Getting on QVC or the Home Shopping Network is a fantasy to many inventors who have an product or gadget to sell. Inventor Lisa Ascolese is living that dream. For more than 25 years, the 53-year-old Freehold, New Jersey-based entrepreneur has successfully patented, marketed, and launched dozens of products in national retail department stores and on QVC, ShopNBC, and HSN as an independent broker.
One of her earlier products, a personal management tool called the Perfect Pocket Organizer, generated $6,000 in sales in less than six minutes (the duration of one QVC segment). Ascolese’s biggest sale was several home lighting products she brokered; they generated more than $200,000 in revenues in 18 minutes. With QVC shown in 250 million homes worldwide and HSN shown in 90 million, “there’s no other place in the world where you can sell that many units so fast,” she says.
There’s no cost to be featured on-air, but TV shopping networks are different from other retailers in that they acquire goods on consignment; they do not purchase them wholesale. The cost of Perfect Pocket to QVC was $10; the shopping network sold it at $19.72 each. Inventive entrepreneurs like Ascolese get paid only after QVC sells their products.
Launched in 1986, the West Chester, Pennsylvania-based multimedia e-commerce retailer broadcasts live 24 hours a day. The $8.5 billion-a-year QVC (which stands for quality, value, and convenience) shipped more than 166 million products in 2012 to markets in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, Italy, and China.
While the payoff to inventors could be millions of dollars, selling through popular TV retailers requires a lot of preparation, and the vetting process is tough. Even if your product gets chosen, you must meet inventory requirements. For QVC, the typical minimum purchase order is between $30,000 and $35,000.
“If you sell your product to QVC for $10, they might retail it for $20,” Ascolese says. “If you paid $3 to make something, you want to sell it for $9 to $12.”
Ascolese is a born inventor whose first idea came to her when she was 9 and still struggled to tie her shoes. She came up with a method to glue her shoelaces together instead. Her TV debut came about in roughly 2002, when she created the Bun Tie. After receiving compliments on her handmade hair accessories, “I got some fabric, elastic, and string and started making them in different colors,” she says.
A friend introduced her to a company executive who had a relationship with QVC. Ascolese leveraged that connection into a meeting with network buyers, skipping the usual route to getting on the show, which involves filling out a submission form. Once the Bun Tie was shown on-air, Ascolese sold 1,100 units at around $19, generating more than $20,900 within 12 minutes of airtime.
Ascolese has the process down to a science. After she settles on an idea, she protects it. She spends about $2,500 on a patent search and attorney’s fees. She studies the demographics to see if there’s a large enough audience for her products. She then creates a few prototypes, which she shops around.
Once she gets positive feedback from a buyer—or better still, a purchase order—she has the product manufactured. She says that some manufacturers will work with you by, for example, letting you pay 50% upfront and pay the rest of the manufacturing costs after the products are purchased by a buyer. Ascolese has found manufacturers by using a sourcing company.
Today, Ascolese not only pitches and sells her own products, she also works as a broker, helping celebrities like Nicole Ari Parker and companies such as Westinghouse Lighting Corp. and Sylvania Lighting Co. get their products shown on television and ordered by retail buyers. She also conducts workshops called Inventing A to Z ( ) that teach how to bring products to market.
Her advice: “Start with the simplest product that’s going to bring you the largest revenue and cost you the least amount of money to make.” If you are fortunate enough to get a network’s order, make sure you have enough capital to manufacture the product. For HSN, you must have enough inventory to support a purchase order of $5,000 worth of products.
Programs for Budding Entrepreneurs
QVC Sprouts (www.qvcsprouts.com) gives inventors who have a retail-ready product the opportunity to have their product selected and placed on the QVC website for two weeks along with products from other contestants. Winning products are then sold on QVC. The voting period allows both the inventor and QVC the opportunity to judge consumer interest in the new goods. Launched in March 2012, the program is a great entry into multiplatform retail for entrepreneurs and inventors who have a unique product, but not the operational infrastructure that is required of a traditional QVC vendor. Inventors looking to sell their products on HSN need to fill out an online vendor partner program application on the HSN website: view.HSN.net, found in the “Let’s Do Business” section.