WEST GOSHEN >> More than 2,000 area residents can be thankful that Joe Segel has somewhat of a short attention span as a business owner.
In the mid-1980s Segel was running a software testing magazine – before software magazines, or software for that matter – were commonplace.
One day he read an article about a company called HSN, or Home Shopping Network, and became intrigued by the idea of mass merchandising through television.
“I never heard of the concept before,” said Segel, who had previously founded the Franklin Mint in 1965 and retired from it in 1973.
“People say I’m a serial entrepreneur – but I’m a serial retiree, too,” Segel quipped during a recent phone conversation. “It was May 1986 and I was getting restless (at the software testing company). I start businesses out of ignorance. In almost every case, if I had been aware of the obstacles, if I had more experience, I never would have done them.”
At the time, cable companies didn’t carry hundreds of channels, and HSN was not carried in the Philadelphia area.
“I had people record it for me, and it was a very, very hard sell at that time on HSN,” Segel recalled. “Obviously, they were very successful. I said, ‘it looks like it’s not that hard to do and it looks like it could be done a lot better.’”
So Segel searched around for a building that could handle the production equipment, warehouse space and transmitting needs of a new cable home shopping network that was within driving distance of his suburban Philadelphia home. He found it in the Goshen Industrial Park in East Goshen, and on Nov. 24, 1986, QVC went on the air.
Fast forward 30 years and the company has reached milestones that would have been hard to imagine at a time when there were hardly any home computers, let alone smartphones and tablets.
Among the highlights from 2015:
• QVC is an $8.7 billion business with broadcast operations in the U.S., Japan, Germany, U.K., Italy, France and a joint venture in China.
• The global sales mix for the year was: electronics – 10 percent; jewelry – 10 percent; fashion – 30 percent; home – 33 percent; beauty – 17 percent.
• QVC has a growing global e-commerce business which accounted for $3.9 billion of annual revenue, with half of e-commerce orders generated from mobile platforms. E-commerce was 45 percent of consolidated revenues and 51 percent of U.S. revenues
• QVC reaches approximately 360 million homes worldwide. In the U.S., QVC broadcasts live 24 hours a day, 364 days of the year and is available in more than 100 million American homes.
• International sales accounted for 28 percent of consolidated net revenue.
• QVC shipped approximately 179 million products across its global markets.
• In October 2015, zulily joined the QVC Group, expanding QVC’s reach to millennial moms and the digital-only generation.
• The company recently announced the launch of the Beauty iQ network, the first multi-platform beauty shopping experience, “to engage beauty lovers everywhere.”
And the company is able to provide data on the county level.
In 2015:• QVC shipped more than 871,000 units to customers in Chester County.
• The top selling categories among QVC customers in Chester County were apparel and beauty.
• Some of the most popular beauty and fashion products bought by Chester County customers last year were from top brands such as LOGO by Lori Goldstein, Calista Tools (founded by local entrepreneur Maria McCool, owner of Calista Grand Salon and Spa in West Chester), Isaac Mizrahi, Frostguard, IT Cosmetics and Josie Maran.
• QVC has approximately 17,000 employees globally and had 2,613 in Chester County at the end of 2015.
For all of the numbers, Segel was low-key about the company’s success as he prepared for a recent 30-year reunion of some of the early employees at QVC.
He noted the help he received from Warren “Pete” Musser, the founder of Safeguard Scientifics and an early investor, and Ralph Roberts at Comcast, who agreed to carry it.
“It doesn’t surprise me because we put together an excellent team to manage it,” Segel said of QVC’s success.
•Doug Rose, senior vice president of Brand and Communications, started at QVC 22 years ago – after the early bugs had been worked out but before the internet dramatically changed electronic retailing.
“What I have witnessed in the last two decades is a company that has really grown up,” said Rose, who spent 12 years in advertising before joining QVC. “It’s evolving in ways we couldn’t have imagined.”
As online shopping emerged, some observers predicted the end of television shopping networks like QVC.
“The irony is the reverse has happened,” Rose said, noting that trend of growing online sales. “A lot of (large retailers) were afraid of the dot-com experience. QVC was never fearful of that. We can’t wait until tomorrow. We like change.”
Of course, QVC isn’t a regular workplace. Employees get the chance to rub elbows with celebrities and to watch as their own celebrities are created.
Among Rose’s favorites: Joan Rivers, “everything you would imagine”; Rachael Ray, who sells cookware on the network; Isaac Mizrahi, who is “a breath of fresh air” as he talks to customers while selling fashions; Ellen Degeneres, who “attracts huge audiences” when she appears to sell home decor products; David Venable, whose “In the Kitchen with David” is a fan favorite; and Lori Greiner, who started with QVC and is enjoying fame with the “Shark Tank” television program – “she had a nice business with QVC and went from QVC to a broader market.”
Rose recalled a series QVC concocted in the 1990s to create buzz around the network. Called Extreme Shopping, the segment featured one-of-a-kind offerings such as moon rocks, items from Muhammad Ali’s estate, and zero-gravity pens. One of the broadcasts was done from the Russian Mir Space Station.
“That got a lot of PR,” Rose said with a laugh.
•Jane Treacy was an ambitious young newswoman who began her career at CNN while still in college when she heard about a new network called QVC. She recalled last week after attending the 30th reunion that she hesitated about applying, asking her mother, “What do I know about sales?”
Her mother threw her a pencil and told her to sell it to her. After a five-minute presentation, her mother said she should apply. During the job interview, Treacy said, the interviewer asked her to sell him the pencil on his desk. After giving him the pitch, he asked, “can you come back tomorrow?”
Thus, Treacy became one of the first on-air presenters and she and the man who interviewed her, John Eastman, had the chance to catch up at the 30-year reunion.
“We presented him with a pack of pencils” Treacy laughed.
Since 1995, she has hosted QVC Presents FFANY Shoes on Sale, a television special benefiting breast cancer awareness and research.
“I come by in honestly. My grandfather came from Italy as a shoemaker,” said Treacy, who added that the effort has raised $50 million for cancer research.
Treacy recalled how different things were in the early days of being an on-air host. During her first holiday shopping season, the network had a blue light in the ceiling. When it would go off, Treacy’s role changed.
“I would take the order,” she said. “It would be, ‘hello, this is Jane, can I take your order?’”
Like Rose, the late Joan Rivers, a QVC regular, holds a special place in Treacy’s heart.
“She was so thoughtful,” Treacy said. “I would receive a book and it would be from her with a note in it saying this reminded me of you. And she was the hardest working person in show business, bar none.”
•QVC is now owned by Liberty Interactive Corp. of Englewood, Colorado, and has its own tracking stock that trades on NASDAQ.
Segel’s entrepreneurial spirit, meanwhile, has turned to hair care.
As a co-founder and principal investor in ProfilePRO, Segel reunited with several retired and former QVC executives to launch the enterprise in 2014. The company offers consumers a customized hair care system. After answering a short series of questions online, consumers discover the ideal shampoo and conditioner formulas targeted to their personal hair care goals as well as their scent and lather preferences.
ProfilePRO’s 171 proprietary formulas were developed in collaboration with a team of cosmetic chemists in Italy, who have developed hair care and skincare products for several of the world’s top brands.
“Customization is an important trend in today’s retail landscape,” Segel said. “ProfilePRO is based on the concept that hair care should be no exception.”
While he has moved on, Segel continues to have fond memories of QVC.
“Of all the businesses I’ve started, and there have been more than 20, none have made me more proud than QVC,” he said “It’s not just because QVC has become such a large and successful enterprise, but more because QVC continuously does so much to enhance the lifestyles of its employees and its customers.”
To contact Business Editor Brian McCullough, call 610-235-2655 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.