Entrepreneurs Capitalize on Shoppers’ Road Show


At QVC, the only all-shopping channel that offers the likes of Snor-Ban and Armadillo Skin Barrier, the sales executives aren’t satisfied with simply rolling in dough.

These days, they prefer to roll toward it, in a 45-foot-long orange and yellow bus. They call it the QVC Local, a sort of Goodyear blimp with its own studio, which they parked in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Tuesday night for a national broadcast as 20 California entrepreneurs pitched home-grown products to 52 million living rooms.

It was another night at QVC’s traveling circus, a woolly road trip that has taken home shopping from the glaciers of Alaska to the cornfields of Iowa. The $3-million Los Angeles stopover marked the 49th destination in the cable channel’s 50-state, 50-week quest for the country’s “best new products.” They include the Savore Perfume Enhancer, invented by John Cella III, a La Mesa neurologist, and an air-pump kit from a Santa Monica resident who calls himself “the Balloon Man.”

One by one, the 20 California vendors, chosen from trade shows in August, marched onto the Pavilion stage with eight minutes apiece to show their wares in front of viewers and an in-house audience. Hosts Judy Crowell and Kathy Levine took turns selling. A producer aboard the bus, which has a direct link to the channel’s West Chester, Pa., headquarters, relayed to the hosts which products were selling.


In this particular broadcast, half the products sold out. QVC officials say 551 of the 960 items offered on the channel’s earlier three-hour “Quest for America’s Best” shows were out of stock by the end of the broadcasts. Since the bus began its transcontinental voyage in January, the tour shows have become QVC’s third-highest rated program, with orders raking in $49.7 million. Prices vary wildly among the oddities gleaned from the nation’s far corners, but the pride of America, with shipping, often goes for less than $39.99.

The 50th broadcast will emanate from Hawaii on Dec. 16. “We’ve been very satisfied with the products we’ve found,” said QVC President Douglas S. Briggs. “I think the biggest surprise has been the customers who want to come out and see the hosts and see how we do it.”

About 1,000 shoppers, some wielding QVC-provided cellular phones to place orders while away from home, sat transfixed in the auditorium as inventors and small-business owners talked with the ever-perky hosts, Crowell and Levine, about the importance of a good windshield de-icer and the versatility of the air-ball exercise device.

Robert Hammering of Ventura stepped to a table at center stage and rubbed some Armadillo Skin Barrier cream on his hand.

“The whole secret to its success is that it doesn’t wash off, Judy,” Hammering said as he dripped some acid onto his hand (he said he’d never done it before, and showed no signs of pain). He then dropped some acid onto a piece of aluminum foil, which quickly melted. The crowd applauded enthusiastically. The channel moved more than 1,000 units, which sell for $20.17 apiece.

The biggest star of the evening, however, turned out to be Stopain pain reliever spray, which sold 4,004 units in about four minutes, much to the contentment of Robert Waldman of Long Beach. Waldman began marketing the spray after partnering five years ago with a retired pharmacist who developed it.

“You can just spray this on,” Crowell said. “It instantly gives soothing relief to painful areas.”

The three-hour show also included several feature segments on various California attractions (some well-known and some not) and the occasional shot of QVC correspondent Paul Kelley, who trolled the audience for interesting shoppers.

With her wide-brimmed hat made from QVC bills and packaging material, Libby Quackenbush of Northridge was hard to miss. The mother and actress said she spends about $3,000 each year on QVC items and has enjoyed most of the previous 48 “Quest” broadcasts.

“I really like to see the diversity of things. I’d like to see more things for people who are more athletic,” she said. She purchased a can of the Stopain spray with a cellular phone.

Loretta Stewart, a Sun Valley receiving clerk, said she completed her holiday shopping by watching the tour shows, including the most recent one that was beamed from South Carolina. Included among the list of items she purchased from the broadcasts was a log that, when properly cared for, sprouts mushrooms. She said she bought it “from one of the Dakotas. I thought it would make a lovely gift.”