2 Billion Dollar Baby
Posted On Jul 26, 2016
Forbes Riley has brought fun and fitness to hundreds of thousands of consumers with her infomercial sensation, the SpinGym. Even better? She shows that dreams stay alive as long as we keep our eyes on the prize.
BY RUCHEL LOUIS COETZEE
Forbes riley has always been about acting—scripts, lights, action. A former chubby kid with braces, Riley explored healthy living early on and became Miss Teenage New York at age 16. A true working actress, she starred in cult films and on Broadway, made ends meet with singing telegrams, and gained a foothold in the infomercial world with products such as the Jack LaLanne Juicer. To yield her dream for another profession was unthinkable —that is, until the unthinkable actually happened.
She was informed that she was being replaced as the lead on the Fox television show Fashion House. The foundation of her ambition began to tremor. “After we had filmed sixty-five onehour episodes, they said I was out,” recalls celebrity health and fitness expert Riley.
“The next day, my agent told me he quit because at forty, I was getting older and kept losing roles in Hollywood to actresses who have had TV series. He added that I need to brand myself—that I make so much money in infomercials, and that if I still wanted to act I should buy my own movie. I walked out the door.” As she did, though, she realized her now ex-agent had a point: She’d made loads of money for companies by representing their products; why not use her ample talents to fill her own bank account?
This was Riley’s “burning bush” moment. She went home, hugged her three-year-old twins, and told her husband that before she takes her business to Home Shopping Network she is going to sit down and figure out how to brand herself. “I had done fifty infomercials that grossed ten-, twenty-, thirty-million dollars, and others that grossed hundreds of millions of dollars,” Riley says. “I did the math and it came to me… I’m the two billion dollar host.”
The passion Riley knew she could call upon was her sincere lifelong devotion to health—her own and that of the people she came into contact with. She had already made an impression representing health and nutrition products, and she had displayed a natural talent for getting couch potatoes moving and stressed-out businesspeople thinking about nutrition. She was ready to break out on her own, although how she’d precisely do it remained a mystery.
Within weeks, she found herself in London, in search of a product bearing her name. At 3 am, in the QVC UK green room, she watched a fellow guest playing with what looked like a yo-yo and asked to try it. After failing to work it properly and declaring it stupid, the guest persuaded her to give it a second look, telling her he sells thousands of them on QVC UK. “I finally got it to spin and I got this vision,” says Riley, who realized that this unusual device was the key to her future. Not only was it a good destresser, Riley realized it was a great upper-body workout. She asked to market the product in the US. “The deal was, I give him a small percentage and if I sold twenty-five-thousand in a year he would give me the company.”
At the infomercial convention where she was honored as “Best Female Presenter of the Year,” a colleague asked her if she would like to audition for a series called Pitch Men. “I pulled out this product and said, ‘I’ve got a spin gym here!’ That’s how I got the name.”
After initial financial setbacks, she persuaded her husband to mortgage the house as well as the twins’ college fund to purchase 10,000 units of SpinGym from China. She then begged HSN to give her some airtime. “I told them, ‘I will wager two minutes of airtime for twenty-five units,’” says Riley. “They gave me two minutes. I sold the twenty-five, and the next day I put a press release out: Forbes Riley sells out her debut SpinGym at HSN. The next time, HSN wanted two hundred. The third time, they put in an order for eight-thousand and paid up front, starting my whole company.”
That was January 2010, and the SpinGym has already sold 350, 000 on HSN alone. From Riley’s “double arrow” spin to the “lawnmower” move, she will convince you how easy it is to create killer abs from your desk and how vital it is to stay healthy. All the while, Riley provides a beautiful example of how perseverance pays off. “You are the sum of the obstacles you overcome,” Riley insists. If ever a philosophy were worth a spin, it is that.