By Michael Kaplan
Martha is transcendent. She’s at the top of any list of women-in-business when it comes to total revenues she’s generated, money she’s made for herself, and the strength of her personal brand. Her longevity – having published her first book in 1982 – defies gravity. She used cookbooks as a vehicle to redefine the house and garden category, and was an early leader in the sale and merchandising of mass-market products licensed under her personal brand name. She’s been an early adopter of new technologies, leading the quantum shift from print to the internet. She was the first influencer and has a large, active and engaged social media following. And she’s now, again revolutionizing the sales chain, with an array of direct-to-consumer online product offerings that are distinctively ‘Martha’ – making the product manufacturer less and less visible.
Martha being Martha is and always has been a woman in business completely unphased and undeterred by whatever discriminatory circumstances she may have encountered…or, for that matter, any other obstacles.
“I’ve been working since I was 13. I was brought up in Nutley, New Jersey in a basic, centrist family. My dad, Edward, was a pharmaceutical company salesman, my mom was a 6th grade teacher in the public school, and we were three girls and two boys. I always knew I needed to be an earner, and I certainly wasn’t taught, and wasn’t really aware of, or focused on, any type of racial or gender discrimination, or anything about glass ceilings. And I was never a women’s libber like Gloria Steinum or something. My dad used to say, ‘Martha, my girl, you can do whatever you want!’, but I knew it depended on me to get it done,” Martha explains plainly. “I had a modeling job in high school and was making $50 an hour in 1962 – which was a lot of money back then! When my dad lost his job for a time, I supported the family. I put myself through college. I chose to go to Barnard College, partly because of the scholarship they gave me, and because there was no way I could afford to go to Stanford. Freshman and Sophomore years I lived at home, commuted from Nutley to Barnard on the #13 Bus and the 7th Avenue Subway, and then after school each day I took a bus to Newark to work a job at Bambergers.”
“I met Andy Stewart during my Sophomore year at Barnard and fell madly in love on the first date. We got married before the end of that year and I took a leave of absence to go on our honeymoon. He had one year left at Yale Law School, so we moved to Connecticut and I commuted into the City to finish college. We had Alexis in 1965, and I got a good job working as a stockbroker in what was a real ‘go go’ Wall Street firm – where I was one of only two women!” Martha recalls her start in the male dominated world of business in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “I was up for it. It was one of the toughest atmospheres you could find, filled with really voracious, smart, and tough young men. There was a real male chauvinism about the whole place – they all even used to smoke cigars right in the office. …There I was, a very attractive 23 year old young woman, determined they couldn’t cow me. They sent me out to cut my teeth trying to sell Fidelity on an up-and-coming Ross Perot and his new Electronic Data Systems, and I brought back a big order…and remained friends with Ross through his Presidential run. If I’d only bought some of his Electronic Data Systems back then I would have been able to retire before getting started. As was the style for young women at the time, I would wear high heels and little velvet hot pants with an alligator belt and a cute sweater to work. And I put a pair of nice little fans on each corner of my desk to blow the cigar smoke away. I liked how every day it’s zero at the opening bell and the clock starts ticking, and I liked the feeling when the female teller at my branch of Manufacturers Hanover Bank looked up in astonishment at a $300,000 bonus check I was depositing.
“After seven years on Wall Street, my marriage was breaking up and I needed to be at home full-time with Alexis. I think my husband had just grown tired of how much I’d been working. It was the early ‘70s. Watergate was going on. I’ve always wanted to start a restaurant, but never wanted to have to work at night. I decided to paint the old mansion we’d acquired at 48 Turkey Hill in Westport by myself…and then started a business painting houses…and decorating. I started a small catering business…then turned it into a large catering business…then developed an information and education-based business around my catering business. I had an early newsletter with a paid circulation of 20,000. I liked catering because it was like setting up a restaurant and knocking it down every night. Running all these businesses fed my work ethic. Then, in 1982, I wrote my first book. It included recipes, but I was really telling the broader story about having a home that every woman needed,” Martha recalls her entrepreneurial experience.
“While I’ve never felt being a woman in business was a limitation, there are two particular experiences I had when I do believe I was underestimated because I was a woman. The first was in 1982, when I wrote my first book, and my publisher was going to print a first run of 5,000 copies, certain that would be enough to satisfy the demand for what he saw mostly as a cookbook…I insisted what I had was different and that they do a run of 25,000 copies…and the entire run sold out immediately! The second time I felt underestimated or, quite literally, undervalued, was when I was taking my company public in 1999. I felt like the teams of men working for me never really understood my ‘lifestyle’ business model and that I may not have been given the same kind of robust support they may have given a man in the same position. …I can’t complain. The stock offering was a huge success, and then – illustrating that the market saw its true value – the stock doubled shortly after the offering. But that was a time when I think being a woman came into play.”
“Any advice I have for other women in business – is really the same advice I’d give any young person – male or female. Be as highly educated as you can be, and be curious about all things. If you have a passion – go for it! Design it the best way possible, find people interested in your business, and don’t work too hard to persuade anyone who isn’t interested. Study opportunities.” Martha encourages. “I believe it’s terribly important to stay informed and to stay current on all new technologies. I did the first magazine published on a Mac computer, I’ve been a leader in the shift to digital and the internet, and I’m pretty big on social media – I’m even a tik-tok-er.”
Indeed, Martha is now again at the forefront of new technologies – revolutionizing and reinventing the use of new media to effect a shift to selling just about everything directly to the consumer.
Martha recently launched Martha.com, a direct-to-consumer online platform with new shops, experiences and information, including Martha’s familiar how-to content, recipes, guides, classes, and more. The site is a full marketplace of all things Martha, bringing together everyday solutions for gardening, cooking, baking, collecting, decorating, organizing, and plenty else…all from the woman who knows it best.
As one example of Martha.com’s inventiveness, the site has partnered with Chicory to include their signature “Get Ingredients” button, allowing site visitors to purchase all the ingredients – as well as all the cookware, bakeware, kitchen tools, and other accessories – required to fulfill each of the full offering of Martha Stewart recipes available on the site.
Perhaps most exciting, Martha.com includes the first-ever ‘Living By Design’ virtual showhouse, allowing consumers to take an interactive – and shoppable – tour to experience how 20 of today’s leading home designers and experts have brought their own dream visions to life. …This technology suggests site visitors might soon be able to shop while taking an interactive virtual walk through Martha’s home!
Then there’s Martha Stewart Kitchen, a selection of frozen appetizers, side dishes, entrees, seasonal vegetables and ready-to-heat blends made from Martha Stewart’s collection of signature recipes. The brand uses natural ingredients and relies on flavorful vegetables, herbs, and aromatics to flavor meals, as opposed to artificial flavors or ingredients. Slow cooked proteins like pot roast and chicken thighs were a natural fit for the line because they stay so tender. Recipes were selected to translate well to the frozen food format without sacrificing the quality of the product and to preserve the integrity of the recipe, so Martha is proud to say that her Martha Stewart Kitchen brand “…is as close to homemade as you can get in the freezer aisle”. Martha Stewart Kitchen is already available at Kroger, Publix, Albertsons/Safeway, Hannaford, Jewel Osco, Meijer, Woodman’s, King’s Balducci’s, Winn Dixie, Wakefern/ShopRite, and Walmart!
And for those who want Martha’s recipes, but don’t want to do any of the cooking…now there’s Goldbelly! With ecommerce leader Goldbelly, any consumer can order Martha’s culinary creations and have them delivered in time to satisfy everyone in the house! The launch of this partnership already includes an assortment of Martha’s luxurious pastries, such as rich butter croissants, apricot danishes and kouign-amanns, and her addictively delicious cookies.
Martha has even been able to extend her brand into the somewhat far flung wine and CBD categories. Somewhat humorously, both ventures involve Martha’s renowned – and regularly reposted – friendship with Snoop…about whom Martha says, “He’s a pretty cool cat and a good friend. I had a great time with him at the Super Bowl this year. I don’t really go for hangin’ around his studio that much because it’s too smokey for me, but I’m pretty impressed with how he ‘dropped a beat’ and made $600,000 in an instant, selling it as an NFT.
In January 2022, 19 Crimes launched Martha’s Chard, which Martha says, “…was modeled after a French style Burgundy, similar to my favorite varietal, Aligote. This is not a California style Chardonnay. With this blend, I wanted to shake up the world of Chardonnay by creating a blend that is clean, crisp and flavorful, without being too heavy and overly oaky. A wine that you can drink with or without food. I was very involved in the winemaking process and have a direct link to 19 Crimes winemaker Michael Leven… potentially to his dismay! We worked in tandem creating this Chardonnay, and I was involved in every decision throughout the process. When presented with the final blend, I shared some edits and we tried both versions with consumers. Not to toot my own horn, but my version won out – and that’s what you’ll be tasting in the bottle. Snoop’s Cali Red has found a big audience, and I think my Martha’s Chard is going to be a big hit. It was the #2 Chardonnay in its price range after only one month in business.”
And it was Snoop who introduced Martha to CBD, and to the top-tier Canopy Growth Corporation. Most recently, Martha added a line of topicals to her existing edible offerings. The topicals line consists of Super Strength CBD Cream designed for muscle recovery, Sleep Science CBD Cream designed for better sleep, and Daily De-Stress CBD Cream designed for stress management. Each product was created by Martha, and formulated with market-leading levels of US-derived broad-spectrum CBD, powerful co-actives, and proven-to-work aroma-technology formulated specifically for each need, all carefully balanced for optimal results.
The thing is, that a huge number of consumers – men and women, young and old – trust Martha Stewart like Walter Cronkite, Mr. Rogers and the Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval all rolled into one! About this legendary confidence in her judgment – on an ever-expanding range of things – Martha says, “If I have a secret sauce – for everything I do – it’s that I consider, first, ‘Does it inspire and does it inform?’ and then, as important, ‘Do I want it and do I need it?’. I think people know it’s genuine.”
Martha wouldn’t dish on other future projects or what’s on her bucket list, saying, maybe half-jokingly, that “It’s a very long list…and I’ll be the one publishing it…in my autobiography!” But, what’s next up for Martha – and eponymously notable to B&NC Mag readers – is that this Summer she’ll open a new 194-seat restaurant in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas to be called The Bedford By Martha Stewart. The restaurant draws inspiration from Martha’s country farmhouse, and will feature Martha’s recipes, prepared with high-quality ingredients from Martha’s favorite farm-to-table purveyors. …Martha wouldn’t say whether anyone brandishing a copy of B&NC MAG at The Bedford would be entitled to a free cocktail?!?