Janet Lau: Designing office supplies

The counters of department stores such as Neiman Marcus may seem like a far cry from the shelves of America’s largest office-supply chains, but Janet Lau’s newest venture adds an unlikely second act to her successful fashion accessory business — office supplies.

Lau’s Clip-Tabs, by her new company Clip-rite, are a cross between a paper clip and a sticky tab.

The idea for her simple and cleanly designed Clip-Tabs came from the everyday bustle of running her own fashion accessory company, she said.

While constantly traveling and taking notes for new products, Lau found herself constantly paper clipping stacks of notes and then labeling the stacks with sticky tabs.

“After doing this for years, I just got really upset,” she said.

She also got inspired.

“If there is someone like me who still uses a lot of paper then there is a need for this,” she said. “It’s so simple — a paper clip with a tab.”

After six months of tinkering, Lau had her product.

Now, Clip-Tabs, which were launched in 2007, are sold in Office Depot and will soon be sold at Office Max, Staples and K-12 schools across the country via catalog promotion, she said.

But though inspiration for the product came naturally, understanding the new market did not.

With her fashion accessory company, Ficcare, Lau went straight to her most visible potential customers — celebrities — and sold a much higher end product than was usual at the time, she said.

After she contacted the stylists of shows such as “Melrose Place,” “90210” and “Friends,” stars including Courtney Cox and Lisa Kudrow started wearing her accessories. Her pieces began to appear in fashion magazines such as InStyle, Vogue and Cosmopolitan, shesaid.

The uniqueness of a high-end hair clip and good word of mouth caused her pieces to sell amazingly well, Lau said.

“In one week, I had 25 percent sell through. That’s extremely rare,” she said. “In the industry, 5 percent sell through is considered good.”

But when she entered the office supply business, she faced a new kind of market.

“For me, this is a much harder product to promote,” said Lau who noted that unlike her fashion accessories, Clip-Tabs compete on about the same price level as other office supplies. “I’ve been very lucky to have made it into the major superstores.”

Although Lau gives credit to luck for getting Clip-Tabs into stores, she stresses design.

“Design is really critical — simple, but very good design,” she said.

Business

New project: Design Ficcare and Clip-rite Spring ’08 collection

Last project: Completed Ficcare Winter/Holiday ’07 Catalog

Number of e-mails a day: 25 to 30

Number of voice mails a day: 2 or 3

Essential Web site: Google Maps

Best perk: Mix business with pleasure when traveling abroad

Gadgets: My iPod

Education: UC Berkeley, BS Materials Science and Engineering

Last conference: Professional Business Women of California

First job: Cashier at movie theater

Original aspiration: Wanted to become a professional tennis player

Career objective: Grow Clip-rite and Ficcare brand recognition, expand product distribution and continue to be creative and innovative.

Personal

Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sports/hobbies: Love to play beach volleyball, tennis, swimming and spinning

Transportation: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Favorite restaurant: Nola’s in Palo Alto

Computer you use: Dell

Vacation spot: Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro

Favorite clothier: Don’t have one; I buy whatever makes me look and feel good

Role Model: My grandparents

Reading: Murder/mystery books are my favorites

Worst fear: Losing a loved one

Motivation: Life is too short, so make every day a happy and positive day.

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