Getting a spot on QVC can be a gold mine for a lot of entrepreneurs in the natural foods industry.
Last year, Otamot’s Andrew Suzuka sold 20,000 jars of sauce in 8 minutes. He got on QVC—and has been on 16 times in a little over a year—thanks in part to Diane Rubizhevsky, a broker and an independent manufacturer’s representative who specializes in plant-based foods and healthy brands. She co-founded ACS Marketing, a sales and marketing retail group with her husband Fred Natrin. Together, they get clients on QVC and HSN.
For the past 25 years, Rubizhevsky has helped brands like Eat Bare Life, Super Seedz, Actual Veggies and Otamot land spots on QVC by finding emerging natural food businesses at tradeshows, pop-up events, social media and via word-of-mouth referrals.
When companies approach Rubizhevsky about pitching a new product on QVC, one of the first things she’ll ask: “Have you ever looked the QVC’s website?”
She’ll advise the brand to do some research. Look at what else is being sold and understand the competition.
“Look at the total landscape and check out how you compare to them,” says Rubizhevsky. “Have something unique and different to talk about. Because being on QVC is really about the uniqueness of the product.”
Here are Rubizhevsky’s insights into getting a broker and selling on QVC.
What do you look for before taking on a client?
Diane Rubizhevsky: I have a passion for health and wellness. I’m looking for ways to help people improve their health without changing their lifestyles by finding innovative companies that might provide better options.
What do you look for in an emerging brand that wants to be on QVC?
DR: I want to know what is unique and different about the product. Marketing and sales done through TV combines the best of retail media and social media. You have to be able to give them that experience.
Why do they want your product? Why are they going to buy it? QVC is not just TV anymore. It’s predominantly TV but the way people shop today, it’s through every media out there, from seeing a post on Instagram or Facebook, even though hosts have their own posts and might post about something that’s coming up.
That sounds a lot like knowing your unique value proposition. QVC is known for finding niche undiscovered products. How do you determine what’s unique and what’s redundant?
DR: When you look at someone like Otamot, the name [tomato spelled backwards] was so clever and Andrew is a such a great guy, but the reason he created the product was to get his daughter to eat more vegetables. So he had to find a way to make something delicious. That’s why it’s such a great story.
Actual Veggies is probably the cleanest veggie burger I’ve ever eaten or seen because it doesn’t have any fillers in it. That’s very appealing to someone who’s learning to look at labels.
So at what point do most companies start working with you?
DR: They are at retail but not mass distributed. That’s good because QVC stands for quality, value and conveniences. So you have to offer them a good value. It’s got to be better than where they could find it anywhere else because why else would they want it on QVC, except if they hear the story.
How do you know a brand is going to work?
DR: It’s just gut. So I found another company, Bare Life Chocolate. The owner is terrific and her products have been selling like hot cakes on QVC but with COVID there’s been an issue with supply chain. I have a couple companies like that. So she sells out and then she’s out of stock. So she won’t be going forward. That can be a little frustrating, not knowing how well your product is going to do. And if it does super well, how prepared are you to get back into it? You have to have a tough skin, too, because QVC customers are very opinionated. The reviews are extraordinarily important. If something consistently has a poor review, even if it’s consistently sold out, they’re probably not going to put it back on again. Or if there’s a lot of returns.
What else hasn’t worked?
DR: I have another company that I work with that sold out and the products are delicious, but it's so different that the return rates are very high. The guys are like ‘Diane, what should we do?’ And I said, 'Listen, it's up to you. You know, do you want to go back on again with that kind of return rate?’ And then I've got to go back to QVC and say, ‘Hey, you know, here's our reviews. We're not exactly where we want to be. Do you want to try it again?’ It's really the buyers and the planners who judge as to what those next steps should be.
What else should businesses know before they approach you?
DR: I don't want to take anybody on who's going to lose any kind of money. A lot of people like Andrew [Suzuka of Otamot] in the beginning looked at being on QVC strictly as a marketing and advertising tool. It really helped him a lot because now he's recognized all over the place.
I just want everybody to be a little bit on the positive side. And I've had plenty of people tell me they just can't make the numbers work. And that's OK. You don't go into business to lose money.
What are some of the minimums entrepreneurs should have?
DR: You don’t really need a lot. It does depend on the price point to the number of units. It can be anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 units of whatever it is you are selling. You are judged by the units you sell because everything is based on dollars per minute. A store is based on dollars per square foot. So airtime is based on dollars per minute and that changes depending on the time of the year and time of day.
How does a brand get to come back on QVC?
DR: If they hit the numbers and the reviews are good. Then they’re almost always going to come back.
Can you walk us through what you do as a broker to help a brand get on QVC?
DR: There’s the introduction of the brand. I’ve got to be excited about it to get the buyer excited about it. Then there’s the product presentation. In the food area, it’s all about taste. It’s got to be delicious. If it’s accepted, there’s a pretty substantial amount of traditional paperwork that’s got to be done before you go on air. Then it’s up to the vendor to say when they can be ready. I just had a chocolate company tell me they can’t be ready until September, which is way better because QVC stops selling chocolate after May because it gets too hot. So it worked out.
What are some of the potential supply chain issues companies need to think about before going on QVC?
DR: Can they supply it? For instance, if they sell out of units and QVC wants them back 45 days later (because they really like to look at reviews and returns for about 30 days), can they be ready with the next order?
Is there a sweet spot, a key price point for selling food on QVC? I’d heard $30-$50 was a good range.
DR: It can go higher, but it has to be in the value. Maybe $39 or $49 is a good price. If the brand offers four different flavors, the consumer really likes the variety pack because it gives her a chance to try everything. You can charge a little bit more for multipacks.
Why did you become a broker?
DR: I’ve always loved sales. In my original career, I was a dental hygienist and then I got into dental sales. I was the first woman in dental sales in the country. Nurses in pharmaceutical sales were women, but there was nobody in dental sales. I happen to meet the president of a very big company at the time and I said, ‘How come there aren’t any?’ And he said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ That's how it started.
I got turned on by sales. I lived overseas for a while and when I came back, I started a pillow company called The Painted Pillow, with hand-painted pillows out of the Philippines. I had no idea what I was doing. I just wanted to sell these really beautiful pillows. And from there it blossomed, and I started selling on QVC.
You meet people and you meet other buyers. And, hopefully, you have a good enough reputation that other buyers from other departments will hear what you have to say.
How did you start focusing on the natural food industry on QVC?
DR: I love food and I’ve always dabbled in food. Because I have such a strong interest in health and wellness, I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach. That was the turning point for me to start looking for healthy products and bring them to QVC. I’m always looking for ways to help people improve their health without changing their lifestyles by finding innovative companies that might provide better options.
What sets you apart from other brokers?
DR: I don’t know other reps who care about health and wellness the way that I do. It’s important to me personally and professional to be able to help people make healthy choices. One snack at a time, one meal at a time, especially in a time like this with COVID.
So what trends are you seeing in the natural food space right now?
DR: I’m pretty involved in the plant-based world. The growth is just enormous. I’m getting ready to launch something totally different. They’ve never done plant milks on QVC but I’m working with Patch Organics and we’re going to try it. I’m pretty excited because it’s absolutely delicious and full of nutrients. It’s made from pumpkin seeds. Right now you can only get it on its website.
How has QVC changed since you began?
DR: When QVC first started, they looked for nobodies. When branding got so big, they were really looking for brands. Now, I think they’re going back and want more discovery, which is really fun for me because I’m finding these smaller niche brands that want to be discovered. They’re also trying to gain a younger customer.
What’s the target demographic? I’ve heard it is soccer moms, traditionally 45 years and older, who live in a metropolitan area and make $75,000 or more.
DR: Yes. And it’s a higher income than you think it is.
What other pieces of advice can you share to help companies before they have their first big meeting with QVC?
DR: It’s about the story and the branding. QVC is about discovery. To me, it’s always: Why did you create the product? Why would she want to buy it? Because they call their customer 'she.' Why does she want to buy it? What’s compelling about your story that she’s going to pick up the phone or her tablet and buy it? How is the product going to make her feel good?
You’re really talking about the brand story coming through by being genuine and authentic.
DR: Yes. It’s being genuine and telling your story. To me, that’s the most important part about QVC. You have to love what you have and believe in what you have and be able to translate that to somebody. And have them to listen to you and understand what’s the value in it.