How a Boy and His Legos Gave Rise to a Cult Beauty Product

Jack building the prototype with his Legos. Photo: Marcy McKennaFor all the flak Lego has gotten lately, it’s getting plenty of love this week. That’s thanks to entrepreneur Marcy McKenna, who credits her son and his trusty plastic building blocks with turning one of her beauty-product ideas into a successful reality — one that’s made their family a million bucks. 

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“He loved Legos. Every Lego thing you can imagine, he’s built,” McKenna, the product inventor behind Simply Solved and a QVC guest host based in California, tells Yahoo Shine about her then-7-year-old son, Jack, who’s now 12. It’s how she wound up turning to him for help in nailing down the design for what’s become one of her most successful products to date — the Style & Go hair-care valet, which mounts on the wall and keeps hair dryers, curling irons, and other products both plugged in and stored.

“It started as a joke, and as just trying to involve Jack, so it was a crude prototype,” McKenna, 44, recalls. “But I did use it to say, yes, this could actually work.”

It all began one morning back in 2009, after she had been thinking about her husband’s repeated complaints about her hair products. She always left her hairdryer and other styling products lying out and in the way — as did her mom, a jewelry maker, inventor, and house flipper who lives with them in Newport Beach. So McKenna and her mother started brainstorming on how to fix the problem.

“My mother and I were sitting outside discussing where everything would go,” she tells, where she was profiled after answering a call for stories about women who had reinvented themselves. “I sketched out a cabinet with metal compartments and a power source that was built in, so that even hot styling tools could be put away safely and turned off with the flip of just one switch. Jack was sitting there playing with his Legos and listening to us, so I said, ‘Jack, how about if you build us our first prototype.’ I remember thinking, if this turns into something, I’m always going to remember this moment.”

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Jack used his Legos to build a storage box, and then worked with his mother and grandmother to figure out how all the styling tools (and their endless cords) would neatly fit inside. His clever input was just one of the ways that her winning innovation was a family-inspired effort: Also playing major roles were her screenwriter husband, Doug McKenna, who was on strike with fellow writers at the time, and Colin, one of their two other children, who has a chromosomal abnormality called Williams Syndrome. The combination of an out-of-work husband and a special-needs child, McKenna explains, was enough to make her strive extra-hard.
McKenna with the winning product at Lowes. Photo: Marcy McKenna

“We’re fairly certain he’ll be living with us for the rest of our lives,” she says about Colin, now 10, whose condition causes myriad issues including developmental delays and health problems that sent him into open-heart surgery at the age of 2. “Will he be able to make a living and support himself? No. And we don’t want Jack and Courtney to feel the pressure of having to worry about taking care of him when we’re gone,” she explains. “So failure is just not an option.”

It’s why McKenna, formerly in technology consulting and interior design, worked so hard to come up with an idea that could change her career for good.

The rest, of course, is retail history: McKenna got her Style & Go onto Kelly Ripa’s “Homemade Millionaire,” on TLC, where it became the winning product out of thousands. The product then launched on HSN and QVC and debuted at retailers including Lowes and Sharper Image. It's also opened McKenna’s creative floodgates, as she’s now joined forces with QVC to roll out several new inventions for 2014. Included among them are the Polish Parlor, a three-tiered caddy for holding up to 30 bottles of nail polish plus manicure tools; the Style Stick, a fashion adhesive in a stick that’s meant as a less-cumbersome alternative to double-sided tape (and one that McKenna says can be used to hem the pants you’re wearing in about 15 seconds); and the Always Organized Cosmetics Case, for use both at home and while traveling.

“I like to solve everyday problems that all of us have in various ways,” she says, adding that inventing is in her blood, with a tradition going back to her grandfather. “He invented the delay mechanism for bombs in World War I. And while it seems like rocket science,” she explains, “he used a dissolving Bayer aspirin to help him come up with it. I, too, like simple solutions.”

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