Sales & Marketing

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Selling on QVC – the SuperJam experience

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Twenty-two year old entrepreneur Fraser Doherty is no stranger to being on TV: he’s done most of the morning shows, and is comfortable appearing on screen.

But yesterday was a new experience for the young entrepreneur: the QVC channel.

In case you’re unfamiliar with QVC, it’s Britain’s top shopping channel. QVC stands for Quality, Value, Convenience, and has been airing on UK television since 1993, selling products straight into British homes.

We had the opportunity to shadow SuperJam’s Fraser Doherty during his QVC experience, and it was fascinating.

Operating from Battersea, London (with distribution operations based in Knowsley, near Liverpool), the QVC operation is massive. The channel employes over 500 staff in London (with another 1,400 in Knowsley)  and broadcasts live for 17 hours per day, every day.

Where did Fraser Doherty’s QVC journey begin?

Doherty met a QVC buyer at an event, who told him he should give it a try. “I hadn’t thought of QVC beforehand, to be honest,” he says, “It isn’t an obvious place to go and I didn’t know too much how it worked.”

After going through QVC’s thorough buying process (meeting with buyers, going through quality assurance, auditioning on camera, negotatiations on products, on-screen training, etc), SuperJam was given its slot: eight minutes during an Easter food programme.

From introduction to going live on air, the process took eight months.

“The great thing is that QVC is keen for me to succeed,” says Doherty. Clearly, if SuperJam sells well, QVC benefits, so it’s a win-win situation.

The key to selling via QVC is offering something unique.

“We look at what the supermarkets don’t do,” says Kate Tomlin, a QVC kitchen and food buyer. “It needs to be something unique, different – products with a story behind them.”

She adds that small producers are in particular demand.

“It’s about finding unusual or local ingredients and telling their story.”

Fraser Doherty’s story is obviously well-suited to this, as are his products. In yesterday’s Easter programme, Doherty sold a package made up of six pots of jam, his latest signed recipe book and a SuperJam tote bag, all for an introductory price of £24.12 (plus P&P).

SuperJam live on QVC

The results of going on-air were staggering. During the eight-minute slot, SuperJam sold over 350 packages, or an eye-watering £1,000+ worth of product per minute.

In the green room, the live TV image is overlaid with a graph of call volumes, and everyone waits patiently to see highly-exciting (and lucrative) spikes.

While we were sitting in the room, waiting for Doherty to go on air, we could hear regular whoops and cheers as products sold out: Cornish pasties, stuffed chicken breasts, biscuits – QVC sells anything and everything, and the customers just can’t get enough.

The QVC buyers scour specialist food fairs for these products.

“In each fair, we probably find about 30 people we’d like to meet,” adds Tomlin. “But it can be quite daunting for small producers.”

The reality is that QVC can be quite scary. With its huge market, there’s the risk that you can’t deliver the required goods. But Dicicco warns this isn’t usually a problem.

“We always talk about production capabilities, and work with our vendors to decide what we can offer.”

The most successful deals on QVC are usually packages, groups of products. “By putting things together, we make unique combinations which shoppers can’t find elsewhere. Unique product bundles are also better value and perform better.”

Doherty recognises just how valuable appearing on QVC can be.

“The potential to sell a lot of products is huge, it’s a great opportunity,” he says. “When selling on supermarket shelves, you just have to hope people notice the jar and pick it up. Being on QVC allows you to tell people the story behind the product. It’s a whole new way of getting people excited about the brand.”

QVC studio

Thankfully, Doherty’s story is a good one. He left school aged 16 to launch SuperJam, and has been going strong and building SuperJam since then – in fact, you can read all about it in his upcoming book SuperBusiness, available from Amazon later this month.

His appearance on QVC is certain to raise SuperJam’s profile even more – the QVC channel is available in over 23 million homes.

Sale or return

The relationship between the vendor and QVC depends on the product. With fresh produce, the products are usually despatched directly by the vendor.

But with other food items, such as SuperJam, the goods are shipped to QVC’s Knowsley distribution centre, which takes over the shipping operations.

In Doherty’s case, with SuperJam, the deal with QVC was on a sale-or-return basis. How does this work?

QVC’s buyers and planners work with the vendor (SuperJam in this case) to agree on what is expected to sell. QVC then buys the stock and it gets shipped by SuperJam to QVC’s huge distribution warehouse near Liverpool.

Once SuperJam appears on QVC, the items (normally) start flying off the shelves, and are sent directly to the customers by QVC.

If any stock is left, Doherty must then buy it back from QVC.

“It’s different to supermarkets,” says Doherty. “This is why it’s important to forecast QVC sales in advance. We had a dialogue with QVC and, to be honest, trusted them to make the right decisions.”

QVC's control room

The initial feedback about SuperJam’s QVC appearance seemed positive. Sales hit targets and Doherty performed well on-air.

Doherty himself seems content with how it went, and hopes he can develop the relationship.

“My hope is that it will become a platform for us to try new products – a jam-making kit, a range of crockery, and more,” he says.

This would be a good model for QVC too, as the buyers want products and offers that the supermarkets don’t have – they want unique products.

We’re pretty confident that SuperJam will be asked back – his strong story will be appealing for QVC’s demographic.

Catch Fraser Doherty’s appearance on QVC here (where you can also order some of his tasty jam).

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