“Do something no one else has ever done before and do it better than anyone ever could.” That quote of mine set the tone for an earlier blog. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about it. And always remember what George and Ira Gershwin said, “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, when he said the world was round…” Oh yeah, and get ready for some major shit when you do something different, at least at first.
During my first couple of years as a QVC show host, I was relegated to the overnight shift. In both my appearance and presentation style, I was way too unorthodox for the management at the time. They had me working five, four-hour shifts each week, from midnight to 4 a.m. I felt like the idiot, bastard stepchild.
In those early days, we didn’t have that many products and repetition was a way of life, so much so that every night for several months in the 3 a.m. hour, I had to present a “Barbie Dream Pool Set.” It consisted of Barbie, her friend Midge, Ken the lifeguard (complete with lifeguard stand and whistle) and an 18-inch diameter, four-inch deep above-ground pool. Above-ground pool? As successful as Barbie was, I always thought she could have afforded one of those in-ground jobs. I quickly realized that questioning Barbie’s design taste would probably not have increased sales, so I never mentioned it on-air.
I was bored out of my mind having to sell the same product at the same time night after night. So were my customers. Sales on the toy were steadily dropping. When I asked for some new products, I was told, “We don’t put new products in the overnight shifts.”
I had to do something. I have never been one to sit back and let things fail if I had the slightest opportunity to change them. I had a plan. Did I present it to those same forward-thinking bastions of corporate genius who had completely dismissed the overnight time slot? What do you think? The old adage, “It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” was all the authority I needed. Keep in mind, to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, any unauthorized actions will always have some very authorized and more than equal reactions. I knew I could be fired. But, after some serious planning, I felt the results could be worth the risks.
On my way to the studio one night, I stopped at a local grocery store and bought a few pounds of lime Jell-O cubes (The lime green color was a perfect contrast to the dolls’ colorful bathing suits). I kept the cubes in a plastic bag and right before the airing, I dumped them into the pool. As the cameras came up for the standard 3 a.m. airing of the product, I proceeded to narrate the Jell-O pool grudge match between Barbie and Midge. Ken was the referee. My narration rivaled the most vociferous and outrageous professional wrestling announcer.
It was a heated match. I acted it out with all the enthusiasm of a youngster playing with a new toy. Boy, did Midge fight dirty. And Ken never saw her illegal moves, indicating the possibility of an interesting action-figure love triangle. The bout went on for a few minutes with the cameras following every move more precisely than I had witnessed on the most demanding professional sporting events. Obviously, the crew had been as bored as I.
I stopped the match, with Ken finally calling a third foul on Midge and declaring Barbie the winner by default. Love does conquer all. I immediately went to a very strong call to action, saying, “If a 38 year-old man can have this much fun on national TV, think of the fun your children are going to have with this set.”
Instead of grossing the usual $5-10,000, the $39.99 product did many times that, selling out completely. This amount was unheard of at that time, especially in the overnight hours. I was both a hero and in deep trouble at the same time.
The next day, I was called into the office and asked, “What kind of people were you selling to?”
“The kind of people who have $39.99 to spend,” I answered. They were not amused, although I found out later they were impressed that I took full responsibility for the incident and defended my actions with a sound argument. Bottom line? I was soundly chewed out and told that if I ever did anything like that again I would be fired on the spot. Since I wasn’t one for repeating a stunt, that was okay. I had other unusual ideas to explore.
Luckily, a new management team was hired a few months later, headed up by Barry Diller. These were the kind of people who appreciated creativity, especially when it resulted in much better sales. I knew that if the old guard had stayed in power at QVC, my days were numbered. But I didn’t let it stifle my creativity. The new management team liked my different but professional approach to sales and started scheduling me in prime time slots where I began to set new sales records.
If I had given in to my natural survival urges and done the same old, same old presentations that everyone else was doing, I might still be working overnights on a televised shopping channel. Every reward has some element of risk. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
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