A mother of invention

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It's the house that Huggable Hangers built. Sprawled on 10

acres of prime Nissequogue landscape off Stony Brook Harbor, this

40,000-square-foot French country mansion - you read that right, 40 thousand -

has wings jutting here and wings jutting there and an enormous indoor pool fed

by water-spitting swan statues. It seems plenty big enough to hold all 70

million of the felt-flocked no-slip hangers that owner Joy Mangano has sold at

about a dollar a pop through home-shopping TV.

What, you aren't a "huggable" hanger convert? You didn't get in on

Mangano's 1990s Miracle Mop, or such follow-up time-saver sensations as My

Little Mixer or her Clothes It All Luggage System?

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Millions have. Thanks to HSN's 89-million-home reach, shoppers have taken

a onetime struggling single mom from an office in her dad's Deer Park body shop

to this estate. This inventor turned supreme on-air seller and company

president is a self-made multimillionaire.

You see this house, and you know why Mangano says during an interview, "I

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am living my own personal American dream story." She practically pops with

pride in recalling how a contractor, hired to enlarge the living room when she

moved in four years ago, was so impressed with the scope of the place that he

kept asking about the owner - "What does this guy DO for a living?"

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Judging a reality show

That gal (ahem) now comes out of her home-shopping subculture into the TV

mainstream, so maybe the next contractor won't have to ask. Mangano premieres

tonight as lead judge on the new cable reality competition "Made in the USA"

(Wednesdays, 10 p.m. on USA). Over the next six weeks, everyday

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citizen-inventors compete to realize their own American dream with the grand

prize of a year's contract with Home Shopping Network.

The winner should only hope to be the next Mangano. She's essentially her

own archetype, because her personal backing is as important as her products.

Many carry the Good Housekeeping seal, but more important, they've got

woman-next-door Mangano behind them. She's on the air some 120 hours a year

live at HSN, bubbling with enthusiasm for her products' every little attribute,

oozing with pride at the problems they solve, demonstrating in minute detail

how they'll make your life better, more organized and less time-stressed.

Consider her the next generation Ron Popeil, the 1960s father of televised

retailing with his Veg-O-Matic. But Mangano, 49, one-ups Popeil's

direct-response commercials and infomercials with her marathon appearances on

HSN, showing off her "solutions" to life's little complications while gabbing

giddily as purchasers call in to chat.

Mangano brings in about $100 million annually for HSN. "If they had this

show when I started," she says of the USA competition in an interview, "I'm

telling you, I would've been beating down those doors."

Her first inventions

Instead, she was an East Meadow housewife going to boat shows in the early

1990s trying to sell her Marine Mop, a self-wringing invention that was the

first of her many concepts to make it to sales fruition. She'd been dreaming up

products since she was a kid.

While working in her teens for a veterinarian, she was inspired to design a

fluorescent pet collar after seeing so many animals hit by cars. Hartz

Mountain came out with its version within the year. "I had enough business

savvy at 16 to know what I missed," Mangano says in her spacious office in an

Edgewood industrial park, where her Ingenious Designs company warehouse

occupies 60,000 square feet.

Kids, divorce and mops

After graduating business school at Pace University, she got married and

had three kids. It wasn't until she was in the midst of a divorce, and got

exasperated with the messy wetness of mopping the floor, that she started

seriously tinkering.

"That's just how my mind works," she says, "Everything comes from my

looking around and saying, there's gotta be a better way. There's gotta be a

better way to mop the floor, you get your hands dirty and wet. Or Huggable

Hangers. Clothes were falling off of hangers. I'm thinking, is there an

alternative?"

The idea is the easy part. Getting it designed, produced and sold is the

tough stuff. Mangano started putting together the Marine Mop out of dad Rudy

Martorella's body shop, telling would-be clients on the phone that the

background noise was road construction. She pitched it first to boaters who had

to lean over the sides to wring their mops. Their response told her she was on

to something. "People would flip!" she gushes.

Gushing is what Mangano does, bragging on her products like they were her

kids. By 1992, she did it well enough to get executives at cable's QVC shopping

channel to carry her renamed Miracle Mop. But it wasn't selling, and the

channel wanted to drop it. "I said, no, this product is unbelievable. Get me on

the air with it, and I promise you it will sell." The face-to-face Mangano

whirlwind convinced consumers. She returned to personally pitch her sleek

fold-up Jewel Kit storage case, the Piatto collapsible cake box, and more of

what she now counts as more than a hundred inventions or discoveries.

She can't say enough about the value of electronic retailing, pitching

directly to the consumer. "You can present the product and have them understand

it," she says. "My whole success stems from taking my invention on television

and demonstrating it. It's a wonderful reaching-out to the American public."

On first QVC and now HSN (which in 1999 bought her Ingenious Designs

company, now a wholly owned HSN subsidiary), the public can reach right back,

thanks to call-ins and online bulletin boards. HSN president Marty Nealon

counts Mangano as one of the channel's linchpins, hailing the way she keeps her

finger on the pulse of its 5 million active customers.

"She has tons of curiosity and she's always looking for the next new big

idea," Nealon says. "She had so much success with the Huggable Hangers that

many customers begged her to do hangers [sized] for children, which she did."

What could possibly be so special about a hanger? Ask Mangano, and she'll

give you an hour, which is at least the amount of time she talks nearly

continuously each time she hits HSN's air. Flying down to the channel's Tampa

Bay studios 10 times a year, she pitches up to seven hours a day in one- to

three-hour stints. She enthuses about what stylish colors Huggable Hangers come

in. She demonstrates how clothes that fall off wire hangers don't fall off her

velvety flocked version. She notes they're narrower than plastic hangers so

you can fit more clothes in your closet.

A family effort

She seems indefatigable. "She works like a machine," says daughter Christie

Miranne, 23. She now assists her mom with public relations, but remembers that

before the inventions took over, Mangano was a relentless PTA president.

That dedication comes through the screen, making Mangano what she calls an

anomaly among guest presenters on home shopping. The biggest names tend to be

celebrities such as Susan Lucci and Suzanne Somers, who pull in viewers to

sample the wares they endorse based on fame from another realm. "My success,"

Mangano says, "is because of the success of my products."

Branching out to beds

She is her own brand. Last weekend, she introduced her latest innovation,

Comfort and Joy bedding, in which the bedskirt is attached to the bottom sheet

which is attached to the top sheet which is attached to the duvet cover, and

they all go in the wash at once - a concept so complex, there'd be no hope for

a store consumer encountering it on the shelf folded tight in plastic. But

Mangano hit the air with zeal, repeatedly making, stripping and remaking an

in-studio bed.

"Twenty-four seconds!" she'd exult when the producer timed her. "We have

revolutionized bedding here tonight. You will never struggle again." HSN sold

22,000 sets at $200 each in two days, which was a sellout.

Another reason for her success?

"I run my business like an Italian family," Mangano says. Many employees

have been there for years - one reason Mangano remains based on Long Island,

although HSN is headquartered in Florida. Along with daughter Christie on

staff, Mangano's ex-husband Tony Morinne is her executive vice president of

sales. Daughter Jackie, 21, has modeled for mom, and with son Bobby, 22, in law

school at Fordham, who knows where he'll end up working?

Even her kids illustrate what a tornado Mangano can be when she puts her

mind to it. "I had them all a year apart," says their mom. "I guess that

exemplifies when I do things; I throw myself into it."

Which is probably why the one thing she hasn't sold is herself on getting

married again. She laughs at the thought. "Who would marry somebody who works

seven days a week, 24 hours a day?"

Well. Look at that house.

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