Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bumpits: the TopsyTail of the 21st Century?

It's been a good 20 years since TopsyTail hairstyling tool rocked the infomercial and retail world. And then in 2009, along came Bumpits. Like TopsyTail, Bumpits grossed well over 0 million. It's hard not to compare the two itemsTopsyTail's look was pretty and girlish, a take-off from the simple ponytail, a throwback to pre-grunge 1990's. Bumpits look is retro, glamorous, sophisticated and womanly.
The timing of the launches of the two products was the direct opposite in terms of the socio-economic atmosphere of the country. TopsyTail took off coming out of a recession, Bumpits, going into a recession. Bumpits also rode the 2008 wind of the Michelle Obama/Jackie O style trend of the early 60's mod-chic of tailored dresses and accompanying sophisticated hair up-dos, a sleek, put-together look. Psychologically, the Bumpits elevates the crown of the head, making the user appear taller and more elegant perhaps to counteract the psychologically depressing and anxiety-provoking effects of the Great Recession. Kelly Fitzpatrick, the inventor of Bumpits, was trained and worked as a hairdresser, Tomima Edmark, the inventor of TopsyTail was a marketing manager. They say Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Tomima's fine, straight hair, needed to be pulled back. TopsyTail, a plastic hook, allows users to elegantly create looks out of a ponytail. Kelly's customers wanted the volume Kelly would give them with combs and hair-spray at her former salon, but could not replicate it themselves at home. Kelly also had thin hair, and wanted it full. She created Bumpits, a plastic insert that gives volume to hair at the crown. TopsyTail was a totally new look on a commercial level. Bumpits was an updated model of old rats of the 60's, and a pre-existing, popular look. They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going'. Tomima created TopsyTail after being laid off from IBM- Kelly created Bumpits after losing work in real estate during the crash of 2008. Both created one-hit wonders. It's reasonable to ask, If not for the TopsyTail being the pioneer, could the success of Bumpits have been possible? Kelly consciously modeled herself after the winning hair accessories, TopsyTail and Hairagami, reading up on the histories and strategies of the inventors behind them.
One night, Kelly was watching the Donnie Deutsch show, which frequently features inventors and she was inspired. She had thought of ideas similar to Bumpits years ago, but had never had the time or the motivation to develop it. Tomima had been at the movie theater when she was inspired- not by the movie, but by the woman in front of her wearing her hair in a French twist. Bells went off in her head, and she realized she could use crocheting needles she had lying around at home to turn a ponytail inside out to make numerous hairstyles.
Kelly took a DIY approach, making dozens of prototypes out of everything from Velcro to plastic knives, travelling to hair tradeshows with a home-made instructional video loop tape. She learned that it would sell better to consumers than to salons. She created a cheap ad using her daughter as a model, bought TV air time, and the commercial was picked up by MTV- orders poured in. When the product started selling heavily, she licensed it to an As-Seen-On-TV company (the same company that did the infamous Snuggie infomercial). At the retail level, beauty/hair accessory specialists Ulta, Sally's and Claire's, and drugstores Walgreens and CVS picked up the product and are still selling it. TopsyTail entered the market in Dallas boutiques. Then Tomima hired sales representatives Accessory Brainstorms, who got it into department stores. Then she gave a DRTV infomercial company exclusive rights to sell TopsyTail, with the exception of department stores. The TopsyTail brand was sold to Scunci in 2002. After an initial attempt to repackage the product into a kit, TopsyTail remained a sleeping asset. Now Conair (who bought Scunci) has it available to consumers, after having been off the market for decades. Accessory Brainstorms predicted in prior articles that recessions are a good time to launch hair tools and inventive products in general. The success of Bumpits and similar products and the revival of TopsyTail confirm this.
Kelly used Public Relations assistants (in Kelly's case, only part-time after the first year). Towards the end of Bumpits reign, around 2010, they also received some negative or at least teasing PR- Late night TV shows began doing spoofs on the Bumpits commercials (just as they had done many spoofs on the Snuggie commercials). But as they say in media, there's no such thing as bad publicity (any publicity is good publicity), and Ms. Fitzpatrick laughed at the spoofs all the way to the bank. Other sources of buzz were celebrity and beauty pageant publicized use (subtle endorsements). Tomima used a professional public relations company from the start, which in part, contributed greatly to the success of both the TV and retail store sales success.
Kelly has come out with a second Bumpits product, but it hasn't sold as well as the original. Bumpits still sells about 20,000 units per month (way down from its first year, when it sold 1,000,000 units per month), but Kelly is not disappointed, as she realistically planned for its decline from the beginning. Still, she lives more comfortably than she could have ever imagined, investing in second homes (actually 6 properties) and driving a new (as opposed to a used) car for the first time in her life. She could retire at any time if she wanted to. Tomima's follow-up inventions did not succeed either, but she's tremendously successful once again owning and operating one of the original and largest online lingerie retailers, Tomima and Kelly share similar advice never give up on your dreams and never accept no for an answer just keep looking for collaborators who will say yes. So, is Bumpits the TopsyTail of the 21st Century? Good question!

Joan Lefkowitz, an original marketer of TopsyTail tm, is president of ACCESSORY BRAINSTORMS, NYC, a licensing, marketing and sales representation agency and consultancy for Fashion/Beauty Accessory and Lifestyle Inventions. Accessory Brainstorms is always looking for inventions in these categories, and offers one-on-one consulting for inventors who need guidance. ACCESSORIES Magazine awarded Joan for the Most Inventive Products and also cited her as one of the 100 most important accessories industry Movers and Shakers.

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