When Andrew Suzuka, founder of Otamot Foods, launched his Brooklyn-based organic, gluten-free, veggie-filled tomato sauce brand in 2019 his products were carried in about a dozen stores in New York City.
No chains were carrying Otamot yet. Then Suzuka got on QVC.
Touting the sauce’s versatility, Suzuka and QVC host Kerstin Lindquist sold thousands of jars on QVC2 in January 2020 as the pandemic began to hit. “It’s been a blessing,” he says. “When we launched in 2019, we didn’t have many sales.”
Suzuka’s now a QVC veteran who has done 16 shows in the past year. On one segment, he sold 20,000 jars of sauce in eight minutes. The publicity has helped Otamot move product and get on shelves at Whole Foods Market and other retailers like Sprouts Farmers Market and Wegmans. “It’s a tremendous marketing platform that is unknown in many ways,” Suzuka says. “Where else do you get seven to eight minutes of dedicated airtime where you and the host speak about your brand to a captive audience?”
Here are Suzuka’s insider tips for getting on and staying on QVC.
How did you get connected with QVC?
Andrew Suzuka: QVC found us at the 2019 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City. We were discovered by a couple of people on the QVC team, including Alberti Popaj, one of the hosts. I didn’t even know him at the time because I had never really watched QVC.
The other person who found us was Diane Rubizhevsky, a broker who works exclusively with QVC and finds better-for-you brands.
It was the combination of those two and QVC trying our product, getting to speak with myself and the team and Diane advocating for us. It just all came together.
How did getting a broker help for QVC?
AS: You don’t necessarily need a broker but it helped a lot. Diane introduced us to QVC. She helped facilitate the calls with QVC and the buyers. We have a standard broker relationship. She only earns a commission if we’re selling. She lives near QVC and anytime we have a show, she’d always show up with Fred, her husband. They would be in the green room to take notes, give me tips and all the stats in real time while I was on air. If we want to show off a Bloody Mary or a bagel while on QVC, she knows the right people and helps coordinate everything. She’s really an intermediary.
What was your most recent QVC show like?
AS: Last week was a prime example of how having a broker can help. One of the brands couldn’t make the show so QVC called Diane and asked her if she had anyone else they could slot in at the last minute.
If it weren’t for me being with Diane, we wouldn’t have had a chance. She put Otamot up. QVC said sure. I had about four hours to totally change my day around.
What’s it like to go through the QVC media training?
AS: Now, since COVID, it’s on Zoom. But I did my training in-person at its studios in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It’s nerve-wracking because you’re in front of all the cameras. It’s not a big audience because it’s all the 12 trainees going through media training but they’re using actual hosts because they have a couple of dozen. You practice with them and they record you, so it feels like the real thing.
You get nervous and you bomb it. Then you watch the video and they give you feedback. You’re not guaranteed to be on QVC. If you don’t pass media training they won’t put you on. And you don’t really know if you even passed. I did bad on the first day and OK on the second day. A month later I was on QVC.
What did you learn from the training?
AS: It helped me realize how important it is to be succinct with your product, your intro with your titles about your product lines. That’s key because the hosts are the professional sellers. That’s their job. Your job as the founder is just to educate and inform. The more the host speaks, typically the better. Your job is to be there to validate and to answer questions.
There were times I’d get a little anxious and I might talk over someone because I’m too excited. Tempering that down and learning how to fill the role of being the product expert was important. If you start to do the pitch thing, which you’re not supposed to do, the moderator will come into your earpiece and say, “Alright we’ve got to wrap it up.” That’s their way of saying, “Shut up, we’ve got to finish up.”
What other recommendations do they give during training?
AS: They want to make sure your clothes don’t distract. They will go over it, but they don’t want you to have a shiny shirt on. They don’t like stripes. They want you to have solid colors because those work well against the camera. Dress professionally but relatable, so you don’t want to go in a suit and tie. You’re basically speaking to the host as though they’re your next door neighbors and having a conversation about the product and there happens to be a third person in the room. That third person is the camera. It’s intended to be an intimate conversation in a casual setting.
How did you prepare to go on QVC?
AS: You don’t know how much you’re going to ever sell. But QVC expects you to have a lot of product in advance. You never know how the audience is going to be or how the host is. The host is always great but different hosts focus on different aspects. Some are more focused on healthier foods, other ones like snacks. You can’t choose your host. You get whoever is assigned to you.
How much product do you have to have on hand before a show?
AS: It really depends on the show and the time slot. The minimum number they might ask you for is 5,000 or 6,000 units, so about 1,000 boxes of four-packs. It depends on the pricing and configuration. On this last one, we had to make sure we had about 6,000 or 7,000 units ready to go, which is 1,500 four-packs. QVC will say something like, we only have 1,000 units to go around. A lot of times about a minute after a segment ends, they will end up selling out.
You’ve been on 16 shows, but have there been others you’ve missed out on?
AS: There were two shows we missed because we didn’t have enough product. They asked us to be on a doubleheader. QVC wanted 10,000 units. It was the same time that UNFI was picking up their first order for Whole Foods. We couldn’t short Whole Foods, which would have been disastrous, but it sucked that we missed a doubleheader that would have moved more product than anyone would have in that amount of time.
When you’re on QVC, how do you prepare for a large volume in a short turnaround?
AS: It’s hard to comprehend, when you really don’t know what kind of volume you will receive. Thankfully, we were ready because we have a fulfillment center that deals with QVC orders in upstate New York. You have to be able to turn around those orders and ship them out within 24 or 48 hours of the show.
What was your first QVC show like?
AS: We launched on QVC2 with Kerstin Lindquist, which was like their MTV2 channel, the little sister channel. And the show went really well. We got lucky. I had never been on TV before. It’s not like you have a big audience. There’s maybe 10-15 crew people behind the camera, but it’s still nerve-wracking. I held it together and we ended up selling.
It’s kind of like the movie “Joy” where you see the sales going up and up. You don’t see it in the recording area but you do see it in the green room. You notice when someone says a certain keyword that sales will spike. The host might encourage you in your earpiece to say that keyword again. It’s fascinating to get that instant feedback from the customer.
What kind of keywords did you say?
AS: Saying that it could be used as tomato soup and as a Bloody Mary triggered spikes in sales. It was about showing the versatility of the sauces.
What other creative things have you done to sell on QVC?
AS: The hosts are really aware of the products that they sell on their show. They do the best to really encourage cross-collaboration. I would sometimes be running around the hallways in QVC and ask, “What’s on before us and what’s on after us?” And then I’d go find that person and ask, “Any chance you can use Otamot in your segment?”
You have to be selling. They’d rather give support to a fellow Q brand than not use anything. So it’s a win-win for everyone.
How is being on QVC different from other selling situations?
AS: It’s not your typical Whole Foods shopper. It’s not the typical shopper you’ll find through traditional outlets. QVC is a unique audience. It’s amazing platform for emerging brands, because QVC is about finding those hidden gems and things that aren’t available nationwide that are brand-new to the market. As brands become more available like we are, you aren’t exposed on QVC as much because they are so focused on the hidden gems. People tune in because they really relate to the hosts. It’s an interactive experience.
What was it like to be on QVC with David Venable?
AS: David is this powerhouse. He’s a legend and someday there will be a statue of David outside of QVC the way there is one of Michael Jordan for basketball. He moves so much product because he has such a loyal following.
Everyone kept asking us if we were going to be on with David, so I went to my broker, Diane Rubizhevsky, and asked her if we could get on with David. She told me, “If you are selling, the Q will put you on with David.” We got on after four shows. We went on with David and then boom, he crushed it. We sold 20,000 jars in about eight minutes. It was our biggest show. It’s really hard for any hosts to reach those numbers, but he’s the cooking guy.
Is there a stigma with being on QVC?
AS: Growing up, QVC was the place that I’d joke about with my friends, ‘Oh your mom is watching QVC or HSN again,’ because the UPS truck was there every day. There is still that stigma. But once people realize, and not just founders, but people look around and realize there is actually good products, it makes a difference. Now, I’ve become a QVC shopper. I swear, the salmon from the Faroe Island is really good.
What tips do you have for doing QVC segments on Zoom?
AS: Put foundation on. I wear bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Hydrating Foundation Stick. I don’t go too crazy. I put some under my eyes, nose and checks, just to flatten some of the ugliness out.
Make sure you’re hardwired in. Double test it. Make sure you’ve got the right cables and the right dongles. They will check your internet connection to make sure it’s right and your lighting. I went out and bought this crazy lighting kit, a 3-pack of Neewer dimmable bi-color 480 LED video lights with stands. It was a couple hundred bucks and a game changer versus the ring lights.
Try not to fidget too much. Turn off all the notifications on your laptop and phone. It’s really easy for forget to silence those things and have an alarm go off. You want to make sure it’s a clean seven minutes.