It's impossible to avoid Bravo Television's "Real Housewives" of New York, New Jersey, and as of last week of Washington, D.C. Many of the housewives have quickly tried to capitalize on their sudden fame by hawking T-shirts, cosmetics and fashion accessories. But the hyperkinetic Ramona Singer planned all along to use the show to bring her family's longstanding jewelry business to the public. She's since gotten the line on the Home Shopping Network -- but it wasn't easy. Even Real Housewives still have to cold call. Here's how one savvy businesswoman has made the most of a reality TV gig:
Q: Ramona, of all the housewives, you're the one with the longest career. How did you get into the business of wholesaling clothes?
A: I put myself through college in the 1980's by working at Macy's. I wanted to be a buyer, so I got a job as an assistant sales manager, and that got me into the management training program. From there, I decided to go into the wholesale business, because you can make more money working less hours. I had the opportunity to buy 10,000 units of clothing for $10 per unit -- but I offered them $7 per unit if I could pay cash. My father loaned me the money, and I paid him back in four months. That's how I founded RMS Fashions at age 30.
I'd cold call to gain new clients. When I heard that Leslie Fay was closing, I'd run over and buy 20,000 dresses. You have to have the personality for it. I love negotiating. I think women need to pick up their math skills. It's the number one thing. If I buy a product and have to hold it for six months, well, what are the warehouse charges? Will I make a profit?
Q; Nearly all the Housewives start businesses to capitalize on their fame once they've got it. But you're already in business. So why did you get involved with the Real Housewives of New York?
A: Mario, my husband, had a fourth-generation family business making religious jewelry called True Faith, and one of the reasons I did the show was to promote it. I also wanted to see what other doors it would open for me. I made a cold call to the Home Shopping Network and my god, now I'm on HSN!
Q: What? You had to cold call HSN? Even after you were on the show?
A: Yes, how else would I get on? They're busy. You have to go to them. After I started the show, I called an agent that gets people on HSN, and she said, "They won't want you, they'll want your husband," and I thought, "They don't get it." So I called the senior vice president of merchandise myself. The line has a vintage vibe that looks like estate jewelry, so you can pass it on to your daughter. Everything is $300 to $600.
Q: It sounds like you didn't assume that the Housewives fame would automatically translate to HSN.
A: Everyone else is just trying to to get on Page Six, self-promoting, I'm out there working. Being on the show got my juices going. It expanded me to new things. If I didn't do the show, would I have gone to HSN? I don't think so. Now I'm developing a new line for Amazon.
Q. Is a reality show a platform for a business or does it only help if you already have a business? For example, Sheree Whitefield of the Atlanta show attempted to launch a clothing line, but then she publicly denigrated essential operations like making patterns, making samples, sourcing and manufacturing.
A: It only helps if you already have a business. With the Sheree thing, I was appalled. I was shocked. If you're developing a line, you have to be hands-on. Even the top designers are in the cutting and fitting rooms. For my jewelry line, I approve the sketches. I approve the molds. I want everything done right.