh, okay." So, I looked up the buying office phone number in Dallas. I kept calling. I learned from my cold calling days at Danka, "Keep calling until you get them on the phone. Don't leave a message."

00:44 Blakely: And as soon as I got the buyer to answer, I said, "Hi, this is Sara Blakely. I invented a product that's gonna absolutely change the way every single one of your customers wears clothes, and I'd like 10 minutes of your time to come show it to you." And she's like "Where do you live?" I go, "Atlanta". She goes, "Well, if you're willing to fly here, I'll give you 10 minutes." So, I was so excited. I got my 10 minutes with a Neiman Marcus buyer. I was getting ready to jump on the plane. I had a color copy, at that time, of my packaging. I had the first prototype in a zip lock bag from my kitchen and I had my lucky red backpack. And I have to tell you, this lucky red backpack was this old, dingy beat-up thing that I still have from college and my friends wanted to do a full blown intervention.

01:27 Blakely: They said "Sara, you cannot go to the Neiman Marcus headquarters with that red backpack." I mean, "Go, buy a Prada bag. Return it the next day if you have to. Do whatever you need to do but don't bring that red backpack." I said "It's my lucky red backpack, I have to bring it", and off I went.

01:44 Blakely: And I'm in the office sitting in front of the most impeccably dressed woman you can imagine, shaking as I'm reaching for this old dirty red backpack to show her this thing in a zip lock bag. And in the middle of my presentation, I go, "You know what? Will you just come with me to the bathroom?" I mean at this point, I think she's probably thinking she wants to call security. She's like, "What?" I go, "Just come with me to the bathroom. I'm gonna show you, I'm gonna do my own before and after and you're gonna be like, 'Wow' and come on." So, she walks down the hallway and I'm still shaking. And I go in the stall, put on my Spanx, come out, turn around in my white pants and she literally took a step back and went "Whoa!"

02:21 Blakely: She's like, "I get it. It's brilliant, and you know what? I'm gonna give you a shot, I'm gonna put you in seven stores." So...

02:35 Blakely: So, I run out of Neiman Marcus literally. I get in my rental car and from the airport to the... From the Neiman Marcus to the airport, I call Sam, the hosiery mill owner in Charlotte, North Carolina, I go, "Sam, Sam, it's Sara. Neiman Marcus wants it." Total silence. Like, "What do you mean Neiman Marcus wants it?" I'm like "Neiman Marcus wants my product, I need more." He's like, "I don't understand. Nieman Marcus wants your products, like that Spanx thing that you did?" I go, "Yes!" And he goes, "Sara, man, I gotta be honest. I thought you were gonna give these as Christmas gifts and birthday gifts... "

03:12 Blakely: "For the next five years. What do you mean Neiman Marcus wants it?" I go, "I swear Neiman just wants it and I need more." He goes, "That's unbelievable. Let me patch you through to Ted." [chuckle] So, Ted gets on the phone. I go, "Ted, it's Sara. I landed Nieman Marcus and I need more Spanx." And Ted immediately goes, "Congratulations. But what are you gonna do about the crotches?"

03:36 Blakely: I go, "Excuse me? What do you mean, what am I gonna do about the crotch?" [chuckle] He said "Well, what are you doing about the crotches? We only got two crotch machines and they're being used by somebody else." I'm like, "What?" It's like "Let me get this straight." [laughter] I'm like, "Let me get this straight. I just landed Neiman Marcus and I have no crotches?" Like...

04:06 Blakely: "How does that happen? And where do you go for a crotch?" Like, I had no idea where to go for a crotch. And so, I remember I looked it up in the Yellow Pages [chuckle] under "crotch". It's not there. [chuckle] So, I learned that moment that there's this fancy word for crotch called "gusset" and that kinda helped my search. So, I was frantically looking all around the world and having crotches literally FedEx-ed to me. I mean my roommate at the time was a school teacher. She'd come home and pick up the FedEx at the front door and be like, "You got another crotch in the mail."

04:46 Blakely: I mean we'd hold it up. Like, okay... So, lucky for me, what happened was, 'cause I had crotches coming from China, I mean everywhere, is that I found a gusset company in Norcross, Georgia just 20 minutes north of where my apartment was, and to make the story even crazier, the man that saved the day was an 80 year old man by the name of Gene Bobo. So, Gene Bobo came through with the bag and provided me my crotches in time to deliver to Neiman Marcus. So, the first thing I did is it got delivered to the seven stores. I immediately called every fat friend I even remotely knew in those seven cities and said, "Hey, it's Sara. Do you remember me? We sat next to each other in fourth grade? Right, yes, that's me. Can you do me a favor and go into the store Neiman Marcus and act like you've been looking for a product called 'Spanx' your whole life and then buy it and I'll mail you a check?"

05:44 Blakely: And that's exactly what I did. I was paying people in the different cities to go in and create hype, and buy the product. [chuckle] And just as I was running out of money and just as I was running out of friends, Oprah Winfrey called...

06:01 Blakely: So, I mean, as an entrepreneur there is no greatest, greater call, especially when you have no money to advertise. So, I get the call from her show. I had sent Oprah a gift basket in my very first slot of the prototypes, with a handwritten note, "You've been inspiring to me and here, check out my invention". And apparently, Andre who dresses her put them on her, and she's worn them pretty much every day, since. So, I get the call from her show. They say, "Sara, Oprah has chosen your product as her favorite product of the year."

06:32 Audience Member: Oh, my god. You just cried.

06:33 Blakely: And I just cried, you're right. I said, "Okay." And they said, "She never has guest on the favorite thing show. It's all about the product. But she likes what you are doing, tackling this male-dominated industry in hosiery, and your story. So, we're gonna fly a crew down there and film you and then when she holds up your products, we're gonna roll B-roll of you, kind of what you're doing and how you've created it." "That's fantastic."

07:03 Blakely: So, the Oprah Winfrey Show comes and flies to Atlanta. They show up at the door of my apartment. They are so official-looking. There's about 10 of them. They have cameras, lights, clipboards, I mean, producers, executive producers, and I am standing there and they said, "So, Sara, we discussed it and we want to film you in your headquarters."

07:27 Blakely: I said, "You're here." And I just remembered the look on the producer's face like, "Whoa, really?" I mean there're boxes everywhere. And then they said, "And we also discussed on the plane that we want to film you having a staff meeting." I said, "Sure, hold on a minute." And I called Connie that I have met at Mail Boxes Etc. I said, "Connie, it's Sara. Can you be at my apartment in five minutes and look like you work for me?" She said, "I am on my way." And I called several of my friends. They all left their work and came to my apartment, and we sat in a circle, and that was my staff meeting for the Oprah Winfrey Show.

08:10 Blakely: So, what happens now? I mean I just was on Oprah. I mean literally two weeks prior, I am selling fax machines door-to-door for a living. I still have not quit my job. From the moment I thought of the idea, until the moment that I had it at Neiman's, it was a two-year journey. And that's because I was working on it at night and on the weekends every spare minute I had. I did not have the money to be able to quit my current job to create it. I may have been able to shorten that two-year cycle if I had, but for me, that was the length of it.

08:39 Blakely: So, I've created this product. All of a sudden, I'm an inventor, and I need help. So, what happened was, my boyfriend at the time, he saw, "Sara, you need help shipping these out. You have no one helping you to do it." Well, he was a healthcare consultant at the time. And I said, "Can you please help me?" So, he left his job at that time as a healthcare consultant and came onboard to start helping me fulfill... And Spanx headquarters was my friend's bedroom. She had moved out. My friend's bedroom, which was probably the size of the stage, and Dave and I, I'll never forget, we put these two cardboard tables next to each other in the beginning, and people would call and say, "I need to speak to shipping and handling." [laughter] But I always go, "Please hold while I will transfer you."