Lights, Camera, Action

Lessons Learned

1. Start watching the networks long before you're ready to sell your product. Pay attention to the particular products sold by the various networks as well as when they sell those products. For example, Pettit found out that QVC wouldn't sell his product after July because it was considered seasonal.

2. Approach the network well in advance of when you want your spot to air. The networks take time to respond. Once you get a response from the network, you'll schedule your initial meeting. After that, expect to spend weeks or even months working out details, attending the class, and getting your supply of products to the network before the spot runs. So start the application process six to nine months before the date you want to sell your product.

3. Have a persuasive demo tape ready. Products that sell well on TV are ones that can convince consumers with only a brief demonstration. You should be able to demonstrate your product in 10 to 15 seconds. The focus of the tape should be the product "selling itself" rather than having the narrator pitch the product's benefits.

4. Test the quality of your product. Home shopping networks are concerned about returns, and they won't sell a product they believe isn't reliable. If possible, you should try to document any product testing you or others have done before approaching the networks.

5. Approach another home shopping network if you get turned down by the first one. Networks plan products around themes, such as gardening or lawn care. So even if your product has the potential to sell well on TV, it may be turned down if it doesn't fit into the network's plans.

6. Expect the network to order just like a store. In other words, they'll typically pay you the listed wholesale price and offer you net 30-day terms.

7. Be prepared for some returns. The shopping networks order enough of a product to ensure they won't run out. But part of your agreement with the network states that the vendor may need to send products back to you if they don't sell. If your product doesn't sell, you could get stuck with substantial returns.

8. The network will be in charge of how your selling time is used. Don't try to dictate how your product will be sold, as the networks have much more experience in what approach will sell best.

Most Likely to Succeed
Does your product have what it takes to sell well on TV? Products with the following characteristics are most likely to be successful:

  • Visual image: You need to create a clear visual image that lets people immediately connect to your product. This can be a picture of it or of the problem it solves. For example, people can easily understand from a product picture the dispensing racks that hold multiple soda cans in the refrigerator. But they may need a visual of a weed remover in action to understand how it works.
  • Immediate customer response: Customers have to decide to buy a product quickly if it's going to succeed on TV. To generate an impulse order, products must satisfy a need or desire that's important to the consumer. If people have trouble with gophers in their yards, they'll buy a product that promises to solve that problem quickly. You can also get an immediate response if you tie your product to a customer's self-image. People who want to appear sucessful at the office will not hesitate to buy a product that helps them project that successful image. Among the strongest-selling products on TV shopping networks are beauty and fitness aids-two categories that meet well-known consumer desires.
  • High demand: The TV shopping networks sell to a broad spectrum of people, and they look for products that appeal to a broad spectrum of their target customer group-primarily women who spend time caring for their homes. Cleaning products, jewelry, cooking products, home decorating products, crafts kits and yard products all appeal to a wide range of target customers and will generally sell well.
  • Variety: Once your initial product is successful, you need to offer your products with several variations for buyers to choose from. For instance, offer different colors or new features, or pair the product with different complementary items. A painting tool, for example, might come with a paint-can opener one year and a masking aid the next year.
  • Promotional programs: Immediate buyer response is increased when a TV sales offer includes extra components, a free add-on product, or some other promotion, such as "Buy two, get one free."
Besides QVC, other major home shopping channels include the Home Shopping Network ( and ShopNBC ( You can log on to the Home Shopping Network Web site and click on "Vendor Information," where you'll find the "Getting Started Demo," an informative page titled "How to Get My Product on HSN," as well as the "Vendor Requirements Manual." ShopNBC uses vendor fairs rather than direct submissions; it posts vendor fairs on its Web site. You'll need to submit an application to attend a vendor fair, and you should check the Web site often to see what products ShopNBC is looking for and to get dates and locations of vendor fairs.

Don Debelak is the author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send him your questions at

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This article was originally published in the April 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lights, Camera, Action.

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