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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 16, 2009 11 years ago

Beauty Unwrapped

Victoria Morton invented a wrapping that tightens the skin and encourages weight lossand has grown it into an international business.

Victoria Morton invented a wrapping that tightens the skin and encourages weight lossand has grown it into an international business.

Victoria Morton did not have any sympathy for women who could not lose weight after having children. After all, she had four kids and slimmed down quickly after each delivery.

That was, until it came to her fifth child.

“I got my comeuppance,” Morton, 73, says. “I went through all kinds of struggles and nothing worked.”

Eventually Morton decided to get a hot wax treatment in Hollywood. That meant that her entire body would be dipped in hot liquid wax.

“You built up a thick coat of wax and they peeled you,” she recalls. “They said you would lose weight. A day before the appointment there was a story in the paper about them burning someone. I backed out.”

There had to be a better way, Morton thought.

So she developed a cloth wrapping technique using six-inch bandages and a special inorganic mineral solution she used on herself.

After a few treatments, it worked. Her skin was tighter and her waist and other body parts, including her face, were more condense and smaller. It was a catalyst to help her lose weight.

That was the quiet beginning of Morton's venture into entrepreneurship, a growing international business now known as Suddenly Slender in Palm Harbor.

Suddenly Slender has hundreds of franchisees and licensees in 40 countries across the world, including some royal princesses in Saudi Arabia. Its Web site also features other related skin care and beauty products.

Those include a re-engineered bra Morton invented 15 years ago called the It's All You! Bra. Workers sew them at her facility in Clearwater. The bra fits and supports women more naturally and comfortably than traditional underwire bras.

The bra, made with seamless surgical cotton, can both support a large-chested woman or enhance a more modest female figure. They are much more comfortable than underwire bras and the company has seen consistent, 30% annual sales growth in them, Morton says.

California dreamin'
Morton, who has a doctorate in biological science and comes from a family of inventors, founded Suddenly Slender in Chula Vista, Calif. in 1969. She later moved it to Palm Harbor to be closer to her adult children.

It took Morton about 13 tries before she developed the right mineral solution formula for her wraps. She needed to make sure customers were not becoming dehydrated. She wanted the formula to be non-toxic and even safe enough to drink.

Eventually, she sold franchisees or licensees to others for $40,000 plus the cost of the product, giving them the right to use the name Suddenly Slender and serve 50,000 people in an area. The licensees can hang their name over the door and stock Suddenly Slender products inside.

Competitors have cropped up over the years, including some former licensees who tried branching out on their own. Sometimes expensive legal action was needed to protect agreements and patented products.

“We're the first and best,” Morton says. “People try to copy us. When you're the best, people always try to take your stuff.”

The wraps tighten skin and make a more compact body. Women do get physically smaller and some go down two dress sizes with no weight loss. Costs vary and include a basic $125 slender tone treatment. Many customers come in for followup treatments.

The wraps jump start weight loss for some women, who have lost 180 pounds. Liposuction and other weight-loss surgeries can take out fat, but they leave big scars. They also do not tighten skin. Suddenly Slimmer tightens the skin without scarring.

“We prefer to wrap them as they are losing weight,” Morton says.

Training camp
The company trains its franchisees and licensees in Palm Harbor, including a session called “body wrap boot camp,” where franchisees get wrapped several times and they wrap others. Morton has invented nine different wrap formulas.

Suddenly Slender also holds its annual company meeting at Morton's home, which includes a 10,000-square-foot meeting area in Safety Harbor.

Suddenly Slender is privately held and Morton would not reveal revenues.

“We're heavily into the millions,” she says. “We've taken a dip in the last year.”

One growth area for the company is men, who are trying to slim down and make their clothes fit better. Some male customers are athletes.

“We wrap a lot of men,” Morton says. “Their shirts fit better. They come in once or twice a week. Then for maintenance once a month.”

Many of her customers come in repeatedly, for perhaps a 10- to 20-wrap package.

“We can wrap an arch into a flat foot, lift the hip, flatten the stomach, trim the waist, wrap the face, making the face the same as the body,” Morton says.

Many of the treatments have customers moving around, called “mummy aerobics,” so the body circulation stays revved up. There's also a “dreambody” procedure where customers lay down.

“We want to make sure they are hydrated, energized and relaxed,” Morton says.

Hot hands
Some of Morton's customers have included famous actors such as Dennis Weaver and his wife, actresses Amy Irving and Kirstie Alley of “Cheers” fame, plus several professional athletes looking to get rid of soreness and swelling.

Weaver wanted to go to England to play the part of Buffalo Bill and wanted a younger look. So Morton wrapped him, his wife and Weaver's agent.

While unwrapping them, Morton noticed that her hands were getting warmer and warmer. She had to wrap her hands three times to cool them down.

About 20 years ago that heat happened a few times a year. But every year, the body heat is getting more intense, something Morton attributes to additives, preservatives and particles in the air. Technicians now use gloves when wrapping customers.

Although Florida is home, Suddenly Slender's biggest sales are in California, Colorado and other states. A lot of its business is through referrals so it doesn't advertise.

It does want to fill in markets where it does not have as many locations, including states such as Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In the future, Morton hopes body wraps will be as common as hair styling and nail services.

“I think everyone is going to be doing it,” Morton says.

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