Potty mouth: local entrepreneur Celeste Massullo tackles the home’s toughest design challenge–the toilet–and comes out smelling like a rose
Most people look at the humble bathroom toilet and think about ... well, you know what you think. Celeste Massullo sees inspiration.
That's how Massullo--a former fashion designer and serial product developer--came up with ToiletTattoos, removable decorative appliques for toilet lids.
Last Christmas, Kmart sold the appliques with seasonal graphics for $4.99 under the name ToilArt at all of its stores nationwide. Some stores shelved them in their home department, while others placed them in the seasonal department. Those in the seasonal section sold out within two weeks, says Massullo, owner of Lena Fiore' Inc. in Macedonia.
Massullo, 43, conceived of the idea to adorn toilet lids in 2004 when she redecorated her half-bath in warm colors. Each time she entered the room, her eyes were drawn to the bright, white toilet. Massullo shopped for an inexpensive option--perhaps a new seat and lid--but couldn't find what she wanted. "Then it hit me: Toilet decor hasn't changed for decades!" she says. "This is a part of the house that's been completely ignored."
Landing Kmart was a coup for Massullo, who has been peddling an eclectic mix of products since she graduated from Kent State University with a degree in fashion design in 1986. A year later she and her four sisters founded Lena Fiore', named after their grandmother, Lena, and the Italian word for flower. Through the years, the company has marketed everything from watches to candy.
Though the products vary, Massullo's guiding principle remains the same. "I've wanted my own business from the get-go for the freedom to live my life the way I want," she says.
The entrepreneur spent two years researching, developing and patenting Toilet Tattoos. She studied the plastics industry and printers, then found a manufacturer to produce the plastic film appliques. "Before I put a lot more time and money into Toilet Tattoos, I tested them first on a small level," says Massullo. In 2005, she rented a booth at Cleveland's Christmas Connection trade show and offered Toilet Tattoos in three holiday and three everyday designs. "The response was overwhelming," says Massullo.
She began marketing Toilet Tattoos online (www.toilet-tattoos.com) and sells about 30 designs, including leopard skin, abstract blocks, rosebuds, seashells and toilet training charts for toddlers.
Because the appliques are removable, consumers can easily switch designs for the holidays or when they want a new look. Most are available in two sizes--round and elongated--to fit standard toilet lids. They are slightly larger than the ToilArt version at Kmart and sell for $9.95.
Massullo plans to revamp her Web site to increase the product's Internet presence. But she's also diversifying into other channels: This winter, the popular cataloger Lillian Vernon included ToiletTattoos with kissing lips for Valentine's Day and shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day.
And Massullo continues chasing other nationwide retailers. "The biggest challenge is breaking into the larger stores. With big box stores, just getting the name of the buyer is a big secret," says Massullo. "You need persistence and passion when you're trying to sell your product."
For three years, Massullo has pursued a large retailer in the home decor industry. The buyer, who was reluctant to carry Toilet Tattoos until the appliques had a successful track record, finally agreed to meet with Massullo at the International Home and Housewares Show last month in Chicago (though further details were not available at press time).
Massullo, a savvy negotiator, is optimistic. And history suggests she has every right to be hopeful. Lena Fiore' got its start selling crystal-adorned watches with cloth bands. A year and a half into business, the company made a big splash in the fashion world by selling feather coats.
Massullo designed a coat made from marabou feathers and partnered with an Italian company to hand craft them. Parading five sample coats to fashion buyers, she landed her first client--Saks Fifth Avenue. The feather coats, worn by celebrities such as Mariah Carey and Brooke Shields, were featured in a two-page spread in People magazine in November 1989.
Throughout most of the 1990s, Massullo was sole owner of Lena Fiore' as her sisters pursued other careers. But she got tired of the demanding fashion industry and the travel it required. "I always liked Cleveland, and I wanted to stay here," says Massullo. She brainstormed other products she could market through Lena Fiore'.
"The idea for candy came to me, so I started Cleveland Rocks candy," says Massullo, who was inspired in part by the buzz surrounding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In 1998, Lena Fiore' introduced two kinds of candy: The Soft Rock, resembling smooth, marbleized rocks, and the Hard Rock, a crunchy blend of flavors in a hard, porous sugar shell. The candy is sold at numerous Northeast Ohio locations, including Peterson Nut Co. and Progressive Field.
"Celeste is successful because she not only has many ideas, but she rolls up her sleeves and acts on them," says Margey Lowery, Northeast Ohio leader for Ladies Who Launch. Massullo is a member of the organization, which offers programs and support to women entrepreneurs.
"She is not afraid to pursue a passion or go into unknown territory," adds Lowery. "Yes, there are risks. But Celeste does her homework and goes for it."
That's one of the reasons she is working to obtain Major League Baseball licensing for her ToiletTattoos, so zealous fans of the Tribe and other ball clubs can customize their toilet seats with team logos.
"The potential for this product is huge because every person has at least one toilet in their house," says Massullo. "I'm either going to do this big or not do it at all."
Read more:Welcome to the old toilet subcommittee