PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Each entrepreneur got just 12 minutes. In that time, the women pitched tote bags, baby pillows, headphones and more to representatives of QVC — telling their stories, demonstrating their products and hoping they’d win the approval of people who help decide what merchandise the home shopping channel will sell.
Getting a product on QVC is a small business owner’s dream. The company says it reaches 360 million households worldwide through broadcast, cable and satellite, and had nearly 1 billion visits to its e-commerce sites last year. Those at the November session in Philadelphia that focused on women entrepreneurs knew it was aimed at giving them feedback, with no guarantee QVC would agree to sell their products.
But since then, several have indeed landed a presence on QVC.com, and the company has told others it’s interested in offering their products through programs aimed at helping young companies.
Before an entrepreneur can get on TV, they must have the right products, says Rich Yoegel, QVC’s vice president of merchandising.
“We must determine if it will be better than something else we sell, and is it going to resonate with our customers,” he says.
Selling products on TV was the springboard for Joy Mangano, who has sold mops, clothes hangers, luggage and other merchandise on QVC and its rival, the Home Shopping Network, since 1990. Mangano was the subject of the 2015 movie “Joy” and portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, who garnered an Academy Award was nomination. And Lori Greiner, who appears on the reality show “Shark Tank,” got her start on QVC in 1998 and sells household products, home decor, storage items and more.
Some small businesses have thrived on home shopping TV even as they compete with national brands and QVC’s private-label goods for viewers’ money. IT cosmetics, which had $1 million in revenue in 2010, when it first appeared on QVC, has seen its revenue grow to more than $200 million.
A look at how some entrepreneurs have fared since the Philadelphia pitch session:
PRODUCT: MinkeeBlue bags, totes that include a lunch bag and coin purse
ENTREPRENEUR: Sherrill Mosee, of Philadelphia
LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Mosee was tired of carrying a purse, laptop case and tote bag, and also saw mothers carrying multiple bags for toys and diapers plus their purses. In 2014, she designed a bag with different compartments and components.
THE PITCH: Mosee, who was already in contact with QVC about an earlier version of her bags, showed the panel the latest model. They liked it but wondered about the cost; the suggested price was about $200. While Mosee demonstrated the bag as something for working women, the panel asked whether the bags could be marketed to mothers.
“We want to have as broad a mass appeal as possible,” Albany Irvin, a QVC program host, told Mosee.
THE UPSHOT: Mosee had already had a good response to the previous version of the bag from panel member Christine Dunn. After the pitch, Dunn contacted Mosee and said QVC wanted to sell the bags in its Sprouts program, designed to help young companies get ready for mass merchandising. But in March, Mosee heard separately that QVC and NBC planned a joint pitching competition. Mosee applied, appeared on the “Today” show in April and was a finalist; now one of her totes is selling on QVC.com.
PRODUCT: Loopit, headphones designed to look like jewelry
ENTREPRENEUR: Vanessa Chan, of Philadelphia
LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Chan found it irritating to untangle headphone wires whenever she used them, so in 2014 she designed phones that combined with a metal chain to look like a necklace.
THE PITCH: Chan demonstrated how tiny magnets turn her headphones into jewelry. The panel was impressed with the idea and that she had answers to technical questions and had a manufacturer lined up.
THE UPSHOT: In early December, QVC told her its buyers would look at Loopit. In January, QVC said it was interested in including Loopit in its Sprouts program. But Chan also heard about the QVC/NBC competition, also appeared on “Today” and Loopit is now on QVC.com.
Chan has had interest in her headphones from other retailers since her TV appearance, and has gotten an order from a store in Virginia. After having been on TV, Chan says, “I’m feeling great. … I couldn’t be happier.”
PRODUCT: Proper Posie, pillow and lounger designed to elevate babies’ heads and upper bodies, to help children with acid reflux
ENTREPRENEUR: Karissa Tunis, of Lititz, Pennsylvania
LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Tunis’ children suffered from acid reflux, which causes stomach acid to be forced up into a baby’s esophagus and mouth. They had to be propped up on extra pillows. She designed a pillow that can be adjusted to give a baby’s body more elevation and began selling it last year.
THE PITCH: Tunis made her first pitch ever for her product, hoping to at least get some feedback.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting a deal.”
The panel liked Proper Posie, its fabric and the way it was constructed.
THE UPSHOT: QVC employees contacted Tunis and proposed selling her product on the online site Zulily. She’s working toward that goal, but is taking some time to develop colors besides pink and aqua to improve her chances of success.
PRODUCT: Shea Radiance, skin and hair care products made with shea butter from West Africa
ENTREPRENEUR: Funlayo Alabi, of Ellicott City, Maryland.
LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Alabi was given shea butter to soothe eczema as a child in Africa. About 10 years ago, she used it to help her son. She found shea butter products were either cheap and didn’t work well, or very expensive. She wanted to create shea butter products that worked well and were a good value.
THE PITCH: Alabi was emotional as she told the panel about the millions of women in Africa who make a living collecting shea nuts and processing them into shea butter. Shea Radiance buys its ingredients from women in Nigeria. The panel listened soberly, tried her moisturizers and complimented Alabi on the feel and scent of the products and her packaging.
THE UPSHOT: QVC representatives told Alabi they were interested in Shea Radiance for the Sprouts program. However, skin and hair care products must undergo laboratory testing before QVC will sell them
“The testing is expensive, not in our budget. We are going to do it when we can afford to do it,” Alabi says.
PRODUCT: ShoeCandy, women’s shoes and accessories
ENTREPRENEUR: Kara Mac, of Mount Kisco, New York
LIGHTBULB MOMENT: When Mac commuted to work, she carried an extra pair of shoes if she had an evening social event. In 2014, she decided to design basic flats, pumps and boots that could be dressed up with interchangeable bows, heel covers and other bling
THE PITCH: Mac showed the panel how her shoes and accessories are mixed and matched. The panel was enthusiastic; Irvin and Lori Goldstein, who sells fashion merchandise on QVC, said she had a great idea. Mac was surprised at how receptive they were; it was a big change from previous pitches she’s made.
“How many times I’ve presented and they looked at me with a blank stare,” she says.
THE UPSHOT: QVC representatives were initially interested in ShoeCandy, but its buyers later said no. Mac is selling her products through her website and at conferences, meetings and events that working women are likely to attend. She’s hoping QVC will change its mind and says doing the pitch did help her confidence.