Hints Powerhouse Heloise is Popular American Icon
By Donna J. Tuttle -
San Antonio Business Journal
San Antonios most well-known resident may not dribble a basketball
or sell cars, but she can eradicate that salad dressing on your
tie faster than you can reach for your napkin, and offer six ways
to reuse lunch leftovers.
Her name, as it appears on her American Express card, is simply
Heloise. And for those who automatically conjure up images of an
apron-clad housewife who dabbles with vinegar and baking soda, consider
this: Heloises photo and column Hints From Heloise
appear in 500 newspapers seven days a week; her monthly feature
in Good Housekeeping magazine reaches 28 million readers; and her
e-mail tip dings more than 250,000 e-mail inboxes per day. There
are 11 books, 20 to 30 speeches and appearances per year, a flurry
of TV and radio stints (including Oprah, the Today Show and Late
Night with David Letterman), two official Web sites, blogs, a thriving
pamphlet business, and now, a podcast on iTunes.
Asked to break down the Heloise Inc. portfolio, the lifestyle maven
quips with a hearty laugh: We dont have enough time.
Indeed, Heloise both the person and the corporation
is one of the nations most successful entrepreneurial stories.
Like Coke, Apple and IBM, Heloise is an American iconic brand
for consumer information. It is a brand founded on integrity; people
know they can trust her, says Merry Clark, a New York City
editorial director for Heloise. Coffee-drenched keyboards
and wine on the carpet may not seem significant, but the minor annoyances
of everyday life can be pretty frustrating, and people want immediate
solutions that work.
Heloise is an exceptionally savvy businesswoman, says
George B. Irish, president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice
president of the Hearst Corp., who first met Heloise when he was
publisher of the now defunct San Antonio Light. From the minute
I first met her, I was taken by the breadth of her knowledge about
the businessworld and the number of contacts she had. It became
readily apparent that she was not someone sitting in her office
in San Antonio doing hints, but rather was out marketing her product
and analyzing her audience.
Headquarters: River City
Command central of Heloise Inc. comes bustling alive every morning
in a ranch house tucked in Northeast San Antonio and built by the
columnists husband, David Evans. One wing of the house contains
offices and a sound studio, where a regular staff of three to five
assistants affectionately called my girls by
Heloise direct the traffic of 1,000 to 2,000 snail mail requests
and 2,000 to 3,000 e-mail requests per week and the myriad interview
and appearance requests from the global media. The operation employs
10 full-time employees and about five to seven consulting professionals
A self-described multi-tasker, Heloise scurries about her business
with the help of a commercial phone system made up of 21 telephones
and seven separate lines. I have a phone with a 25-foot cord
in my kitchen that allows me to walk around corners and get ice
for my tea while Im being interviewed, Heloise says.
I put a pedometer on to measure how far I walk between the
house and the office on a normal day, and I logged 7,000 steps.
There is also a separate fulfillment center in San Antonio that
takes orders for a dozen pamphlets ranging from Heloises Fantabulous
Vinegar Hints and More to Seasonings, Sauces and Substitutes.
The anchor of her business is the nearly 50-year-old newspaper
column, syndicated by King Features Syndicate, which includes both
a regular and condensed version and a series of special columns
about employment, auto care and garage sales published exclusively
in classified sections.
Requests from readers (How do you get rid of mothball stink? Can
you get ink off your leather handbag?) send Heloise and her staff
first to a comprehensive computer database (based on a card catalog
Heloises mother, the original columnist Heloise, kept and
the daughters 30-plus years of research), then to chemists
and engineers, and finally to test the cleaning tip or remedy firsthand.
Her house is like a living laboratory, Clark says. Shes
got pantyhose on this over here, nail polish on keys over there.
I remember breaking glass once with her so we could see how best
to clean it up.
Heloise is adamant about producing fresh copy for each medium,
resulting in a labyrinthine set of daily deadlines that would put
even the hardest working CEO to shame.
On any given day, Heloise can be editing copy, negotiating
a contract for her next book deal, testing a hint, recording a podcast,
all while she oversees her office staff and outlines her upcoming
speeches, which may be anywhere in the country, says Kimberly
C. Ford, Heloises accountant for more than 20 years with San
Antonios Hill & Ford P.C. Whats more, Heloise has
the business savvy to rely on a close knit group of loyal advisers.
I admire how Heloise utilizes her team of professionals to
help her run her business. She knows to contact us to help her with
difficult decisions before they become problems.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
At the core of Heloises business integrity are the sound business
practices passed on from her mother, the original Heloise. Born
in Fort Worth in 1919, Heloise Bowles graduated from Felt and Tarrent
Business College and Draughns Business college in 1939. In
1946, she met and married Marshal (Mike) Holman Cruse, a captain
in the Army Air Forces. The couple gave birth to daughter Poncë
Kiah Marchelle Cruse in 1951 in Waco and the family eventually moved
Mother Heloise Bowles decided she wanted to write a newspaper column
to help housewives. She marched to the office of the Honolulu
Advertiser to see the editor .... The Readers Exchange column
began in 1959, according to the Heloise.com Web site. Later,
in 1961, King Features Syndicate convinced Heloise to syndicate
her column with a new title, Hints from Heloise.
In 1962, the family moved to Washington, D.C., for a few years,
where little Heloise practically earned a childhood MBA by watching
her independent and assertive businessmom at work. The familys
three-bedroom apartment served as both home and office. Back
then the phone company owned all the equipment and consumers rented,
and consumers didnt have separate lines, Heloise reminisces.
My mother either paid the guy, or gave them a bottle of Scotch,
knowing mother, and darned if she didnt suddenly have a separate
Heloises mother was a pioneer who insisted on the efficiency
of advanced technology, purchasing one of the first IBM Selectric
typewriters (with a serial number of under 500) which was
the first typewriter to allow users to access different fonts and
now is exhibited in the Texas Womens Museum in Dallas
and using belted dictaphones. Dissatisfied with the formality of
a radio studio and stilted scripts, Mother Heloise suggested
the radio station come to her home office. They took everything
out of the walk-in closet, packed in moving blankets for soundproofing
and ran all the sound stuff in there. There was no air conditioning,
but my mother liked the natural, casual conversation that happened
there. She taught me by example how to negotiate for what you want,
The family moved to San Antonio in 1966, and the parents divorced
in 1968. Heloise, the daughter, worked part-time in her mothers
office while attending college as a math and business major at Southwest
Texas State University (now Texas State University). By then her
mother was a regular celebrity on the television shows like the
Mike Douglas Show. In 1977, the original Heloise died. It
wasnt until recently that I realized that mothers death
was both dramatic and traumatic, Heloise, the daughter, says.
One, I had lost my mother, and two, I had lost my employer.
I had gone from being an employee to an employer and gone from being
one of the girls in the office to the boss and these women
were all older than I.
Surrounded by her dad (who died in 2006), her brother, the family
attorney and the King Features management, 26-year-old Poncë
had 24 hours to make a decision about taking the family mantle and
moving forward as the new Heloise. Basically, we had to get
a press release out in about 24 hours, so I said Id try it
for a year, she says. The contract for Heloise the daughter
is dated Dec. 28, 1977, the day her mother died. Its
bittersweet, she sighs.
The Next Generation
The second generation Heloise never looked back. Her business partners
say the key to the endurance of brand Heloise is her inexhaustible
marketing prowess coupled with a down-home, no-nonsense Texas sense
of humor. She calls one to two newspaper editors per week and consistently
visits newspaper staffs and conducts hands-on presentations. She
speaks at university commencement ceremonies and has acted as the
grand marshal for the local Fiesta Pooch Parade. She calls
ahead to these newspapers, and the whole editorial staff stands
out in the parking lot. Heloise roars in on her motorcycle and gives
everyone rides, says T.R. Rocky Shepard III, president
of King Features, who says that Hints from Heloise is the companys
top text feature. I mean thats just amazing. We have
150 cartoonists and writers that we represent here, and no one works
harder. She makes our job easy.
She is a marketer par excellence, Hearsts Irish
says. I think that marketing savvy coupled with, and I say
this affectionately, her zaniness, really has caused her to stand
apart from others.
In addition, Heloise toils to stay current both in the technology
and with her audience. She was one of the first customers to own
an ATARI home computer in the late 1970s ; one of the first to own
a fax machine (New York Times, July 20, 1989) to accept hints, and
one of the first to trade in her clunky brick cell phone for a 1996,
3.2 ounce Motorola StarTAC, the first clamshell-designed phone.
She was prescient about the world-changing possibilities of the
Internet. Before anyone was really using the Internet, she
secured the Heloise.com domain name because she knew it would be
a great communication tool, her accountant Ford says.
She applies that same forward-thinking strategy to her audience,
making the tips relevant to new technology.
People are always asking me if they can salvage a cell phone
that dropped in the toilet, Heloise says. (Pulling out the
battery immediately and drying out the device with a hairdryer may
work, and Heloise is also researching the drying effects of Minute
rice, rubbing alcohol and WD-40 which is actually a water
displacer, she notes.)
She also updates her mothers old tips to make them accurate
in modern times and to include high-tech products that werent
available back in the 1960s. For example, while her mother suggested
sharpening the blades of a garbage disposal by running ice cubes
in it, Heloise reports that there is a rotating cutter,
not blades, in disposals and that only a gush of hot water will
do the trick.
She is also a role model and advocate for women. At speeches where
her audience is primarily female, she asks management to convert
the mens restrooms to womens. The best hotel ever
was the Westin downtown, which filled the urinals with ice and placed
potted plants in there it looked wonderful, Heloise
Her intellectual curiosity and insatiable appetite for knowledge
is continuing to fuel her future. Last week, when the repairman
came to Heloises home to fix a gate, she postponed this interview
to watch and learn so maybe next time I can do it myself,
she says. Thats what my mother taught me.
Friday, October 31, 2008 | All contents of this story © American
City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.
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