I remember QVC’s first inventory in 1987. It was truly an “all hands on deck” event. Even Mike Boyd, our president at that time, was tapped to count the goods in our warehouse. Back then, it was part of the studio complex at our original Enterprise Drive location.
I had no idea what my role would be until they asked the question, “Who isn’t afraid of heights?” Having been raised on a farm and used to climbing through the lofts in our barn, fixing the roof, etc, I raised my hand. So did Mike Boyd. Remember all the times we’re told, “Never volunteer for anything?” Whoever they are, they’re right.
Mike and I were the only two to raise our hands. The warehouse people took us into the back and showed us a scissor lift. Neither of us had ever seen a beast like this before. It looks like a forklift and has a huge series of folding appendages above and a little basket on top, with barely enough room for 2 people. They explained that it could extend 60 feet straight up, so that we could access and count all the products on the top levels of the warehouse.
They told us that it was tricky to drive when it was fully extended and that we should lower it before driving to another location. They also pointed out the “safety harnesses,” which were there tiny cables that didn’t look strong enough to hold a 12 inch hoagie, let alone a human being. Still, we both fastened them securely, and set off on our adventure. Mike even laughed and got it when I started singing “Marshall, Will and Holly…” as we approached the first aisle.
All the smart people who had not raised their hands (never leave the boat or volunteer for anything!) were safely counting the products at ground level. Orville and Wilbur, which everyone was calling us, started out ascent into the heavens. Mike let me drive and operate the lift. We made a good team and the following events cemented our professional friendship for the next few years he would be our President. Mike was quite a guy. He would eat in the cafeteria with the employees, talk with us and see what we needed. When we told him the food sucked, he got a new vendor in and, since then, the QVC cafeteria food has always been quite good.
You know what they neglected to tell us? Not only was the warehouse not air conditioned, it became progressively hotter the higher you went. It was August. I fully extended the lift to 60 feet and we both just looked at each other as we realized it was about 130 degrees! 130 freakin’ degrees! I know because there was a box of digital thermometers that we sold on-air and all of the ones that were turned on showed 130 degrees or hotter. We both took off our shirts. I was 37 and I’m guessing Mike was about 50. In my mind we both looked like Gary Cooper in the quarry scene from “The Fountainhead.” In reality, we probably looked like the road crew in “Cool Hand Luke.”
Know what else they forgot to tell us? The top row of merchandise was 10 feet higher than the maximum extension of the scissor lift. I told Mike I was no stranger to climbing (lots of trees on the farm) and said I would do it. I had to unfasten my safety harness that I still maintain was as useless as cow spit. I climbed over the top shelf, sweating and counting the products while Mike wrote down the results. I slipped one time getting back into the basket. Mike grabbed me and was able to help me get back in. No histrionics, he saved my life.
Mike and I realized that lowering the lift and re-extending it every time we had to move was way too time consuming. I drove it fully extended. We just stood in the middle of the basket to keep it from tipping over and it worked fine…until I hit one of the racks. We almost toppled over but both of us grabbed a support and our combined strength was able to keep us from tipping. I didn’t relish the potential headline of “Corporate President and Nerdy Host Fall to Their Death.”
I knew this was a serious job when the warehouse manager gave us salt tablets (since proven useless) about halfway through the counting. I think I lost 2 inches from my waist. I’ve often thought of doing an exercise video titled “Warehouse Workout.” Someday.
It took about 10 hours to finish the counting and went our separate ways. Afterwards, every time Mike saw me in the cafeteria, he would join me. He left QVC a few years later. When inventory time rolls around at his new company, I’m betting he’ll still be on the front lines. I also bet if they ask “Who isn’t afraid of heights?” his hand will stay down this time. I know mine will.
Epilogue 1 – It’s Good to Sweat
In 1987 I was 37-years-old and my body looked okay from working out 3-4 days a week and all the years working on our family farm. When I walked out of the warehouse, one of our models motioned to me to come over to her. She also worked elsewhere in the company. We didn’t use too many fulltime modeling professionals back then. She said I should sit down and relax. I sat down on a chair backstage and she brought me a cold soda. She was European and didn’t seem repulsed by my sweaty frame.
We talked for a while and then she went into a backstage ladies’ room, motioning for me to follow. Although the live show was going on, there was nobody around. I followed her to the ladies’ room and she closed the door.
I don’t know if it’s some European thing or just her personal foible, but she was really turned on by how sweaty I was. We proceeded to break several rules in the QVC handbook in the bathroom and she even invited me to her house later that evening. I showered before I went over. We wound up dating for a few weeks but I guess she found someone sweatier and more gross. Ah well, so much for romance!
Epilogue 2 – Sax on the air (Notice I wrote “sax.” Get your mind out of the gutter.)
Mike Boyd and I had a good relationship. Especially after I helped him win a bet.
I was selling a Casio electronic saxophone on QVC. It had a retail price of $199.95. We got a nice deal since it wasn’t doing well in brick-and-mortar stores and were selling it for $79.99. I was able to get a good sound out of it and did my best Charlie Parker licks while a Casio keyboard played a rhythm background. It sold out pretty quickly.
While selling it I mentioned that I had seen it recently at a store for the full retail. When I got off the air, I received a call from Mike Boyd at the producer’s desk. He asked if I had really seen it selling for full retail. I told him yes, it was at the Drexel Hill QVC outlet store (now closed). He laughed and thanked me for helping him win a bet. It seems the company’s CFO said there was no way that I saw the saxophone selling for full retail. Mike was adamant that I didn’t fabricate (lie) on-air to sell a product.
Mike asked me where I saw it. I told him about the Drexel Hill store. He called them to verify and, from what I heard won some serious money from our CFO. (I think I became his favorite host after that.) He notified the Drexel Hill store about the pricing disparity and they changed it.
QVC’s outlet stores were a great way for the company to sell returned merchandise that they couldn’t sell on-the-air. I bought a lot of things at our various outlets. The store was in an old movie theater and the floor sloped downward toward the back.
It was similar to the old Krass Brothers Men’s Store in Philadelphia. It was also located in an old movie theater, complete with sloping floors. Because of the movie tie in, they used the slogan, “Krass Brothers, store of the stars!” Stars had been on the screen there for years. Don’t know if they ever shopped there. I did. Great stuff at good prices. Ben Krass, one of their owners, pioneered the use of 5-10 second commercials, using the phrase “If you didn’t buy your suit or clothes from Krass Brothers Men’s Store, you was robbed!” (Or some other grammatically ambiguous epithet.) He was usually surrounded by scantily clad young women while he did his pitch.
I tried to get QVC to let me use the same tactic on-air. Still waiting on approval for that.
© 2021 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.