Teen business owner who took dip in Shark Tank to speak at women's luncheon in Monroeville
By Kyle Lawson
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
An embarrassing skin condition motivated Lani Lazzari to develop an all-natural skin care product when she was just 11 years old.
But her motivation to skip college and work to grow her business — Simple Sugars — is rooted in seeing her mother, Gina, passed over for a position in pharmaceutical sales while on maternity leave.
“After watching her go through that and hear her talking about it, I was discouraged as a woman going into the corporate world,” said Lazzari, of Fox Chapel.
Determination to succeed helped her turn what started as a hobby seven years ago into a business that is projected to generate $2.3 million in sales this year. Along the way, the 19-year-old appaeared on network TV, striking a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban.
Lazzari, who has grown the business from her family's home to a Sharpsburg building with 24 employees, is scheduled to speak Friday at a Women in Leadership luncheon in Monroeville, hosted by the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce.
An appearance on ABC's reality show “Shark Tank” in April launched Lazzari's business toward national recognition.
The show features entrepreneurs seeking funding from a panel of investors, in exchange for a percentage of their businesses. One of the investors is Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban, who offered Lazarri $100,000 for a 33 percent stake in her business.
When Cuban appeared on the “Live with Kelly and Michael” TV show in June, the Dallas Mavericks owner said his deal with Lazzari was one of the best he has made on “Shark Tank.” He said the business did $600,000 in sales — 20,000 orders — in three days after the episode aired in April.
“We expected she might get 500 to 1,000 orders,” Cuban said. “Her business is killing it.”
Simple Sugars produces 36 body scrubs, five facial scrubs, three vegan scrubs and one foot scrub for women, and a men's line called Smooth for Men with nine products. Giant Eagle sells the brand in 28 of its Market District locations and other stores with health and beauty products departments, and other retailers also carry it.
Lazzari, who dealt with eczema and skin problems, started making scrubs from ingredients in her family's kitchen, and giving them as gifts.
She said that she and her staff were bracing for another spike in sales last weekend, after the “Shark Tank” show re-aired July 19. Though her pitch on “Shark Tank” might have been the most important of her short career, it wasn't the first.
As a junior at The Ellis School in Shadyside, Lazzari said she convinced school administrators to create an independent work program so she could run her business and attend class via Skype. Her classmates were jealous, she said, but they didn't realize what the business entailed.
“They all thought I was sitting home watching TV all day,” Lazzari said. “Meanwhile, I was probably working more than they were.”
When she speaks in Monroeville this weekend, Lazzari said, she'll recount her experience as a teen navigating the business world.
“I've definitely had my fair share of obstacles to overcome, being so young and trying to get people to take me seriously,” she said.
Even after her appearance on “Shark Tank,” Lazzari said, some acquaintances don't realize how Simple Sugars has grown.
“People think I'm doing it in my kitchen and selling it to friends,” she said.
Lazzari graduated from high school this year. She was accepted to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but has put college on hold to focus on her business.
“Most college grads would be happy to be in the position I'm in now,” she said.
Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or email@example.com.
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