Teamwork Makes Dreamwork!
Patrick Hoy here – and as I’ve said before, Angel and I get to work with the BEST team in the whole world! We are so lucky to have a Quack-Tastic team that we work with every single day! Jeanne Bice really knew what she was doing when she brought us all together.
This year I’ve been doing a series of blogs where you’ve been able to get to know some of the wonderful people on the Quacker Factory team. So far you’ve met both of our Designers/Artists – John Shrader & Diane McKenna. You’ve also met the two Head of the Design Team members – Susan Bramley & Leslie Barham. I know you really enjoyed meeting Jeanne’s right-hand-man – Tiago Ramos! I had so much fun introducing you to someone who knew Jeanne when he was just a young boy, because he used to cut her lawn – John Mason! And it was fantastic to introduce you to our Chicks’ Night In social hostess with the mostess – Kristy Destefano!
This month I’m over the moon that I get to introduce you to someone on our team whose wife knew Jeanne when they were in 5th grade with each other – and then she & Jeanne Bice graduated from high school together! Ladies, it’s time to….
Meet John Furr!
I think John is one of the most creative men in the entire world! He has over 50 years of experience in the advertising and brand communications industry. He lives in downtown Chicago less than two blocks from the lake – right off Lake Shore Drive. He spent 45 years working with J. Walter Thompson Company – which happens to be one of the most famous advertising agencies in the entire world! John was one of their youngest ever Senior Vice Presidents – and was instrumental in heading up some of J. Walter Thompson’s highest profile clients such as Seven-Up, Kraft, Oscar Mayer & Gillette. If you’ve ever seen the great TV show Mad Men, then you get the idea of John’s incredible background – he was one of the original Mad Men – but in real life! We’re pretty darn lucky to have John working on our team!
Recently John and I sat down so that I could ask him a few questions so that you could all get to know him better. Just wait until you hear all of the amazing stories he has about working with Jeanne! Soooooo, without further ado – let me introduce you to Mr. Creative himself – John Furr!!
Patrick: Hello John! I’m so excited to be spending time with you – and I’m super excited that our viewers are going to get to find out all that you do for Quacker Factory – and get to hear some fantastic stories about Jeanne Bice that they’ve probably NEVER heard before! But first things first – tell us how you met Jeanne Bice?!
John: Hello Patrick – and everyone! My beautiful wife, Nancy, and Jeanne have known each other since 5th grade when they were in school together in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. And then they eventually graduated together from St. Mary Springs Academy. After they graduated, they kind of lost touch with each. You have to remember Patrick, that we didn’t have anything like Facebook back then – so it was much harder to stay in touch with friends – especially if you moved away – which is what Nancy did when she went to college.
Patrick: And when did you meet Nancy?
John: Nancy and I got married in 1964 – we were living in Chicago at that time. And I guess that Nancy had not seen Jeanne since they graduated from high school – which was a few years before that.
Patrick: Here’s a wonderful picture of you and Nancy on your wedding day!
John: Because Nancy was from Wisconsin, we kept going back and forth to Fond du Lac to visit her family – and during those trips we discovered and fell in love with the beauty of Green Lake. We loved it so much, that we ended up buying a house on Green Lake and we would spend summers and holidays there. At that time, we had our young children – so during the summer, Nancy would make the short drive into Ripon, to the library, to get the kids books. Unbeknownst to Nancy, Jeanne had moved to Ripon and was now married. Also unknown to Nancy was that Jeanne’s husband, Butch Bice, was the Librarian of the Ripon Library. Butch also ran the radio stations in the area. Back then Patrick, business leaders had their hands in several pies – so to speak – and Butch was one of the ‘business father’s’ of Ripon at the time. Also in Ripon at that time was one of Ripon’s newest business owners – Jeanne Bice! She and her best friend Mary Ann had opened a store called The Silent Woman. They sold house furnishings, knick knacks – and clothes that Jeanne had designed. But during Nancy’s trips back and forth to the library, she didn’t know any of this.
Patrick: So how in the world did Nancy become reunited with Jeanne?!
John: Great question Patrick! Nancy found out that her high school class was having a 25th reunion – so she decided to go back to Fond du Lac for it. At the reunion, Jeanne kept looking over at Nancy and couldn’t figure out who she was – so she asked Butch if he knew who she was. Naturally Butch knew her name because she had spent many summers in the library – so he told her it was Nancy Furr – but of course Jeanne wouldn’t have known the Furr name. Jeanne finally went up to Nancy – and the minute Jeanne heard Nancy speak, she recognized her voice and knew instantly who she was! They found out that evening that they both had summer houses on Green Lake. That’s all Jeanne needed to hear – and within the next couple of weeks, Jeanne threw a party for Nancy at the Bice family lake house – and that’s when they re-became great friends!
Patrick: WOW – what a GREAT story! And I can only imagine the spread that Jeanne put together for that party – she really was the Queen of Parties!
John: Ha – that is SO true Patrick – I hadn’t seen anything like it in my life! And that’s when Jeanne and I were introduced – and we became lifelong friends as well – it was a summer that I’ll never forget!
Patrick: And it just goes to show how important it is to go to your high school reunions – you might just find out that one of your classmates has become a ‘Jeanne Bice’ as well! Here’s a picture of Jeanne & Nancy taken several years later in Wisconsin – aren’t they both beautiful?!
John: After Jeanne and Nancy reestablished their childhood friendship, they were inseparable. Jeanne’s shop was doing really well. But one day when I was in Los Angeles, Nancy called me and told me that Butch had suddenly died of a heart attack – I’ll never forget it. I was able to eventually finish my advertising work in LA and make it back in time for the funeral.
Patrick: What a shock that must have been for you all. I bet Jeanne needed her friends around her more than any other time in her life?
John: She really did Patrick. After Butch died, Nancy and I went to Green Lake for dinner EVERY weekend so that we could be with Jeanne. We really did all we could to ‘pull her up by her bra straps’. Jeanne still had her shop in Ripon – and that was part of what helped her get back on track after such a tragedy. Every weekend we would sit around the dinner table for hours and hours. Jeanne was concerned with what she should do next. I remember suggesting to her – as did a lot of her other close friends – that she might want to move to Florida and make a fresh start – especially since the weather was so much easier to deal with down there. Jeanne’s parents had retired to Florida. Her father had been an auctioneer – which Jeanne always said was how she learned the gift of gab – and the ability to sell! As a family growing up, Jeanne’s father had always taken them down to Florida for Christmas – so it was an area that she knew quite well.
Patrick: It sounds like she eventually made the decision to head south?
John: When the time was right, she certainly did. In Florida, she started designing for various companies. Mary Ann – her business partner at The Silent Woman shop in Ripon – was recently divorced – so she joined Jeanne in Florida as well. They were having fun and they were both getting their lives back in order – they even opened up The Silent Woman in Florida for a while – but Jeanne had some other plans brewing in her head at that time. You see Patrick, she had turned on the television one night – and had watched QVC. She was also selling her designs from a wonderful booth in a big flea market – so life was heading in the right direction for her – and THEN – she heard about the QVC auditions in Orlando – and we all know what happened after that! Her son Tim had recently moved down from New York City and they had decided that he would become her business partner – and together, they made all of this happen. When the QVC audition happened in Orlando, Tim’s wife Karin went with her – and then when Jeanne first appeared on TV, Karin was right there by her side again. You see Patrick, this really was an amazing family business that they put together!
Patrick: AMAZING story, John! Okay, so we know that Jeanne won the QVC 50/50 Tour – and almost overnight became a sensation on the channel. Tell me how you became involved directly with Quacker Factory?
John: Quacker Factory and Jeanne Bice kept getting more and more successful with each show and each year that Jeanne was on – she was dubbed the Queen of TV Shopping and the entire United States was in love with her and her products. At the time, as you mentioned above, I was working for one of the biggest advertising firms in the world – J. Walter Thompson. Jeanne called me up one day and said – “Okay John, I have a new goal – how do I get on the Oprah show?!” And she was serious Patrick! So I told her without any hesitation – “Write a book, Jeanne – because Oprah brings on people who have written books.” Jeanne liked the idea a lot – but she said she wanted to build up the profile of Quacker Factory some more – so she asked me if I might be able to help. I remember when she first put the bug in my ear – it was when Nancy and I were down there visiting her in Boca Raton. She teasingly asked me when I was going to come work for her. And that got me thinking…
Patrick: I know you were really busy at that time – so how were you able to make that happen?
John: I was quite busy – but I was getting a little older and wanting to cut back on my time at the agency. After negotiating with J. Walter Thompson to be retained as a part-time consultant with them – this meant I could also work independently for Jeanne and Quacker Factory – and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was about that!
Patrick: I’m sure our readers would love to hear some of the first things you did to help Jeanne!
John: Well, the company was already a great success before I got involved – so you can imagine how much of a joy it was for me to be asked to help them grow even more! My first job was to help create new branding – especially for the logo and clothing labels. Did you know that the original labels for our clothes were of a goose?! It really was! So I helped organize some specialized branding people I knew to help. They all got together and looked at many design ideas – and the wacky & quacky duck won out – because everyone thought it represented Jeanne with ruffled feathers – flying upside down – and having FUN!! We chose it because everyone thought the quacky duck captured Jeanne’s wonderful personality. We added to the label the phrase ‘Wear It With A Smile’ – and the rest is history! I then established a Marketing Strategy – which Jeanne really loved. This led to me helping make, with the team, presentations to senior management at QVC about the new Quacker branding – which included our approach to creating shows we called ‘Quackertainment’ – shows that were really FUN to watch – and showed Jeanne doing what she did better than anyone else. This was something that really set her shows and brand apart from anything else that was on QVC!
Patrick: What happened next??
John: Jeanne’s and Quacker Factory’s success just kept going from strength to strength. Tim understood show business – and saw the great opportunity to push the Quacker Factory brand to the wider public in America – so he hired a Public Relations (PR) firm in NYC – headed up by a PR guru named Ken Sunshine. Ken had worked with big names like Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Justin Timberlake. Tim asked me to work with Ken and his team – so I was in NYC regularly – it was particularly exciting when Ken’s team got us some publicity in USA Today – and also in the NY Times! In addition, I was working with the PR department at QVC to help us get more publicity there. Shortly after that, Jeanne was featured for the first time in the Q Insider magazine. Patrick, this was honestly the beginning of social media – before Facebook – can you imagine that?!
Patrick: I can’t! And how fascinating that Jeanne worked with a PR firm that had represented so many other famous people – I bet our readers didn’t know that! So how in the world did Jeanne get started on her first book?!
John: Believe it or not, someone from a book firm saw Jeanne on TV on QVC – and they loved her – and wanted her to write a book for the mass market! We knew the first thing we had to do was find a Literary Agent – so we went to NYC. I remember staying up all night to finish a PowerPoint presentation about what made Jeanne – well, Jeanne! The meeting was a huge success – and Jeanne was offered a book deal. That led to the pressure of getting a book done – and coming up with a title. And that, my friend, is how ‘Pick Yourself Up by Your Bra Straps’ was born! The publishers sent a photographer to Florida to take a series of pictures to promote the book. Here is one of my favorites.
Patrick: I love that picture as well. What many people might not know is that Jeanne’s office was right off of her bedroom – which you can see in this great picture! What happened next?!
John: QVC was also really excited about the book – so they decided that they wanted to sell it on air during one of Jeanne’s shows. Guess how many copies sold in ONE day, Patrick?! 23,000 copies! With the New York Times, it’s a big deal to sell 10,000 books – but our Jeanne more than doubled that – and this was before Amazon was even in the picture!
Patrick: Unbelievable! And that was just the beginning of Jeanne’s writing career – she definitely had more books within her to write!
John: She certainly did! Soon after the success of the first book, a publisher based in Delray Beach contacted Jeanne – they were the publisher who did all the ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ series. That led to the Quacker Factory Christmas book – the one with all of Jeanne, Tim’s & Lee’s favorite recipes.
Patrick: I love, love, LOVE that book – the recipes are SO good – I probably cook something out of it at least once a month! I know that after this book, Jeanne (and Tim & Lee) wrote another book that I love so much – ‘The Rubber Duck Principle’. How did that come about, John?
John: Jeanne was ALWAYS doodling, writing, cutting and pasting notes. She once thought she wanted to be a school teacher – her favorite thing in training to be a school teacher when she was younger was doing the bulletin boards! She was always cutting, pasting and creating things. One day she sent me a HUGE stack of her books with doodles, pastings, etc. I spent WEEKS and WEEKS organizing it. This was the genesis for The Rubber Duck Principle. Geeze Patrick, when I told her a few years before that she needed to write a book – I had NO idea that she would end up writing THREE books! Anyway, Jeanne came up with the idea that the Rubber Duck Principle was going to become a family endeavor. She and Lee & Tim spent HOURS in Jeanne’s back room working on this. And let me tell you something Patrick – she really treasured those hours they all had together writing The Rubber Duck Principle.
Patrick: How AMAZING! Most families spend hours doing puzzles with each other – but the Bice’s actually wrote a book together – that is so cool! I remember being in Branson, MO with Jeanne when she launched this book to the ladies who were on that trip. Here’s a picture of you and her on stage for the unveiling of the book that weekend – I particularly like the ‘Head Quack’ banner on the front of the table!
John: Jeanne, Tim & Lee even talked about doing a monthly Quacker Factory magazine. But they realized that the magazine trade was dying – and it would have been hard to fill a magazine EVERY month – especially since Jeanne was so busy with designing AND being on air – especially since she was getting more and more and more hours & shows on QVC.
Patrick: But that didn’t stop them from building a website, did it?!
John: You’re right about that. They decided, instead, to put their time and emphasis on developing a fantastic website – one that viewers could visit every day. And now Tiago – and her grandson James – have updated that. There is even a social part on their – our very own Quacker Factory type of Facebook section – called Quacker Social – that our viewers can go to 24 hours a day and meet other Quackers from all over the world. Jeanne really led the way with social medial before anyone else was doing it!
Patrick: Plus, with her books, more hours on QVC AND the new website, Jeanne’s profile in the media got bigger and bigger.
John: That’s absolutely right. While she never did make it on Oprah, she was on a lot of other talk shows. The View, The Soup, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Danza, Rosie O’Donnell – and many more. For a while there, when Jeanne wasn’t on QVC – she could be seen on the major networks promoting her books and Quacker Factory. Here’s a picture of us when we were in Los Angeles for several shows she was a guest on.
John: Patrick, that picture was taken outside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Rodeo Drive, where the movie Pretty Woman was filmed. Jeanne LOVED that film. It just so happens that when we were there, the concierge was a Quacker, so she treated Jeanne like a big celebrity! What a wonderful trip that was!
Patrick: Not only was Jeanne writing, appearing on QVC and also on other shows, but she was also organizing cruises – as well as a trip to Branson – so that her fans could met her up close and in person – there was no stopping her!
John: You’re right – she was on the go, go, go! After the first cruise, which was only a few days long, we decided to do a week-long cruise – that way more viewers could join in the fun – and it would give Jeanne a chance to meet more of her Quackers.
Patrick: Here’s a picture of you and Nancy with Jeanne as you were about to board the 2nd cruise.
John: Jeanne really loved meeting her viewers – she would stay for hours and hours to hear everyone’s story on the cruises and in Branson – she was so full of gratitude!
Patrick: You are so right about that, John! Here’s a picture of her in Branson – you can just see the joy, excitement and gratitude in her smile as she was waiting to meet more of her Quackers!
Patrick: John, tell me a time that Jeanne really made you laugh.
John: She made me laugh all of the time – she was a ray of sunshine every time we were together. But I remember one time we were deep in discussion about some new designs she was working on. I asked her if there might be a little TOO many sequins on one of the designs – and she stopped what she was doing, slowly looked up at me, and said – “Some designers say less is more – but Honey, in MY world, more is MORE – do don’t ever settle for 10 sequins when you have the space to put 100 sequins – that’s MY motto, Johnny Boy!!”
Patrick: Yep, that sounds like our Jeanne! If you had a magic wand and could change one things in the world, what would it be?
John: Like Jeanne, I’d love to see more and more happiness in this great world we live in. I’ve got two grandchildren who light up my life – and I want to do all I can to make sure it’s a happy world out there for them.
Patrick: Here’s a picture of you with your beautiful family at yours and Nancy’s 50th anniversary.
Patrick: So I’m sure our readers would like to know if it really was like the TV show Mad Men when you were a young Vice President for one of the biggest advertisting firms in the world???
John: Ha – it really was like the TV show! I lived it – so I can tell you that it really was! My office was in the John Hancock building in Chicago – and I had a 15 foot velvet sofa – and a 10 foot long snakeskin credenza! In Mad Men, one of the offices in the show honestly looked amost exactly like my old office!
Patrick: That is so cool! Okay, John, before I let you go, I just have to ask you one more question. What’s your favorite QVC product?
John: My personal favorite is Mrs. Prindable’s Apples – I’m secretly addicted to them! But I also think that our DreamJeannes are the best product ever to be shown on QVC. I was working out in my gym one day and the idea for the name ‘DreamJeannes’ popped into my head. I called Jeanne the second I got done with my workout – and she and the team loved the name – and as you know, the rest is history! But as you so often say – I just wish they made them for us guys!
Patrick: I TOTALLY agree with you – we need to talk to Susan and the design team about that! We’ll definitely both need a pair of them after we eat some more of your favorite Mrs. Prindable’s apples!!
One Team – One Dream!
I hope you all enjoyed getting to know John – what a wealth of knowledge he is – I think I’ve learned more about Jeanne in this interview than I ever knew before! Join me next month when I introduce you to another one of our Dream Team members!
Quacker Hugs & Love From Across the Duck Pond!
Patrick H. Hoy
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