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July 25, 2014

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Tom Gorman is sold on the ‘Bowdabra’ - or at least, sold on the energetic Henderson entrepreneur who invented it

In one of the world's largest halls, Sandy Sandler of Henderson took the stage this week, performing with her Bowdabra.

Yeah, that's what I asked. What's a Bowdabra?

You're more likely to know if you're an XX versus an XY (and yes, I'm sexist).

A Bowdabra (rhymes with abracadabra) is a plastic gizmo, about the size of a napkin holder, that helps you make fancy, pretty bows out of ribbons.

Stupid me. I thought bows came in big plastic bags from Costco or Target. Red, blue, green, white, all about two inches in diameter, with a little piece of sticky so you can slap it on a wrapped gift box.

It turns out that some people like to actually make bows by hand. These are the same people with too much time on their hands.

Our town was full of these kinds of people this week. The Craft & Hobby Association held its annual trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. About 20,000 people strolled among 3,200 booths and thought it was nirvana, ordering and buying things from wholesalers and distributors that they will now sell at their retail shops.

In the crafts section alone, there were displays of beads and brushes, ribbons and rubber stamps, spangles and stickers, and felt, Velcro, yarn and appliques. Oh, all the appliques!

This was not my habitat. I get nervous when Jeanne drags me to Michaels for some silk flowers, and now I found myself at the convention center surrounded by teddy bears, brocades and glitter. My chest was tight, my knees wobbly.

My idea of a fun convention story is to cover the Consumer Electronics Show or MAGIC, the men's apparel show, or (be still my heart) the World of Concrete Expo, with machines so huge you have to gawk at them outside, in the parking lot.

But instead of marveling at machines that crush granite, I'm in search of Sandra and her boffo Bowdabras in booth No. 5934. Lord, protect me as I walk through the shadow of the valley of decoupage.

Sandy invented the Bowdabra about 10 years ago and now she's unveiling the mini-Bowdabra for those times when only a small bow will work. I'm thinking that next year she'll introduce her mega-Bowdabra for those really big jobs, such as sticking a huge bow on your new SUV.

Sandy's an entrepreneur, not a crafts-person. She doesn't have a single bow in her home in Anthem.

But man, can she sell. She's been on QVC more times than she can count, and at crafts conventions all over the place. Her Bowdabras are sold from Australia to Austria. She's sold more than 650,000 Bowdabras by her count.

Demos are a key for success at trade shows, much like food samples at Costco, and Sandy has it down pat. There's really no reason to just walk up to her little table, so she is a bit of a carnie huckster, beckoning people. If she were on a school playground, you'd probably call the cops.

"Hi! Do you want to see how a bow is made?" she asks passers-by. Believe me, that line would work only at a crafts show. And people inevitably agree to watch, either because they really do want to know, or they don't want to insult the poor woman by blowing her off.

Then Sandy begins her spiel. It sounds fresh and energized. Never mind she's probably said it 100 times this day, 500 times this week, a gazillion times this year.

"I'm going to start with the scrunch bow," she announces. She grabs pieces of metallic-colored ribbon, scrunches them down in the little space between two small plastic poles, and ties them together lickety-split with some bow wire. Presto! I mean, abracadabra Bowdabra!

The observers are hooked. I'm bored by bows, but fascinated by Sandy. She could sell ice to Eskimos, virgin martinis to Oscar Goodman. When she introduced her gizmo the first time on QVC, she moved 11,375 of them in 14 minutes.

And this, by a woman who wasn't even sure how best to use her own Bowdabra. She didn't design the thing. She hired an industrial engineer to do that. What she brought to the table was marketing and business-development expertise. Then she took it to arts and crafts conventions and other people played with it and discovered even more imaginative ways to use it. Artists do that, you see - they share their imagination with others.

Among the people who watched Sandra perform this week was Maria Rodrigues, who runs the crafts department at a department store in Bermuda.

This is the third day of the convention, and Maria is weary, but she's sucked in to the Bowdabra demonstration. "We're all on overload by now," she said. "But how can you not stop and listen to this woman? And she makes it look so easy!"

Maria moves on. The table is empty for a moment, then for Sandra it's show time again.

"Hi! Do you want to see how a bow is made?" This is how some people in our city make a very nice living.

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 259-2310 or at [email protected]

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