Q & A With a QVC Veteran

8 min read

This story appears in the May 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Interview conducted by Alexa Vaughn

With 14 years of selling more than a hundred of his inventions on QVC, Nick Romer has a lot of expertise to share with inventors who want to spotlight their product on the network. Romer also remembers what selling his first invention, the Kreate-a-lope, was like when he was cluelessly sending out typed letters out to anybody that would listen. We asked Romer about the best advice he can give aspiring QVC guests.

QVC was still in its infancy when your product was pitched to it. Since then the competitiveness to get on the network has increased. Do you think the same strategy you used to get on then would work now? If not, what would you do today?

See, I have an unfair advantage because I know what I know now, but back then it wasn't like I was courting anyone. I just kind of fell into it because I had agents that brought products to QVC. So they basically did all the work and I'm still a big proponent of agents today. So that's one thing I would do the same. They're literally one phone call away from getting you an audience with a buyer.

But when I really look back in hindsight, I think, what was I thinking? I literally printed a letter off of a typewriter and just sent it out to stores to see if they would buy it. I didn't even know anything about sales sheets or stuff like that. So, I have to just laugh at the question--I know I wouldn't do all those stupid things again. I now know how to package and market (a product). But it was one of those really great products where they say, yeah, I think it'll work.

So if I could do it again, I'd go to an open call on the QVC website, I would definitely buy my book--see what's in there--and then I would find an agent for sure. And the other thing too is if you're out there with a product and you're looking for exposure, and you're ready to sell it, go to the trade shows because QVC goes to those. They're just hard to find when they're at the show because they're hiding from everyone. It's like, we'll call you, don't call us. You know, if you've got a great product, it'll come to the surface. I really believe that. If you're product is really that good and you're persistent, you'll get in there.

What are the greatest pitching pitfalls inventors run into when courting QVC?

This makes me think of a recent speaking engagement I just did in New York City to a really small group--like 20 people--and after I built up a rapport with them, I asked them, how many of you have watched QVC ever before? Only four people raised their hands. I was like really? And I started pointing at everyone, you've never watched it? You never saw it? I could not believe that they had come to hear me speak and had products to show me, but they never saw the show. I don't think people do their research and then all of a sudden they show up with, for example, with a firearm to sell to QVC, but QVC doesn't sell firearms. I think that's the biggest pitfall.

Also not realizing what makes a successful product. Does your product have mass appeal? Does it solve a common problem? That's what QVC buyers are looking for and if you don't address that during an open call or whatever, they're not going to see you. You've got to talk their language.

How do you retain a high level of confidence about your product and enough humility to listen to criticism of your product?

I never like to tell someone their ideas aren't good, because they got it from somewhere. I mean the Beatles got rejected a dozen times before someone signed them and, you know, you hear stories like this every day. So I kind of expect them to think that their product is the greatest. I think the confidence comes initially from the idea. Your friends and family will support you, but they're not best audience for hearing that your idea is good.

But I think that confidence can be increased if they get exposed in the marketplace, you know, try to sell it at a fair or maybe a local or regional trade show where they could actually get results back from the people. One of my first inventions was this envelope template and I just jumped into it and I knew in my heart I had something. But when I started being able to extract $5 bills from people to buy it, then I started to really get confident. You know, I see inventions cross my desk every day and some of them are really awful and some of them aren't, but you never really know if it'll sell or not until you get it out there.

You talk in the book about how you don't really think you're "selling" even though everybody else perceives that is what you're doing. Why is that and when did you start to feel that way about presenting your products?

I always thought that way and what allowed me to do that was that I just loved (my product). It was so cool to me that this template could make these envelopes out of anything. And I just found it was a passion, so I would talk about all the great things it could do. A lot of people assume QVC is just a giant infomercial, but they don't sell--they call it the backyard fence mentality, in fact, that's how they train you. They do have training now for their on-air guests and they basically tell you, just talk to the host like she's your neighbor over the backyard fence. But wait now if you call in the next 5 minutes, you get an extra widget! There's really none of that on QVC. QVC doesn't even want you to talk about price, nothing like that. They just want you to talk like you've got a great product.

In fact, one of their first hosts, Kathy Levine, was so popular that she wouldn't even have to talk about the product. She'd just go out there and talk about her day, revolving around the product for a little bit and her product sold like crazy. I think people are much smarter than that--they'll go for a great offer, but I don't think they go for the "selling."

What's the difference between pitching to QVC employees and pitching to the QVC audience?

You know at one point in my career, I thought there was a difference. But there's really not, because the buyer is thinking just like a consumer when you show it to them. When you go to QVC, they try to get to you make up three main wow factors. But the buyer wants to see the same thing because you're going to want the buyer to react just like the consumer.

Of course, you end up talking about prices and volumes to the buyers and sometimes you end up in a little bit of a collaboration because they might say, hey I think you should add this, or take this out of the kit. But I don't think there's much of a difference. And the truth is that you get more time to sell the buyer than you do the QVC audience, so if your product is highly demonstrable, it'll succeed.

To put it in another summary, old sales training taught me to tell them what you're going to show them, show them what you wanted to tell them, then tell them what you just showed them.

What other advice do you have for people wanting to get on QVC?

What I was saying earlier about doing your homework is very critical. If you watch the show and you prepare and you realize, hey they've already got things that are similar to what I have, you need to find what sets yours apart. It's not that they won't take similar products, but if you do your homework, you'll be better prepared to deal with those possible objections.

And I just tell them not to give up. I think people are afraid to communicate to other people sometimes and that prevents them from being a little persistent. A good product will rise to the top, but sometimes people need to be banged over the head with it a couple times.
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