A Face for Television, A Head for Business

A Face for Television, A Head for Business

By LISA SUHAY, New York Times reporter

There is something familiar about the perfectly smooth, symmetrical features and blue eyes of Loren Fossie, creator of the new board game Franchi$it.

In fact, she did win the Miss New Jersey swimsuit competition in 1985, at the age of 18, as well as several other beauty titles. But Ms. Fossie, 34 and unmarried, is not just another pretty face. She has spent the past 10 years juggling several careers: infomercial model, makeup artist and marketing expert for an environmental corporation, while simultaneously pounding on the doors of corporate America.

Franchi$it, which began appearing on store shelves this month, is a modern-day cross between Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit. Each player begins with $250,000 in venture capital and concentrates on the acquisition of such popular franchises as Athlete's Foot, Coffee Beanery and 7-Eleven; landing on a competitor's square means paying royalties.

All of the 15 franchises on the board have allowed Ms. Fossie's company, LAF Enterprises, to use their trademark names without charge in exchange for the name recognition the game will foster.

''That is a real business,'' Ms. Fossie said of the yearslong effort to gain the logo rights. ''I can't tell you how many times franchises have told me to get lost and never call them again.''

In the game, players draw cards from two piles -- profit and asset or loss and liability. Luckier players may even draw the coveted hostile takeover card. So far, Ms.Fossie said, all 7,000 games -- which cost $39.99 apiece -- have been ordered by retailers, including Kay-Bee Toys and Toys ''R'' Us.

Ms. Fossie said her determination was a product of a life filled with illness, crushing physical pain and disappointment. Born in Philadelphia to Frank and Aucensia Fossie, she moved to Cherry Hill at the age of 6. A thin and sickly child, she suffered from such extreme bouts of asthma that she could not even own a stuffed animal or have curtains or rugs in her bedroom.

Soon after moving to Cherry Hill, her parents divorced and her father moved to Atlanta. Her mother remained in Cherry Hill to rear Ms. Fossie and her brother, Frank, whom she called ''my best friend in the world.'' Ms. Fossie's mother went on to marry Robert Greene, the owner of an auto transmission shop, and the children attended Cherry Hill West High School.

When Ms. Fossie was 7, she said, her mother decided that her little girl would not live in a bubble because of her illness and enrolled her in gymnastics class because, as she said, ''I always loved to do flips off my bed when I was little.''

By age 13, Ms. Fossie was a skilled gymnast headed for the Olympic trials. But several days before the qualifying competition, she took a fall from the uneven bars, breaking three vertebrae in her neck.

''This is how I got into beauty pageants, believe it or not,'' Ms. Fossie said as she turned stiffly in her swivel chair and lifted a cascade of hair to expose a long row of horizontal scars running from her hairline and disappearing down the collar of her canary yellow chiffon blouse.

''My neck is wired together since the fall,'' she said. ''I could never do gymnastics again. I can't turn my head, and often people think I'm putting on some kind of silly model-posing routine.''

After two months in the hospital and years of physical therapy, she learned to walk again. But in addition to the physical scars, emotional scars began to appear, and in high school she sank into a depression.

When her mother read a newspaper advertisement describing beauty pageants as a way of fostering healthy competition, she entered Loren in the Miss Willingboro contest -- without her daughter's knowledge -- as a kind of therapy.

''If Loren has one very strong trait, it's her highly competitive nature,'' said Mrs. Green, who still lives in Cherry Hill. ''She had lost her means of competition, and I wanted something she could do that would not hurt her physically. The pageant seemed like the perfect solution.''

At first, at least, it was not.

''I was a real tomboy,'' Ms. Fossie said. ''I hated dressing up and all that stuff. But I won. I won, and I knew I could compete at something again.''

Shortly after competing in the Miss New Jersey pageant, in which she won the bathing suit competition, Ms. Fossie began modeling. Later, she discovered that after the grueling process of pageant interviews, primping and priming, job interviews were a snap. She had gained poise and grace under pressure, and she had learned to handle rejection.

''Hey, after having all those modeling interviews -- called look-sees -- where you walk into a room and some guy takes one look and yells, ''Next!'' having McDonald's turn me down for the game was nothing,'' she said with a laugh.

These days, television viewers can see Ms. Fossie in infomercials for everything from QVC's Whirl-a-Bun hair styler, to Instant Abs, Fitness Track and Interplak. In addition, she has been a model for Boscov's, a department store chain in South Jersey and Philadelphia, and for True Romance magazine.

When not in front of a camera, Ms. Fossie has improved the appearances of others in the limelight, including Christie Whitman and Charles Barclay.

But Ms. Fossie is no grinning and gesticulating Barbie doll. Rather, she is a driven businesswoman and a 1988 graduate of what is now Rowan University, where she majored in marketing. In fact, Franchi$it came about as a the result of a classroom exercise in which Ms. Fossie and several other students played tycoons.

''My success with Franchi$it is the result of all the events and experiences in my life,'' she said. ''From the drive it takes to be the best in gymnastics to the recovery from the fall and then the pageants.''

After graduation, Ms. Fossie joined NDE Environmental Corporation of Ausin, Tex., where she worked for 10 years, spending many lunch hours on the telephone, trying to persuade franchisers to sign on to her game as a stop on the board. Then she found investors by giving her game away to strangers and at charity events.

It was through such a donation several months ago that she met Daniel Becht, a 44-year-old real estate and governmental relations lawyer from Wall Township.

As it happened, Mr. Becht was participating in a fund-raising golf tournament for Assemblyman Nick Asselta of Cape May, and his foursome won four of the games.

''I met Loren at the tournament and was really impressed with her,'' Mr. Becht said. ''Then I went home and played the game with some associates. Then I was so excited to speak to her about the game and investing.

Mr. Becht's excitement was worth $25,000, and he immediately found another investor to contribute the same amount as well as a number of corporate investors.

Until then, Ms. Fossie had faced numerous financial hurdles, even selling her white 1991 Corvette to pay promotional costs.

Through Mr. Becht's largesse and the assistance of the Burlington County College Business Incubator Program, which provides fledgling entrepreneurs with an office, conference room, dedicated computer lines and mentoring services at a reduced rate, Ms. Fossie is on her way.

Her mother scans the conference room, the table set up with games. She looks at her daughter at the head of the table flanked by Mr. Becht, now her corporate lawyer, and Gretchen Ramsey, a public relations assistant.

''My daughter had a very hard road,'' said Mrs. Greene. ''I wish her health and happiness. She knows that without those, all the money she

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Date Published: Sunday, September 9, 2001 - 01:00
Source URL: New York Times