Anyone who has flown commercial airlines over the past 25 years may be familiar with the original Sky Mall catalogs, and perhaps the pioneering BluBlocker sunglasses, which first appeared in in-flight magazines such as this one.
Unbeknownst to many, Joe Sugarman, the man behind those BluBlockers, as well as the mail order catalogs, has made Las Vegas a base for much of his operations, including JS and A Group Inc., BluBlocker Corp. and Del Star Publishing.
Sugarman also maintains a residence in Las Vegas, and splits time with his other "home town" on the island of Maui.
Sugarman began his business career in the 1970s, when microelectronics was hitting its stride. He was among the first to market products such as the pocket calculator, digital watch, cordless phone, personal computer and a variety of other devices. Among Sugarman’s creative marketing techniques was taking credit card orders over toll free WATs lines.
Over the years, Sugarman says he’s had many more failures than successes. "It’s a lot like Babe Ruth, in that you’re going to have more misses than hits," Sugarman said. "The key is to continue trying and never give up."
Sugarman recalled some of his early failures.
"We tried to market the Mickey Math, a hand-held calculator when the devices were just coming out," he said. "It was a functional but humorous product, but we didn’t count on how serious the executives were in the board room."
Sugarman also manufactured a better mousetrap ”” literally! ”” which was a very elaborate contraption that was prohibitively expensive, perhaps like something sold in the Sharper Image. "It never caught on," he said.
However, many of Sugarman’s concepts were later picked up by stores like the Sharper Image.
In the 1980s, Sugarman discovered the BluBlocker sunglasses, and decided to focus all of his marketing efforts on the odd pair of sunglasses. "People were just learning about the dangers of ultraviolet light, and the glasses contained lenses that blocked the UV rays," he said.
There was a scientific concept behind BluBlockers, there was a legitimate health issue, and the glasses served a need. "Basically, it was the perfect product, it made for a perfect story, and that’s how we marked it," he said.
Airline passengers in the 1980s may have seen the original BluBlocker full-page ads. Typically they included blocks of text, much like a story, with testimonials, charts and supporting data. "They weren’t normal ads, but people who were interested read them from top to bottom." Not only did the read the ads, they responded.
"We had a last minute opening in the Sky Mall catalog so we placed a BluBlocker ad into it," Sugarman recalled. "The response was the biggest ever generated in the history of airline magazines."
Since then, Sugarman has expanded the scope and methodology of advertising. "We were among the first to successfully use the infomercial on TV," he said. "It took awhile to formulate the right message, but what seemed to work best was using real people in a kind of Candid Camera type of format," he said. "One thing that always worked was letting people try on the BluBlockers and noting their response. Letting the camera look through the BluBlocker lenses would not have carried nearly the same weight."
BluBlocker’s sales success is well chronicled. A recent infomercial on the Shopping Network in the United Kingdom generated sales of 100,000 pairs of sunglasses, adding to his total of more than seven million sold via the infomercial, and over 20 million pairs overall.
Because of his unprecedented success in direct marketing, Sugarman is in large demand as a speaker, and his marketing seminars have been well-received throughout the U.S. as well as Europe, Asia and Australia.
Moreover, Sugarman is the published author of five books. His first book, Success Forces, was published in 1980 by Contemporary Books, and he has subsequently published three marketing books based on his exclusive seminars.