- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

NEW YORK — She is queen of the homemaker hill, and they are all way down the slopes, looking up with awe, admiration, envy. But these much smaller rivals of Martha Stewart, with their own TV shows and brands, may be ready to start climbing if the ImClone insider-trading scandal starts to damage her $300 million empire.
Most aren't household names does Lynette Jennings really ring a bell? Christopher Lowell? And it clearly it will be a challenge to replicate Mrs. Stewart's huge machine of media and home products.
But they are building their own brands through merchandising partnerships with national retailers, TV shows, book deals and other ventures.
Most also are quick to point out just how different they are from Martha: namely, how they are less dictatorial in their approach and how they want to demystify design and home entertaining.
And some truly are different, like fast-talking interior design expert Mr. Lowell, who likes to liven his Discovery Channel show by dressing in drag. Or Barbara Smith, known as B. Smith, a black model and entertainer, whose appeal has crossed ethnic lines.
Chris Casson Madden, the mother of two teenage boys, has created a loyal following among busy moms with her home-as-sanctuary mantra. Her merchandising business includes books and furniture.
"I have a different take from Martha," said Mrs. Madden, based in Rye, N.Y. "I am definitely about finding your home as a haven and finding your own personal style. I am about the perfection of imperfection, such as the beauty of chaos of daily life if you can get control."
The Los Angeles-based Mr. Lowell is a former set designer with a significant male following. "There may be some overlap between our audience and Martha's, but our audience is different," he said.
Some say they already are benefiting from the troubles dogging Mrs. Stewart since early June, when it was disclosed that federal prosecutors were investigating her sale of almost 4,000 shares of the biotech company ImClone Systems Inc. just before it announced bad news from the Food and Drug Administration last year.
ImClone's former chief, Sam Waksal, is a friend of Mrs. Stewart's and was charged with insider trading last month. A congressional committee has demanded records from Mrs. Stewart's stockbroker. Shares in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. have dropped sharply.
"There has been a sizable spike in interest in B. Smith in the wake of all of this," said Dan Gasby, Mrs. Smith's husband and a partner in B. Smith Enterprises Inc.
"Consumers, stores and manufacturers are looking at her with heightened awareness," he said. "Every time you have questions of credibility, people start to look for other alternatives."
Mrs. Smith, a Manhattan, N.Y., resident, has three restaurants and a successful line of bedding and window treatments in Bed, Bath & Beyond stores but wants to create a global brand, with plans to introduce fragrances, jewelry, food and fashion over the next couple of years.
Dan Levin, chief operating officer of Christopher Lowell Enterprises, has been working to secure licensing deals for the past seven years and said the news about Mrs. Stewart seems to have, "in some cases, hastened or increased the weight of some of our conversations" with potential partners.
Through an exclusive partnership with Burlington Coat Factory, Mr. Lowell sells a home collection under his name, which includes sheets and paints.
Mrs. Jennings, based in Grand Junction, Colo., is an author and interior-design expert who has had a decorating show for 15 years, now with the Discovery Channel.
"Our phone is starting to ring," she said. "If we are in line for more business, then of course we will take advantage of it.
"On the other hand, it is troubling for the overall industry. It hurts because the consumer trust is broken," she added.
Mrs. Jennings, who started her design firm in 1972, is set to introduce a slew of home products under her name by next spring, targeting chain stores.
Mrs. Madden said that since the scandal broke, she is receiving twice as many requests for speaking engagements.
"I already have the track record, and I don't feel any negative publicity against Martha will impact me or my products."
She is expanding her line of affordable furniture, pillows and rugs, sold in department and specialty stores nationwide. She is signing deals for a number of products, from bedding to wallpaper, to be sold in the spring. And she is also is talking with Hearst Corp. and American Express Publishing Corp. about starting a magazine.
Mrs. Stewart, who started out as a home caterer in the 1970s, may have created a formula that seems easy to copy, but analysts say it will be a challenge for her rivals to catch up.
The Martha Stewart Everyday products, which range from kitchen accessories to bed linens, are the top sales generators at Kmart, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Her monthly magazine, Martha Stewart Living, has a circulation exceeding 2 million. Despite the recent negative publicity, there is no sign consumers are turning away from her products.
"There is no one right now that is a close second to Martha," said Seth Siegel, co-founder of the Beanstalk Group, a licensing agency.
"There are many people with a significant talent that have some following. But they have certainly not broken through the mass audience," he said.
For example, Mrs. Madden's company's retail sales are rising but are expected to total only about $75 million this year, with the goal to increase it to $125 million by 2004, said Kevin Madden, her husband and chief executive of Chris Madden Inc. Her furniture line, manufactured by Bassett Furniture Industries Inc., has generated $100 million in sales since its debut in spring 2000.

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