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QVC

14 Things You Might Not Know About QVC

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QVC

Developed by Franklin Mint founder Joe Segel in 1986 as an alternative to the Home Shopping Network, QVC (which stands for Quality, Value, and Convenience) has taken the notion of “theatrical retailing” and turned it into a $9 billion dollar business. Hosts work 24 hours a day to beam live product demonstrations to consumers, chirp greetings to callers, and find new ways to extol the benefits of leaf blowers.

But behind the porcelain-veneer smiles churns a relentless machine that works very hard to make everything seem very casual. Take a look at some of the channel’s top selling points.

1. THEY RE-INVENTED HOME SHOPPING.

The concept of home shopping was popularized by Bud Paxson, an AM radio station owner who settled a debt with an advertiser by accepting 118 can openers that he sold over the dial to listeners. Paxson brought the idea to television in the form of HSN; Segel thought the presentations were tacky. In starting rival QVC, Segal hired more polished hosts—and more importantly, gave cable providers a percentage of sales. In return, QVC would get a higher channel assignment and more eyeballs.

2. THEY LAUNCHED WITH A SHOWER RADIO.

QVC went live on November 24, 1986, with host John Eastman presenting a Windsor Shower Companion for $11.49. Sensing Eastman would probably hit a ceiling on how he could demonstrate such an item without rolling out a tub, the production also offered a live drawing that resembled a Power Ball segment: customers that had a credit card matching the four-digit number were entered into a $25,000 sweepstakes. The channel took $7,400 worth of orders that day. Fifteen years later, on December 2, 2001, the number was $80 million.

3. EVERY GESTURE COUNTS.

If you think a host is taking a bite of a brownie or twirling a ring in a spontaneous way, think again. Because QVC’s control room sees sales statistics in real time, they can correlate host and guest behaviors with spikes in sales and advise them (via earpiece) to repeat the action, phrase, or wardrobe. When Joe Sugarman was on air pushing BluBlocker sunglasses, he learned wearing a loud tie helped him move more product; Ron Popeil would jump in the air knowing it led to an increase in profits. Currently, QVC breakout host David Venable can bump his numbers up when he does his “happy dance.”

4. MIKE ROWE GOT HIRED FOR SELLING A PENCIL.

Rowe, who has developed a cult following for his Ford commercials, Dirty Jobs, and overall rugged manliness, had an infamous run as a late-night host for the channel in the early 1990s. To get the gig, he was asked to explain the virtues of a number-two pencil to a QVC exec. For eight minutes. Rowe talked about the “vibrant yellow” of the instrument, its “real wood” feel, and how Einstein and Picasso had made history with such a utensil. When his time was up, the interviewer wrote “You’re Hired” on a piece of paper. (He was later fired, then re-hired, with the channel apparently unable to make up its collective mind on whether Rowe's droll delivery was a good fit for the operation.)    

5. HOSTS HAVE IT ROUGH.

There may be no more vastly under-appreciated job than that of home-shopping host: in addition to finding fresh ways to peddle jewelry, salespeople have to interact with callers, come to the broadcast armed with product knowledge (some even take tours of manufacturing facilities), and monitor production directions via an earpiece, all without cue cards or teleprompters. If all this sounds difficult, it is: hosts are nominally given six months of training. But the really hard part is getting hired. Of the 3,000 people who came to an open audition in 2007—including actors, journalists, and former guests—only three made it on air.  

6. BUT IT’S WORTH IT.  

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Those who can successfully juggle the demands of home-shopping traffic control and endear themselves to viewers are rewarded. While QVC maintains hosts receive no commissions, popular personalities can earn upwards of $500,000 a year for being well-versed in cookware.

7. MARLON BRANDO WANTED A JOB THERE.

According to Brando’s secretary, Alice Marchak, the actor was in dire financial straits in 2001 and was looking for any opportunity to become solvent again. He began suggesting that he appear on QVC, though his ideas—like an earthquake-proof house—weren’t practical for the channel. Instead, Marchak told him to consider selling a DVD instructional on acting. Brando took to the idea and invested $50,000 in filming his (increasingly bizarre) seminars on the craft. The footage was so unwieldy that Brando never wound up on QVC. He died in 2004.

8. THE SALES PITCH IS REALLY A “BACKYARD FENCE” CHAT.

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Unlike HSN’s aggressive personalities, Segel wanted QVC to take a more tempered approach to sales. Hosts and guests are given educations in “backyard fence” conversation, making the viewer feel like they’re simply listening to two friends talk rather than getting drilled by a sales pitch. (When callers stray too far off-message, they're corralled back into discussing the product.)

9. THEY HAVE OUTLET STORES.

Ever wonder what happens to unsold merchandise? It’s all gotta go! The company maintains a small number of retail outlet stores, including two outside the Philadelphia area, where customers can browse in person. Fans can also take a studio tour of the company's facilities in West Chester, Penn.  

10. THEY GOT SCAMMED.

According to NBC, QVC’s web presence got taken for over 1,800 items in 2005 thanks to a glitch in their programming. A Greensboro, North Carolina woman named Quantina Moore-Perry discovered she could order items from the site, request a refund, and still get her shipment. She pled guilty to wire fraud and forfeited the profits from her deed, which totaled over $400,000.  

11. THIS HOST IS THE SAME GUY FROM EVIL DEAD II.

YouTube (L), Lionsgate (R)

Rick Domeier got his QVC hosting gig by pretending to be his own agent, telling executives that “this Domeier guy” was talented. He’s still with the channel, 21 years later. While QVC’s audience has gotten used to him, horror fans probably do double-takes: an experienced actor, Domeier portrayed Ed Gotley, a hapless victim of the Deadite curse in 1987’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. Groovy. 

12. GUESTS NEED TO TAKE A CLASS.

While hosts do much of the heavy lifting, QVC’s guests—the inventors, owners, or experts that appear alongside them—don’t necessarily have broadcast experience. To make sure they don’t come off as overly stiff, the channel sends them to a kind of broadcast boot camp: guests are asked to discuss a product, chat conversationally into the camera, and not melt into a sweaty mess on live television. If a vendor can’t accomplish that, some services offer on-air talent for hire.

13. THE HOSTS RELEASED A CHRISTMAS ALBUM.

Further proving that QVC hosts have developed a familial relationship with viewers, the company released a holiday album with recordings from several on-air personalities. Holiday Favorites from the QVC Family featured popular hosts like David Venable and Lisa Robertson covering hits like “Silent Night.” It might be the channel’s concession to skipping just one day of programming a year: Christmas is the only day nothing airs live.

14. FAINTING WON’T STOP THEM FROM SELLING.

Host Cassie Slane was pushing the FunTab Pro tablet in October 2012 when she began feeling light-headed. As she keeled over, co-host Dan Hughes continued to discuss the product, seemingly oblivious to Slane’s sudden lack of vertical ability. (Slane, said to be victimized by low blood sugar, insisted she was fine the following day.)

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
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“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
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Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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Design
The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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