World renowned beauty authority author and speaker Marilyn Miglin is among the nation’s top 500 women business owners. Her signature fragrance, Pheromone, is one of the top 10 fragrances sold in luxury department stores nationwide and each month, and millions of television viewers invite her into their homes to purchase her products. Yet, creating unparalleled products that afford their wearers unsurpassed personal expression has not been Ms. Miglin’s only passion, she has also maintained a spirit of altruism and community.
Ms. Miglin is very involved with the Oak Street Council and has raised more than $1 million to preserve and promote Oak Street’s charm. It is a fitting honor, then, that ‘Marilyn Miglin Way’ is now the honorary name of Oak Streets’ prestigious shopping district… to read more about Marilyn click here!
Marilyn, you have been one of my heroes and icons for many years. How have you maintained such a successful business and beautiful look all these years? I think part of it is because I am a girl who can’t say no. So I keep going and progressing. I do my very best every single day and think about what good opportunities are out there today. I’ve kept a low profile and been fortunate to live in Chicago. Also, I’m pretty disciplined. So I think that’s how you kind of do what you need to do.
That makes a lot of sense. How stressful is your business and how many hours a week do you work? My business is not really stressful. When I get to talk to ladies, help them look better and apply makeup so they feel much better, that’s not work. That’s not stressful. My accounts receivable are stressful. So I just get crabby and have to call people to tell them they owe me money which is a stressful part of anybody’s life in business. But aside from that a friend of mine used to tell her children, “Daddy doesn’t have to go to work, Daddy gets to go to work.” I think that’s a good philosophy for all of us. We get to do something that we like.
That’s so important in life. In the beginning, what appealed to you about cosmetics? How did you get started in this business? The reason I’m in this business is because I had a terrible skin problem when I was a teenager. It was so bad that I would walk to the back of the bus and hope that nobody would see me. I would also go to cosmetic counters and they would tell me I needed more moisturizer. Well I didn’t because I had such a bad complexion. So I vowed if I could cure myself that I would then dedicate my life to helping other women feel better about themselves and help bring their inner beauty outward.
That’s a beautiful viewpoint. I know you’ve had many challenges in life; can you give us a few words of advice on how to cope with all the challenges you’ve had? No matter what happens to us, we all have challenges. There isn’t anyone who is unscathed, but I think it’s good to start over and go on with your routine as you normally would. Just keep going forward. Do things that you’re comfortable with like squeezing your fresh orange juice in the morning. Don’t stop. Just keep squeezing it and drinking fresh orange juice and all the other things that you’re comfortable doing. Life has to go on.
It does indeed. When did you discover you had a gift of bringing men and women together through the power of scent? I interviewed a lot of men (before I created my fragrance) as far as what their likes were regarding perfume. But then I also was a ‘woman of today’ and worked with women on a daily basis. So I basically knew what we had to do as far as being the best, putting our best face or nose forward. I’ve done a lot of research 24/7…I never stop doing research.
That’s incredible Marilyn. Is it true that you went to a pyramid and saw a recipe for fragrances on a wall? Actually, I did more than a pyramid. I visited the actual ruins and they had rooms that were used years ago, thousands of years ago. One housed the gifts of perfume. One housed the gifts of bread, but along all of these wonderful walls in these rooms were recipes for perfume written in hieroglyphics. I had them translated and, interestingly, every pharaoh had his or her own perfume recipe. They were buried with them as well. That’s how important they were. So when I had these recipes translated from hieroglyphics to English, I learned about ingredients like hyperium and diceum…things I had never, ever heard of or read about before.
How did you know you would become a pioneer on the Home Shopping Network? I didn’t really know that I would become a pioneer. I did what I had to do in order to pay my bills. When the department stores started to disappear (because of bankruptcy or because somebody acquired them), I still needed to pay my salaries and all of the bills that were due. So I wondered how I could keep going when all of this was disappearing. All of my department store business was 100 percent of my whole business, and pretty soon I only had 35 percent. I had to do something in order to generate new income to keep paying those bills.
I approached the people at Home Shopping Network and they said, “If you come on Home Shopping you can no longer have Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue, because you can’t do both. You can’t cater to the core customer as well as to the upscale customer.” I’d been with Neiman Marcus for 15 years but never done television. So I was willing to take that risk because I’m a true entrepreneur. But, I also knew that there was more future in this because television was becoming a very important pastime for everyone. They said “We don’t know if you’ll make it, if you’ll be accepted or what you can do.” I told them to let me try.
So I tried…and it wasn’t easy because the department stores were very angry. They felt it was direct competition and they put me in a drawer, meaning nobody could see my items on display in a department store. Customers had to ask for my product. However, Home Shopping Network created an awareness so people would go to department stores to see what all the commotion and excitement was about and [experience] what the perfume smelled like. In it’s own way, TV drew people to the department stores. My department store business increased, but I also had the magic of television, which no one knew would work. In 10 minutes you can sell 10,000 pieces. In a department store, that takes you almost a year. Television is instant gratification.
If buyers can’t smell the scent on TV, how does that change the job of selling the fragrance ? I’ve been told I am the ultimate salesperson, because my passion sells my perfume. It’s very difficult to sell a perfume on television, but I’ve been very fortunate. I think the little perfume gods are up there saying, “Okay, you just keep doing this, Marilyn, because women are becoming happier wearing your perfume.”
How are you able to do all of this and still stay in Chicago? That was a magic trick. I should’ve gone to New York, because that’s where the industry is. But I liked my hometown of Chicago and also my family was here. I just thought if you can make it in Chicago, you can make it anywhere. So I decided I this was my home base, and if I couldn’t expand to be really international then I would just have to be quiet, comfortable and enjoy Chicago.
We know you have grandchildren. What do your grandchildren call you? Oh my goodness. I wanted to be called M the Grand. Now guess what they call me? Grandma. But that’s what I am and that’s what I’ve resolved that I should be. I decided to go with the flow. I really liked my grandmother so much; I just absolutely worshiped her, and I called her Grandma. So I guess it was all right. I am who I am.
Do you have any future plans to do other things in your business, or expand into something else? Being the entrepreneur that you are, what else do you have for your future plans? I always have something on the back burner: probably working with women of distinction, making them feel as good as they can about themselves. But also, I think there’s a lot of need in hospitals. We have so many people who have dreadful diseases; if I can be of some comfort to any of them, I think that’s where my focus starts. So I just take every day one day at a time, and I help as many people as I possibly can.
You’re also involved in the Oak Street Council which tries to raise money to preserve. Yes. Running a street is no easy task, but I do volunteer and help whenever I think I can.
You’re an amazing woman for everything that you’ve done, everything you’ve contributed, all the children you’ve helped, all the women you’ve made happy, and men. So my hat is off to you, dear friend, and thank you so much for your time. Thank you.