Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life, Life, Love

Behind the scenes at QVC in West Chester

The entrance to the QVC production facility in West Chester. The tour takes an hour, and you buy your tickets - and maybe something else - in the QVC store. (Photo by Sarah Flowers)
The entrance to the QVC production facility in West Chester. The tour takes an hour, and you buy your tickets - and maybe something else - in the QVC store. (Photo by Sarah Flowers)
The entrance to the QVC production facility in West Chester. The tour takes an hour, and you buy your tickets - and maybe something else - in the QVC store. (Photo by Sarah Flowers) Gallery: Behind the scenes at QVC in West Chester
Always on the lookout for something new to do and write about in this region, I invited a college student interested in journalism to join me on a tour of QVC. I've watched the shopping network, even ordered some things, and although I knew it was nearby, I had never visited.

As we approached the headquarters in West Chester, my reaction surprised me: goosebumps.

Imagine, all that merchandise, the hosts, the money - and happening right here!

QVC wasn't the first of its genre on TV (Home Shopping Network went nationwide in 1985), but since 1986, "Quality, Value and Convenience" has been part of our lives. At first, two hosts sold products while seated in big easy chairs. That set, with display tables and the carpet remnant, is on the tour. It looks so old-fashioned now, cozy and familiar, like something at Grandma's.

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  • 3, 2, 1, blastoff! And just 179 miles away
  • But that's about the extent of old-fashioned. This place is state-of-the-art. Everything in the store glistens - the handbags, the housewares, the beauty products, and especially the jewelry. Ahhh, the jewelry. Who can't rattle off the names? Diamonique, EternaGold, Steel by Design, Bronzo Italia, and on and on. There are shoes, too, and electronic accessories (the Halo charger is a top seller, from $31 to $66), and patio furniture. Name it, it's here.

    Cleverly, the tour tickets ($7.50 adults; $5 children ages 5-12) must be purchased in the store. Naturally, there's time to shop before the tour starts.

    The prices are not lower than on-air, but just being there whetted my appetite. I bit, buying a Bare Minerals lip balm and a ring. Thinking back, I should have grabbed a Halo charger because I always need to recharge my phone on the go.

    With my friend Sarah Flowers and me, six other people were on the tour: a sixtysomething Pennsylvania couple and the wife's sister and brother-in-law from Massachusetts, and an expectant mother with her visiting mother.

    The tour guide was just like the show hosts: perky, smart, good-humored. And, yes, stylishly dressed in casual attire.

    The broadcast operations center covers 165,000 square feet, with 18 permanent sets ranging from the kitchen to the bedroom.

    We began at the beginning: In 1986, Joseph Segel saw an opportunity in TV and took it, naming the company for its guiding principles. The concept - 24-hour-a-day shopping - was radical then. Now, QVC reaches nearly 100 million U.S. households and about 200 million worldwide, with 24-hour sales around the globe, including a joint venture in China. We saw live feeds from QVC Italy, QVC Germany, QVC United Kingdom, and QVC Japan, all with attractive, smiling hosts talking about products.

    That's right, talking. QVC eschews the hard sell. This isn't a Ginsu-knife promotion. The hosts simply talk about the product's attributes and how it can enhance your life. During each broadcast, sales are closely monitored according to the host's comments. If sales rise after discussion of a particular attribute, the producer might tell the host to keep the discussion going. If something doesn't translate into sales, the producer can relay that, too. Those who call in with testimonials or questions are screened to ensure they're loyal customers (based on purchase record) with positive comments.

    Even minus the high-pressure pitch, QVC has set sales records from the start. In 2006, Barry Manilow, performing live from Chicago, broke a QVC record for the highest single-hour music sales event when more than 43,000 units of his album The Greatest Songs of the Sixties were ordered.

    This being live TV, there are bound to be blunders, of course. A brief video of the blooper collection is a hoot.

    Life-size cutouts of the network's 25 hosts are available so visitors can be photographed with their favorites. (I was surprised to learn that the hosts do not use scripts, cue cards, or teleprompters.)

    QVC has extended its reach to the Internet, too, at, and has a mobile platform. The call centers are off-site: Chesapeake, Va.; San Antonio, Texas; and Port St. Lucie, Fla. So are the distribution centers: Lancaster; Suffolk, Va.; Rocky Mount, N.C.; and Florence, S.C. It has outlet stores in Frazer and Lancaster; Rehoboth Beach, Del.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Mebane, N.C.

    I learned a lot about QVC on the hour-long tour and got to see behind-the-scenes TV production. I would recommend it as a pleasant diversion. I'd like to go back and be a part of a studio audience (free, but reservations are required).

    First, though, I want to get to those outlets. Imagine the possibilities!

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