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?
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
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?"
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
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
"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
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
"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.