On a Friday night, over pizza and juice boxes, while visiting my longtime friend Kelli and her son, we asked our children, ages 5 and 11, what they would like to do if they had their own "club". Their answers proved to be inspiring and from that we literally launched a business. We felt destined to create something unique and extraordinary for our kids and knew that if our kids loved it, so would others.
Armed with a degree from UCLA in education, years of teaching both preschool and elementary school and directing a preschool, Kelli started gathering the data and doing the research. With the mindset of everything coming from the heart, Kelli ultimately put together the exoskeleton of a much needed studio offering art and science for children, boys and girls of a cross section of ages. My degree from Marymount California University in Early Childhood Education and years of teaching preschool provided the foundation to create Genius Kids Club with Kelli.
We absolutely knew that we wanted a space where all children could explore, test out theories, express their identity and figure things out for themselves. We had found the key to our new business and now it was time to unlock the door.
The door to the studio was officially unlocked and opened for business on Monday, August 22 with open houses in the days preceding. Genius Kids Club was welcomed into the Studio City community with open arms; parents expressing their thanks at providing a "club" that every child was welcome to join. There are classes every day for ages 10 months to 10 years. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are art days with Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday featuring science. Sunday is a combination of both art & science.
The true joy of having a business where the clientele are children means it's chalk full questions and every day is filled with a plethora of teachable moments. Just when you think you know something, along comes a child to show you how to look at it differently. Be it the clients or one of our own, Kelli and I have learned that the collective of children's thinking is changing and since opening the studio, the kids have made it clear that art and science are not mutually exclusive nor gender specific. While primarily there is a balance of boys and girls in each of the classes, it is still an ongoing campaign to encourage girls to participate in science. Science camps have experienced a larger enrollment of boys so everyone is experiencing the idea of a gender specific genre such as science. Genius Kids Club strives everyday to not have gender labels when is comes to art and science. Whether they are painting mugs as a gift for their parents or wanting to find out the chemical reaction between and a base and an acid, there are girls and boys sitting at our tables with their aprons and science goggles on, anxiously awaiting what's next.
Bet you're thinking "how do you do science with an 10 month old?" Science is simply the study of the world through observation and experiment. Looking, noticing and trying. That is exactly what we do with these precious babies and that is the way they are figuring out absolutely everything. The basis is to work with their 5 senses and how they use those senses to understand all that is around them.
Now the 3 - 10 year olds, they are all about the mess, the bigger the better and and the motto is "Bring It On!" Be it a girl or a boy, making a mess and not getting trouble for it is AWESOME! Recently there was an experiment (an acid, a base and a little red food coloring) with some kids and unexpectedly, the experiment wasn't doing what it was supposed to do, the container was opened at the precise moment that all its contents exited with intense velocity and suddenly the studio was covered with goo! The squeals of laughter, the questions that followed and on why that happened facilitated a discussion with the kids ultimately proving once again that they are listening and very curious and want to explore. Of course using a mop to clean up the ceiling was memorable for all there and an experience like no other.
At Genius Kids Club, every kid has a place to explore, to discover and ask their questions. Kelli and I have created a space specifically for kids, where parents can confidently drop their little ones off and know that they will be having a discussion on the way home using words like chemistry, polymers, acid, bases, among other things.
We sincerely LOVE what we're doing everyday, and look forward to expanding and reaching out to more and more kids. We truly believe that there is a little genius in every child just waiting to show the world what they can do!
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.