Celeste Massullo: Born to win
If you think Toilet Tattoos are some kind of body art, think again. These "tattoos" are decorative decals for that most sensitive of all household fixtures: the toilet. It took passion and persistence to bring the product to the marketplace, but Celeste Massullo, president of Lena Fiore Inc., in Macedonia, is flush with those qualities.
One of seven children in her Warren, Ohio, family, Massulo and her siblings were, you might say, "tattooed" for success. Four are doctors, one is an attorney, and two are entrepreneurs. Massullo graduated from Kent State University in 1986 with a BA in Fashion Design, but her entrepreneurial nature was evident much earlier.
"When I was five or six years old I had this idea for a jewelry line. One evening my father pulled up in the car, and I ran downstairs, in my pajamas, shouting, 'Dad, Dad, I have this idea,'" says Massullo. "Remember, I was five or six, and he sat there and he listened to me, without expressing any doubts. Well, I never started that business because I was very young, but he took me seriously."
Lena Fiore Inc., the company founded in 1987 by Massullo and her four sisters, began by selling fashion jewelry. A short time later they partnered with an Italian company to produce coats made of marabou feathers and designed by Massullo. Her first client: Saks Fifth Avenue. After ten years, however, she grew tired of the travel and other demands of the fashion industry.
In 1998, Massullo launched Cleveland Rocks Candy. But her big break came while decorating her own bathroom. The standard white toilet was like a sharp stick in her designer's eye, so she set out to do something about it. Massullo spent two years researching plastics and printing before launching Toilet Tattoos at a Cleveland trade show in 2006. The vinyl appliques were a big hit. These days, Massullo, who used to work at Jacob's Field, is busy trying to get Major League Baseball licensing for Toilet Tattoos. Can she hit another home run?
Her company does a lot of subcontracting, and the Cleveland-based company that produces the decals was recently compelled to acquire a second printing machine. Sales, says Massullo, grew about 30 percent last year, despite the soft economy.
The businesswoman/designer/entrepreneur credits much of her success to the hardworking examples set by her parents and grandparents. Her grandmother undertook the Italian tradition of cooking 13 -- yes, 13 -- dishes for about 80 people every Christmas Eve. "I always think of her on Christmas," she says.
Her father, now deceased, was a medical doctor, an internist. Her mother, also a college graduate, was a teacher. "Both of my parents really stressed education," Massullo says. She also learned from them about hard work.
"They were very hard workers. It's about hard work…these things aren't handed to you in life. You have to go after them," says Massullo. "
She says growing up in a large family underscored the importance of personal responsibility.
"Each one of us, including my brothers, had a 'dish night,' and we knew how to clean the house. My mother stayed home until we were five or six and then she went to work with my father in his office. She still works in my sister's practice. She goes in five days a week, and she turned 79, yesterday. She believes the secret to a long life is continuing to work."
Massullo doesn't mind talking business with her own children, especially with 10-year-old son Brendan, whom she teasingly calls her "vice president." Her 8-year-old daughter, Isabella, is "secretary-treasurer." When Massullo drew some of her early tattoo designs, the children created some of their own.
While hard work has been one of the keys to Massullo's success, she admits that she could sometimes use a personal assistant.
"I want to be in control of my own time, even though having your own business is very demanding and all the responsibility rests on you. If you stop, your business stops, at least that's the point I'm at…I'm not on autopilot. I wanted to not be accountable to somebody else for my time."
For Massullo, the biggest challenge as a businesswoman has been getting to the buyers for the big stores and "getting the buyer's attention." Stores don't want to disclose the names of their buyers, which she finds frustrating and bewildering: "To this day, I don't understand it. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince, but you could be missing out on some great things."
"I always tell people: 'Don't think about money first. If you think about money, you'll never do it.' The world would be a better place if people loved what they were doing," says Massullo.
Celeste Massullo's "world" must be a better place.