Huffpost Marlo Thomas

Inspiration Struck In The Bathroom, Now She's Flush With Cash

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MORNING COFFEE
Celeste Massullo

One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a woman who wanted to liven up her bathroom. When she couldn't find what she was looking for, she decided to create it instead. Her ingenious toilet idea has earned her family millions -- and she's got a stylish bathroom to boot! -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com

By Lori Weiss

Most people wouldn’t be happy to say their business was in the toilet, but Celeste Massullo not only says it with a smile, she’s laughing all the way to the bank. And it all began as she was trying to figure out how to tone down the glaring piece of “functional furniture” at the center of her own half bath.

“I wasn’t looking for a new business idea,” she laughed. “I was just obsessed with decorating my bathroom. The walls were covered with a copperish brown wallpaper and the tile was dark green. Everyone thought it was so pretty, but every time I walked in there, my eye would go straight to the white commode.”

“I had some pictures in there that were matted in a leopard print and I thought about a leopard toilet seat, but somehow I didn’t think my husband would appreciate that.”

And that’s when Celeste’s sense of style and years of business experience kicked in. While she was at a point in her life where creating a comfortable home for her family was her first priority, she also had a degree in fashion design and a knack for finding untapped opportunities.

She and her four sisters had tapped into the costume jewelry craze of the late '80s and created a line of bejeweled watches. Then, when many women had decided to stop wearing fur, they created a line of feather coats and ended up in Saks Fifth Avenue’s top stores. And now, in a place where many people say they do their best thinking, she found her next big idea.

“It was just this Ah-ha moment,” she explained. “I thought, I have two choices -- the rug-like shell my grandmother used to cover her toilet with or a decorative seat with sea shells in it, and neither one was going to work for me. There was a need out there that was not being met and I knew I could meet it.”

Celeste wanted to create something that could be changed often -- on a decorating whim or to fit in with holiday décor -- but without a sticky adhesive that could do damage to the toilet. And she also wanted it to wipe clean, since it was going to be in the bathroom, where accidents happen and germs abound.

“Friends would look at me with a blank stare when I told them what I wanted to do, but I thought, why wouldn’t you want your toilet to fit in with the rest of your décor? People might be embarrassed to talk about toilets -- but the reality is, most people have at least one.”

“There were definitely people who were skeptical, but my siblings like to call me the President of the Answer Your Own Question Club. I may ask you what you think, but if I like the idea I’m going to do it no matter what you say."

And do it she did. Celeste began with five designs, printed on a material that had a magnetic-like property, which would allow the decorative covers to cling to the toilet seat. She named the company Toilet Tattoos -- something that her mother found a bit embarrassing -- and as the family expected, she followed her gut.

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She also made a very smart move. Despite her initial small runs, she found a printing company that could accommodate enormous orders. That would prove to be a decision that would ultimately make Celeste a millionaire.

“I went into this knowing how big it could be,” Celeste explained, “so I wanted to be prepared. But before I placed a large order, I needed to test market them. So I bought a booth at a local Christmas show and branded Toilet Tattoos as ‘The only way to crown your throne.' By the end of the first day, I’d sold a thousand of them. That’s when I called my husband and said, ‘Honey, we’re going to be rich!’”

One thousand people in Cleveland, Ohio, were leaving that show and going home to tattoo their toilets. And Celeste was leaving ready to take her invention to the big leagues, The National Hardware Show and the International Housewares Show. Almost immediately, Toilet Tattoos were picked up by catalogs and a chain of specialty bath stores in France. According to Celeste, the French are way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to toilet design -- hand painted commodes are a common feature in people’s homes.

It wasn’t long before the feisty entrepreneur was flush with money. She was beginning to land retailers like Kmart and Amazon.com and creating custom designs for customers who came to her website.

“People love to send in pictures of their pets and we take those and print them on personalized Toilet Tattoos. But my all-time favorite was the family that asked us to design a Toilet Tattoo for their 80-year-old mother’s birthday. Her last name was Booty. So we created a monogrammed B, and just below, it read Booty Call.”

But it was a moment in which persistence and preparation met opportunity that would put Toilet Tattoos over the top.

“We were back at the Housewares Show again,” Celeste recalled. “I was talking with a customer and my sister-in-law, Kathy, was helping me out in the booth. Someone stopped by for a few minutes and left their card. When I finished up, Kathy handed it to me and I was speechless. I had missed a buyer from Walmart.”

“When I got back home, I sent them an email and I couldn’t believe it when they responded immediately. They sent me the name of a person they wanted me to contact. That was April of last year and they wanted me to be ready to ship in two months.”

And Celeste was ready -- because of the decision she’d made early on. She believed in what she was doing so much, that she already had a printer who was an approved Walmart vendor. By June, she had delivered 2 million Toilet Tattoos to more than 3,600 Walmart stores.

“It was my sixth year at the Housewares Show. I kept going back, and because of that I was there and so was Walmart. It’s important to know that you may not get that big sale immediately. But your passion will get you through the rough times.”

“I’m not saying it’s easy. There were tears and stumbling blocks -- times when I thought that maybe I should just go to work for someone else. No one is giving you a paycheck. You’re creating it. You don’t know from year to year what you’re going to bring in and that can be scary.”

Celeste’s passion paid off in a big way. Today, Toilet Tattoos is a $6-million-dollar company with more than 160 designs, including the leopard print that started it all, which Celeste has proudly tattooed on her own toilet. And her husband doesn’t seem to mind a bit.

“You have to believe in yourself. I believe that whatever energy you put out there comes back to you. It may not come back immediately -- but it will come back in time.”

“And now I can live my life on my own terms,” Celeste said with a smile, “which is really the best reward. I can be at home with my kids and still have a career. And it doesn’t hurt to know their college is paid for.”