Sarah Shaw is a normal woman — Colorado single mom of two — who has spent her career dressing, collaborating and selling fabulous handbags to the most famous people in the world. Her secret?
“I never take no for an answer.”
Career highlights, that you’ll hear about in this Like a Mother episode:
Worked in the film biz after college for 11 years as a costume supervisor. Started two costume companies, that did huge manufacturing jobs for the movies like “Wind Talkers,” “Matrix 2&3,” “Out of Sight,” “The Postman.”
In 1997 started handbag company Sarah Shaw Handbags, available in Nordstrom, Sak’s 5th Ave, Barney’s NY, Bergdorf Goodman, Anthropologie, Fred Segal and 1200 other boutiques across the United States, that grew to a multiple 8 figure business thanks to press in magazines like ELLE, INStyle, “O” List, Marie Claire, and being on Access Hollywood, and getting products to celebs like Jennifer Aniston, Oprah, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hallee Berry and 70 others, and getting her bags in the movies Oceans’ 11, Legally Blonde, & America’s Sweethearts, and on TV shows Friends & Will and Grace.
2003 I patented a closet organizer for handbags. Had an online company selling it and other brands that didn’t have online stores. Got into People magazine 2 years in a row by getting products to Jennifer Aniston and sold 2000 units each time. Made lots of money.
2006 I launched my own company “Simply Sarah” (alone at last) and in 2 years did $500K from my garage with my one patented product in 12 colors. I finally had it down!
Today, with Sarah Shaw Consulting, she teaches women how to grow brands quickly and make millions of dollars by connecting with celebrities.
Her new Podcast, Get a Street Smart MBA, has featured Venus Williams, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Marcus Lemonis, Rebecca Minkoff, Authors Ryan Blair and James Alutcher, Bill Blass designer Chris Benz, Erin Flett and Sarah Buscho…and many more (including me!).
Learn more about Sarah’s consulting services at Sarah Shaw Consulting.
Follow Get a Street Smart MBA on iTunes.
Full transcript of my Sarah Shaw interview here!
Emma: Very happy to welcome today’s guest, Sarah Shaw. Sarah is kind of like the 2.0 version of who I want to be in the world. She’s a fellow single mom, she is a mega hustler. Sarah, she reached out to me, and I have been a major pain in the ass to get in touch with, I’m not proud of this. That’s not how I usually roll. I like to think I’m very buttoned up, I respond, I stick to my appointments, but my life is changing very quickly and I’m adjusting. So, Sarah stayed on top of me. Let me just give you a quick rundown of what she’s about
First of all, I’m going to preface this, she is a single mom of two identical twin girls. This is what she’s up to. This is her rundown. Since ‘94, she’s had six businesses. A couple of them multimillion dollar businesses. She started in the film business for 11 years. She was a costume supervisor. She did Rack’n’ Roll rentals. She did a whole bunch of giant things, like the Matrix movies, Out of Sight, The Postman. I remember these movies. Windtalkers, I need to show that one to my kids.
She’s in LA, she’s running around the film business, then she started Sarah Shaw Handbags. Big deal, right? Everybody’s got a handbag company. Oh, no. Sarah gets hers on the Oprah list, it’s in every magazine, Marie Claire, on Access Hollywood. That’s nice. But no, she takes it the next step further. It seems like she and Jennifer Aniston are BFFs because Jennifer is carrying her bags all around town. Oprah, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, this was in the 90s, these are the biggest names. Sarah Jessica Parker, Halle Berry, and she says 70 others. Why is she calling me? Why is Sarah Shaw calling me to get on my podcast?
Fast forward, shit happens. 9/11 happens, things are not going so well, but that does not stop her. She launches Simply Sarah. This was about 10 years ago, and in two years she did a half million dollars in business out of her garage. So, fast forward to today, she’s consulting and she has a business where she helps principally women, launch a business. How to launch a product, an actual product, which I’m very excited about, because in this world that I live in, the media marketing world, everybody wants to tell you how to launch a digital product. That’s nice, but I have a feeling we’re not gonna be seeing a lot of digital products in a couple years, but we will always be in analog. That’s what she knows how to do. She knows how to launch a product and she knows how to get it into celebrities hands, and she has a course that will help you do that. It’s called Celebrity Confidential. I have seen a lot of these products out there, I’m telling you, and her credentials, I haven’t seen anybody that can even touch this.
To note, she has a podcast that I’m a little bit jealous of because she has had, and not for a very long time, she has had the following guests: Venus Williams, I’m going to say Damon John, even though I don’t know who that is because I’m a nerd and I don’t know about pop culture, Barbara Corcoran. I actually have hung out with Barbara, so I can touch you on that one. Rebecca Minkoff, the designer. James Altucher, and Bill— Anyway, she’s fabulous, and she can teach you how to be fabulous. She’s not just flaunting her fabulousness, she will teach you. And she’s a single mom, in LA. So, Sarah, thank you so much for joining me today. I cannot wait to dig into this.
Sarah: So psyched to be here with you.
Emma: You know what I want you to do, I want you to dial it back. Were you born into fabulousness? What was your childhood like?
Sarah: I was such a dork. Doesn’t everybody always say that? So, I know that one line you have somewhere on your site, you’re always going to feel like you’re the fat girl in the back of the class, or the gym, or something.
Emma: Yeah, the fat girl in gym class that was picked last.
Sarah: Right, so I was always picked last because I am not a super sporty person. I think it all just kind of stuck up here in my brains and never traveled down to the rest of my limbs. I was kind of a fun kid. I had a really fun childhood. I was born in New York City, we moved to California when I was six. I grew up in Berkeley in the hippie days of the 70s. It was kind of a shock when we moved there because they had just started integrating the schools and that was not happening in New York City, so it was a very different life. My parents went from diehard New Yorkers to 70s California hippies overnight. My mom went kind of kicking and screaming, but my dad was like, “Yeah!”
I had a lot of friends growing up, but I never really adapted to the California culture. Or I should say the Northern California culture. The minute I could get out of there I did. On my 16th birthday, I was on a plane to France all by myself to go live with a family in the south of France. We knew nothing about them. It was this French teacher at school that hooked it all up for me and I just thought it would be a great idea if I left.
Emma: I did the same thing. I did a study abroad for a year in France when I was 15, 16, too. That’s funny.
Sarah: Awesome, right?
Emma: Yeah, it was okay.
Sarah: Mine totally changed my life. It was a total life changing experience. Still, to this day I speak fluent French, and it’s just a part of who I am I think. I think it really helped form me, because it was such a shock, in a way, to go to some place like that. I thought I’ve had three years of French in school, I can parlais a little bit and I got there and I don’t even know how to ask where the bathroom is. It was something that knocked me down to the bottom essentially, and I’d never felt that before. I don’t know that that many people feel that at 16. You’re not supposed to feel that, right? Life is just supposed to go on, and you go through high school and then you start having issues. I think that whole year changed and formed who I became because I really had to overcome so much in that year. Learning how to speak a language that I didn’t understand, making friends, feeling like the outsider, but then also everybody was just fascinated with who I was because I was America, and I’d never been in that situation before. It was a lot of things in my life that I’d never experience that was a way for me to grow. In a way, I don’t think I would have grown that way at all if I’d stayed at home.
Emma: That’s interesting. After college, you went to film school.
Sarah: I didn’t.
Emma: Oh you didn’t go to film school. I’m sorry, you got into the film business is what I meant to say.
Sarah: I got right into the film business.
Emma: And how was that for you? Because LA, the film business, it’s all about who you know, and it’s all about celebrity.
“The film business taught me never to accept ‘no’ as an answer”
Sarah: I know, and it sounds so glamorous. There’s times that it is but most of the time it’s kind of grunt work. It was really fun, and I think that what that really did for me as a person and as an entrepreneur, because I’m going to tell you I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur, ever. I’m a fourth generation entrepreneur. All my siblings are entrepreneurs. It’s in our DNA and I don’t think there’s any other choice at this point. My kids are already talking about what they’re going to do or be when they grow up saying, “I want to have a business.” I’m like, “Okay.” You kind of can’t run and hide from it.
The movie business really helped me as an entrepreneur because the film business has got that attitude of never take no for an answer. So, I really learned that young. I started in the film business when I was 22. It was my first job besides babysitting and I didn’t really know anything else about business, I hadn’t pre-formed anything. I hadn’t pre-assumed anything about life or business and I just did what they told me to do, and that was basically the mantra. Never take no for an answer, there’s always a way around because the director and the producer want XYZ, you better find a way to get them XYZ, or you’re fired. It was that kind of atmosphere all the time. We can’t get this? Where do we go to get it? Do we make it? Do we dye something? What was creative way around it?
I think that parallels the life of an entrepreneur so much. You need to be able to pivot on a dime. This isn’t working? Like for you, I don’t like what I just wrote. How can I say that again? You’re not married to the sentence, or you’d be dead in the water. It’s the same kind of thing. As hard and fun as working in the film business was because it was a ton of fun, and yes I did meet tons of amazing celebrities and figured out later on that certain people were lying about their age. I was like, “I always thought that you were younger than me and now I see in People magazine you’re three years older than me.” Or working with people who were nobody and then some huge movie comes out two weeks later and you’re like, “Wow. I didn’t even know who you were and now you’re a superstar.” So, there were these amazing moments and things too.
Emma: I find that, and I write about that in my book, for me I’m from a small town in Illinois and I moved around the country and around the world a little bit in my 20s, and then when I moved to New York that was a huge confidence booster for me because I have access to so many successful people. Some of them are famous and some of them are just successful in whatever world they’re living in, or whatever their profession is. There’s a soccer mom, who is another mom in the soccer league and she is a world famous, super-duper famous, visual artist. She’s just another grumpy mom at the soccer thing. We talk and she’s normal and cool, and I can totally relate to her as another woman, and she’s wildly successful. It’s just a confidence booster. She’s normal and fabulous, I’m normal and it gives me permission to be fabulous too. That’s my own little experience with that and I’m hearing some of that in you too. You were just this hustler in LA but one day, somebody you know becomes super fabulous.
Spending time with successful people is the key to success
Sarah: I think it also helps inspire you too.
Emma: That’s what I’m saying.
Sarah: People are growing right before your eyes and you’re like, “Wow, that person just went from nobody to superstar overnight.”
Emma: Who? Give me an example of somebody that did that that you knew.
Sarah: I was working on movie with Demi Moore, right before Ghost came out. She was known, but she wasn’t a superstar. The movie I was working on, she didn’t have top billing. I’ll tell you the movie after that, she had top billing.
Emma: I remember that.
Sarah: Then also Marisa Tomei, I was working with her right before My Cousin Vinny came out, and she won an Oscar for it. I’d never heard of her before and I think this was her second movie. That was one of her first movies she ever did and the movie I did with her was one of her second movies. She was the one who used to lie about her age and I always thought she was three or four years younger than me, and I think we’re about the same age.
Emma: That’s so funny. After the film, after you had your joby-jobs, tell me about the handbags, because that’s your thing, the handbags.
Sarah: I got kind of bored just working on costumes and I was really good friends with the costume designer. I had worked with her for years, probably six years straight in a row, and the set we knew, we used to work with her a lot too, the three of us were like, “Hey, let’s get this little craft club going and we can do some crafty things and make some holiday gifts.”
Emma: Macrame, sell them at the church bazaar? That would be cute.
Sarah: We were just like, “Let’s do something Martha Stewart-like.” We start this little craft club on the weekends, and I actually saw this tear sheet from a Martha Stewart magazine where, I remember we used to all take brown bags for lunch, we didn’t really have lunch boxes, my parents didn’t really spring for that, we just had a brown bag. So, this was a little felted and cut with pinking shears and stitched in the same style as a little lunch bag, and I thought, “Wow, that so cute. What if you put handles on it, made it bigger, and turned it into a purse?” That’s how I got the idea for my first bag.
I knew everybody in town in LA, because I basically shopped for a living, or manufactured for a living, so I knew all the fabric store guys, and all the clothing store owners and everything, because that’s what I’ve been doing for so long. I got the fabric, this little felt, and I cut the bag out myself on my dining room table, and thought it was so cute, didn’t show anyone. I was like, “No way am I ever showing this to anyone.” Kind of over the next few weeks I figured out how to make the real version of it, and then I finally took it over to have dinner with my costume designer friend and we went to this restaurant.
Handbag empire that started as a hobby
We’re sitting at the bar and I have my purse up on the bar, and we’re just chatting and she’d already said how cute it was and I was going to be a gazillionaire if I wanted to make these bags. I was humbled that she thought they were cool but as we’re sitting there this woman comes up to us and says, “Wow, that’s such a cute bag. Where’d you get it?” I’m just sitting there, total deer in the headlights, don’t know what to say, and my friend says, “She’s the designer. She made that.” This woman turns out to be a buyer for a store, but she couldn’t buy it because her store only bought European brands, but she gave me the confidence in that moment and said, “You’ve got to run with this. I’ve never seen anything like it. I would totally buy it for my store if I could. You’ve got a gold mine there.” That really gave me the confidence to move forward. I made some more samples at home and took them into some of the boutiques in LA that I knew the owners and said, “Will you just take it on consignment and see how it does?” They really started to sell, and I started to call some stores.
I did that for about six months and was getting into little boutiques. You have to remember, this is pre-Google, this was early 1998. There was Yahoo! but no stores were on search engines yet. It was really looking in magazines and finding stores, that’s probably the only way I found them. Then a friend of mine who I had my movie making clothing company with, he made clothes for Anthropology, that was his business, he manufactured a bunch of their different brands that they sell in their store, and he connected me to the handbag buyer. She was coming into town for a trade show and he got me an appointment with her, and she loved my bags and asked me to make a different size for them, which was actually good because that turned out to be my real cash cow. I took about three or four months to secure this deal and then I got this huge 800 piece order from Anthropology and they were going to put it in their catalog in their stores, and I was like, “I quit the movie business!” We were on our way to Canada to do a movie and I was like, “I’ll do the first week. I’ll get you setup but then you’ve got to hire someone else. I’m out of here. I’ve got 800 bags to have made.”
That was really how I decided to start my business. It was a little rocky getting going—
Emma: I just interviewed a woman that was on the show and after her divorce, things were really broke and she had been in the coffee business in Seattle and she started manufacturing cold brew coffee when that was just barely becoming a thing. She’s like, “I had a laundry room with a drain in the floor.” Because she was doing commercial grade kitchen stuff, so there’s a lot of health department regulation, and this drain was like this magical piece of her success because to put in a drain would be prohibitively expensive, but she had a drain. She’s like, “I got a drain!” and that’s all she had, she had her hopes, and her dreams, and a drain, and she went with it. I love that because she just took stock of what she had. Her skills, her hustle, her friends, and family were her first customer, and I’m seeing that same thing in you. You knew about accessories, you had these contacts, and you just used what you had now, and then, of course, we’ll talk about how you grew and scaled that, but you started with what you knew, and what you had.
Emma: Yes, I love that. Talk about the celebrity piece of that.
How to connect with celebrities
Sarah: Here I’ve got my little handbag business and I’m kind of sitting there, I have this 200 square foot office. I only inherited the office because with the clothing company I had with this guy that we were making clothes for movies, we’d been making clothes for Intel for these corporate Comic Con and all these different events that they go to and advertise their software, or whatever they do. We would make all of these costumes for them and we had this little storage unit, it was a little office, and I only used part of it for their stuff, so I just started using the other half. I was like, well, it’s empty, I’m just going to move in. That’s how I got my first office and luckily it was in the same building as my friend who was upstairs, and he had all these UPS accounts and all these things. It wasn’t online in those days, you had to actually handwrite it in a book. I didn’t even have an account, it was impossible to get an account. When I had to ship to a store, he would actually just let me use his book, and then he’d bill me for whatever the charges were from UPS. It was so rinky-dink.
Emma: You had contacts, you did not have a hole in your floor, and you could not get a UPS account. Got it, alright.
Sarah: Exactly. I mean, it was so hilarious. I’d be running up and down the stairs, “Can I weigh this box? I’ve got to ship it.” Finally, he’s like, “We have an extra scale. I’ll just give it to you.” I actually still have the scale to this day, because I can’t get rid of it. I mean, it’s been so long and I use it all the time. I slowly started to realize after— You’d think coming from film that I would just automatically be like, “Woohoo I’m gonna get my stuff to celebrities and that’s gonna be the way I make my business.” Never occurred to me.
Emma: Because you were in the B2B business, right? Your clients were not celebrities, your clients were production companies, right? So you never saw them as your customers or your vehicle.
Sarah: Right, exactly. One of the ways I got started with my bags was I would call my friends that were working as costumers on TV shows or movies, and I’d say, “Hey, can I come over at lunch and set my stuff up, and then maybe people will want to buy it?” But it never occurred to me to try to get it to the celebrities. Still. Talk about dense. It still never occurred to me. I just wanted to make money and see if people wanted to buy my bags. That was working really well. I used to walk onto studio lots holding armfuls of bags, and the security guards got to know me after a while. The ones who didn’t know me from working there before would be like, “There’s the bag lady, ha ha.” I’d walk in with 40 and come out with three and they’d be like, “Wow, you did great.” I’m like, yeah this is awesome.
Emma: How much were they selling for at that time.
Sarah: Well, I pretty much kind of wholesaled them. This is where I kind of went wrong with everything in the beginning. Because I didn’t know anything about pricing and there was nowhere to look online to learn about it or anything, and there weren’t really any books yet about how to make your own product line. I was just guessing and tried to ask my friend upstairs who was making for Anthropology, but he didn’t really have real margins because he was manufacturing it and then selling it to them, and then they were marking it up.
Emma: So, you were still stuck in the wholesale mentality, even though you’re retailing.
Sarah: And also, he didn’t have a real formula for me to use. I mean, he could tell me how to figure out my costs but then—
Emma: But would you even say today there’s a formula or do you just keep marking things up until the market pushes back?
Sarah: There is a formula for a minimum. I always tell my clients, “Here’s the formula to figure out the minimum you need to charge, but if you think the market can bear more, snap that baby up.” Because it’s perceived value pricing.
Emma: That’s how I’ve made a living for the last 20 years. I just arbitrarily put myself at the top of the market.
Sarah: Right, exactly.
Emma: Somebody’s got to be there, it might as well be me.
Sarah: Exactly, right? Someone’s like, “You want $2,000 to write my bio? And you’re like, ‘yeah’” I mean, I’m sure that’s not what you do, but you know.
Emma: That’s the price. Take it or leave it. People pay it. That’s my big lesson. You just go high with confidence, do not bat an eye, and then what usually happens is people say yes really quickly and you’re mad that you didn’t go higher.
Sarah: Exactly. I know, that’s so true.
Emma: It is, but it takes some practice to get that stone-cold confidence, whether it’s fake or perceived. So here you go, you’re really selling by hand. Cut to the chase, how did you get this in celebrities hands?
Sarah: A couple years in, I was at dinner with this costume designer friend and she is complaining to me that she’s doing a movie with Donald Sutherland and the studio is forcing her to use Donna Karan clothes and that Donna Karan is giving the clothes for free and she has to use them. That’s the deal. She has to put them on her lead actor and then use all the shirts on the men or something like that. There was all these rules. She’s talking and I’m just off all of a sudden, in my own world, with my ah-ha moment, going “Oh my God, Donna Karen’s doing this. I’ve got to do this. If she’s doing it, why didn’t I think of it? I am such an effing idiot.”
Her ah-ha moment
I could have been doing this for years and that was kind of my ah-ha moment. I would say it was probably two years in, and at that point, I just went gung ho. I was like, “Who do I know who knows a celebrity? Do I know any agents or managers? Who do I know who knows someone.” It was like a long game of telephone because I didn’t know how to contact any of these people. When I worked on movies we were never given their direct contact, we had to go through the casting office, so I never had anybody’s direct email or phone number or anything. I was starting from scratch.
Emma: Who was your first celebrity? How did you get the first one?
Sarah: The very first person was Liv Tyler. She was on Party of Five, and really famous then. I sent it to her agent, I think, which is not the right person to send it to. But I sent it to her agent because it was a friend of a friend, of a friend, kind of thing, with just a note saying, “Could you please give this to her?” Never heard a word. Nothing ever. About three months later she shows up in a movie premier holding my bag, and there’s a picture of her in InStyle magazine, a really candid shot. Screaming, “Woohoo! This works. I don’t know what it’s going to work for.”
Emma: Did you see a direct correlation to sales then?
Sarah: Totally. So what we did was made a pretty page with the InStyle headline and the picture of her, sent it out. I mailed it out because no stores were on email still at this point, buyers were like, “I’m never doing that thing.” So, we mailed it to every single store that either we were in, or we were trying to get into, with my catalog page. This big package probably costs $4 or $5 to ship this postal at this point, and they started flooding with orders. Off that, I probably got maybe $10,000 worth of orders. To me, that was just ginormous. I’ve had way bigger—
Emma: What was the price point of your bags at that point?
Sarah: That bag was probably $125 retail because it was leather.
Emma: How much was your peak? In your business life, how much was the biggest amount that you were bringing in, in a year, sales?
Sarah: A million.
Emma: A million. So, you were doing a million in sales.
I’m sorry, I thought I turned off my messages but there’s a thread about my kid’s soccer that I 100 percent guarantee is not interesting or useful here.
A million in sales. You had what, 70 or 80 celebrities that you got this product into the hands of.
Sarah: Every time we got a product to a celebrity, we’d go out to magazines.
Emma: You amplified it. The value was actually the news about the bag.
Amplifying media attention
Emma: That’s where people go wrong that I’ve learned in my business. Every time I’m in the media, that goes on my blog, then I’m promoting all over social media, that’s where the value is. It’s not that it was once I was in the New York Times or whatever. So the handbag thing grew and grew, and then you turned it into a handbag accessory. Tell us a little bit about that.
Sarah: After 9/11 I had to close my business, in 2002 because I lost my business. My investors pulled out after 9/11 and I just couldn’t survive. I tried for another nine months on my own, but I just couldn’t do it. I ended up closing the handbag company at the end of 2002 and then I was helping a friend move and realized her new closet was way smaller than the old closet, and she had tons of my bags and she’s like, “I can’t fit your bags in my new tiny closet.” I was like, “We just need to hang them on the wall somehow.” And then I created the idea for this closet organizer for handbags. I patented that and then sold that for like 10 years.
A business closes, and a pivot
Emma: And that was hitting the handbag craze. That’s not been around forever. When I was growing up women weren’t crazy about handbags like they are today.
Sarah: Since Kate Spade came on the market in ‘97 really, or she really started to make it big, that’s when handbags I think really started to make a strong comeback. I think since then it’s just been growing steadily. Obviously, because before she sold her company to Neiman Marcus, they were doing over $70 million worldwide. That’s kind of what I compared my company to because I followed the same track as her up to about a million, and then she kept going, $10 million, $20 million, $70 million. She had some big investors behind her and some other people working with her who could really help her grow.
So, I developed this handbag hanger and that’s when I had taken my business home at that point. Because I had closed my handbag company, I was like, “I’m just going to work out of my house. Work small. Work smart. Take all of the knowledge I learned over the last five years, and now I’m a super smarty, I’m gonna do this right.” That’s when I did the half a million in sales in two years with one product in 12 colors and was selling it all over the world. I had deals in Japan and Australia with big magazines and big catalogs. That’s kind of when I moved my production to China because I got pregnant in 2007.
Emma: Do you want to tell us a little bit about your single mom story?
Sarah: I got married in 2007, got pregnant pretty quickly because I was old, and I had been wanting to have kids for a long time. My kids were born in January 2008, two little preemie twins. I was married for a couple years. I was married to a Frenchman, and he just was having a really hard time making it here in this country after the recession in 2008. He was a really talented faux finisher painter, did beautiful wall decor and everything, and nobody wanted to spend the money on that after a while. He just couldn’t really find work, and I was like, “You’ve gotta find something to do because momma can’t take the whole thing. I can’t raise the kids, and raise you, and keep the house.”
Emma: Yeah, that’s tricky.
Sarah: We tried it out for a while longer, and he’s like, “I’m just going back to France because I can work there and this is too difficult here.” He went back to France and my kids and I stayed in LA for three more years, and then we moved to Colorado to be near my family. I moved to a small town in Colorado, southwest, we live here, my brothers live down the street, we all have kids that are six weeks to two years apart, and my mom was like, “I’m never having grandchildren.” And then she’s like, “Wow I have five now? And it’s been two years.”
Emma: How is that? It sounds like it’s really idyllic in terms of family. How is it for you socially?
Sarah: It’s hard living here. It’s funny, in LA you think wow 12 million people, you’re a nobody, right? You’re just one little person in this gigantic fishbowl, or this sea really, and you move to a small town and you think you’re going to know everybody, and you do meet a ton of people. My brothers have been here for 20 years, so they knew a lot of people and they’re kind of famous here in town. You walk in and you’re like, “Hey, I’m a Shaw.” And they look at you like, “Are you the wife? You don’t look like the wife?” I’m like, “No, I’m the sister.”
Emma: Like you lose your identity now, right?
Sarah: Right, exactly. It’s interesting. You meet lots of people at school, you make some friends that way if you’re so lucky.
Emma: If you’re so lucky, yeah.
Sarah: Then, of course, there’s the kids that you’re like, “Oh please don’t be friends with them.” Or I don’t like their mom, you can’t be friends with them.
Emma: I have these small town fantasies all the time, for all the reasons that people like living in smaller communities, and you’re somewhere in a lot of natural beauty. I’m in New York, which is fabulous professionally, and socially, and romantically for me. So I’m like, who would I date if I moved to a small town? Or who would I be friends with? Who’s going to inspire me professionally?
Sarah: That is the biggest problem. I have a couple of close friends here who do inspire me professionally, who I love their husband, I’m very close to them, but they’re all from California too.
Emma: That’s how that goes.
Sarah: The high tech world, or different things like that. I’m constantly looking for people who are at a higher level. For me, that’s the way I grow. I’m like, “Oh wow, I want to be like you.”
Sarah: I like that about you, I want to have more of that in my life. So it is hard. And it’s also hard on the weekends, there’s not that much to do. That’s me. I don’t ski, my kids ski, but I don’t ski anymore. I blew out my knee so that’s out of the picture for me. My kids mountain bike, I don’t mountain bike because I’m too afraid if I break a bone, who’s going to take care of them? You know what I mean? There’s limitations. Everybody’s off campus.
Emma: There’s probably some really cute guys that mountain bike though. I could see that. Maybe you need to get over that. I could see that working out for you, Sarah Shaw.
So, now you are a consultant, which is— Because you do know so much, and now you help other people, mostly women, launch their own products. And you have this focus on the celebrity. Give me your three top tips for launching a product. If you have an idea for something super awesome, you know everybody can buy at Walmart or at a boutique, whatever, what are the top three things you want people to know?
Sarah: About the launching process?
Advice for launching a new product
Sarah: Launching process, so the first thing is make sure you have a manufacturer that you can rely on. Second is make sure you know your pricing because if you’re priced wrong there’s no way you can make a profit. And the third is learn how to market the hell out of your product as fast as possible before somebody else knocks it off.
Emma: Interesting. Let’s talk about the marketing and the celebrity bit. I’m going to ask you, you had all the success with celebrity. One, you came from the film business, so people are like, “I can’t do that because I’m not Sarah Shaw. I live in Omaha.” Or whatever. There’s that, and then you were also doing this 20 years ago, so the world is very different today. From what I understand, celebrities they know the power of showing up at an awards red carpet, and they charge you for it now. That world has changed. Talk about that, how things are today for somebody that lives in Omaha and wants to get her proverbial handbag on a celebrity’s red carpet photo.
Sarah: Red carpet is pretty much impossible unless you pay money. It’s not what I do. What I like to do is get people, and I don’t care where you live, my assistant lives in Pakistan and he does most of the celebrity emailing for my clients that live all over the world, and he lands them celebrities from his computer in Pakistan.
Emma: Thank you for saying that. That is the world today, right?
Sarah: So, that Suzie who lives in Omaha, she can get it together.
Emma: Yes, I love it.
Sarah: Basically my goal with clients and with people who take my Celebrity Confidential class, is to teach them how to get their products as a gift to a celebrity so that they’ll wear it in their real life. They can wear it a million times in their real life and get photographed, whereas red carpet is one photo, once in your lifetime that you had to pay because all the big designers pay to get their jewelry on them, and the dresses, and gowns, and all that stuff. So, to have somebody out there, strolling down the street with your handbag on their shoulder with all these candid shots in People magazine, and US Weekly, is worth its weight in gold. When I’ve gotten stuff to Jennifer Aniston and they wrote about it in People or in US Weekly, I mean, I make $120,000 off of each of those placements in sales.
Emma: How do you get that? Without giving away your free product, how do you get Jennifer Anistons to get your bag as a gift, so she’ll just wear it going grocery shopping?
Sarah: Well there’s a website called contactanycelebrity.com and you pay to join. It’s pretty inexpensive, I think it’s $30 a month. You can go on there and get contact information for celebrities, and one of the things that we do in the program is teach you how you write the letters. We give you templates, we show you exactly what to say. This is the letter you’re going to write, so just fill in your information. This is the letter you’re going to send to the gatekeeper person, their publicists, manager, whoever you’re sending it to. They’re most likely gonna say, “Yeah, sure.” The most important thing really is making sure that your product is something the celebrity is gonna want. If you make purple baseball caps, but you never can find a picture of a celebrity wearing a baseball cap, it’s not a good idea to send it to them.
Emma: Princess Kate is not your target.
Sarah: Exactly. You really want to make sure that you know who your customer is and who the celebrity is, so you can align your product with that person, so you have a better chance of their gatekeeper saying, “Sure, send it on over.”
Emma: Because you’re spending money and time to facilitate this whole process. Exactly. I love that. I love that. What’s the name of that site again? Say it again?
Emma: I need to get them my book. There are so many single mom celebrities.
Sarah: Heck yeah, I’ll help you.
Emma: See? I just made a celebrity contact with Sarah Shaw right here. I did it and I wasn’t even trying. She was calling me. I don’t know what that’s about. I love it. I love it. You know what I love? My favorite fact that you just gave me was that your assistant that does all the magic is in Pakistan.
Emma: Because that is the biggest excuse. People are like, oh Emma, you’re always yelling at us to do all these things. Oh, Emma, you enjoy dating but you live in New York where there’s all these interesting men, or whatever. Geography, because your story illustrates that, you come from an analog background, and now you’re in a digital age and you made it in both places. Geography is irrelevant today, more than ever before.
Sarah: Oh yeah. It’s like people complain to me all the time, I can’t reach so-and-so or this store, I can’t go into that store it’s in Kansas and I’m in California, or whatever. I’m like, Hello? Internet? Social media? Phone? You have so many ways to get in touch with these people these days. When we were doing a million dollars, I’m telling you, out of the 1,200 stores I was selling to, maybe 200 of them had email. Maybe. This was in 2002.
Emma: Yeah, I remember that.
Sarah: Not that long ago that you’re thinking, wow in 2002 stores weren’t even on email, and magazine editors either. None of them. They did not have email in magazines at all back then, we had to hand mail everything.
Emma: I remember that. I used to work in newspapers. My point of reference for all of this, I used to work in newspapers and magazines early in my career, and anybody that’s listening to this of a certain age, I’m 40, I got out of school in the late 90s and you would take your newspaper clips. Newspaper clips aren’t square. It might be square on the front page, and then it’s dog legged in the back page, and anybody that comes from this generation of writers, you would spend the night at Kinkos with their razor board, cutting the shit out of things trying to get them on an 8 ½ x 11 that you’d then photocopy, and spend a lot of money cold mailing stuff to editors. I don’t even know what I was trying to do back then.
Emma: Job? Yeah, that’s when I used to have a job. I haven’t had a job for so long I don’t even know.
Sarah: But that’s how you got your next writing gig, right?
Emma: Yeah, you would do that. You just did it because you wanted it so bad. You didn’t care how stupid that was. You didn’t know how stupid it was because that’s what you did.
Sarah: But that was the only thing, and photoshop was kind of in then, but only super techy geeks knew how to use it. It was like $300 back then for someone to digitally put together your press clipping. We did too. I have a book probably 10 inches thick with all my press clippings from my handbag company. When I look back in it, my kids wanted to see it one day, I was laughing because you can see the whiteout, and I’m looking at all of this and just giggling.
Emma: It’s so good. Ultimately the big lesson is just the hustle. You just kept at it, and when you hit a brick wall you figured out something else, and you just hit it, and hit it, and hit it, and then it worked.
Sarah: Yep. But then again, my training in the film business of never taking no for an answer really helped fuel that for me, because I just was a bulldog. Oh, you want my stuff? Okay, well I’ll call you back in two months. Then make a note, call this store on October 1st or whatever. I just never gave up. It was like every day going through all of those things because it was me, myself, and I, back then. Now it’s me, myself, and my two kids. Mommy makes no money, we have no food.
Emma: I think that fear, people are always trying to create situations where there’s not that fear and that scarcity, but that is when the magic happens usually, for women especially. Alright, where can people find you, Sarah Shaw?
Sarah: sarahshawconsulting.com is my website.
Emma: And she has a podcast.
Sarah: I’ve got a podcast. I blog on occasion. I’ve got a Facebook page. A pretty lame Instagram. And Twitter. I’m way more on Facebook than I am on anything else.
Emma: Yeah, me too.
Sarah: If you guys have questions or want to know anything else, you can email me through the homepage of my site.
Emma: Awesome. Cannot wait to stay in touch. This was really awesome. I’m so pleased to know you. Thank you.
Sarah: Yeah, great to know you too.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.