Chef Emeril Lagasse's recent live appearance pitching cookware on the Shop At Home channel beat all network sales expectations, and then some.
"It pretty much blew the lid off the place," said Judy Girard, president of the Nashville-based network.
Lagasse, a TV personality more often associated with the Food Network, sold almost 6,000 items, including his own Emerilware product line, in five hours of programming on July 16, exceeding the company's sales projections by 200 percent, Girard said.
About 73 percent of the buyers were new customers for Shop at Home, which is viewed by about 55 million households across the country.
For 16 days before the show ran, the network had run 30-second spots each day on the Food Network, as well as pop-up messages during his cooking show Emeril Live. Promotions also ran on Home & Garden Television (HGTV).
The cross-promotions strategy is a key component of the network's push to gain ground in a competitive TV shopping field dominated by QVC and Home Shopping Network (HSN).
Shop At Home gained a unique advantage over the other shopping networks when media conglomerate E.W. Scripps acquired it in 2004 from Summit America Television. Shop At Home is able to tap into customers through Scripps' other cable TV properties - the Food Network, HGTV, Do It Yourself Network (DIY), Fine Living, and Great American Country (GAC).
Cross-promotion was in the game plan when Girard left the president's post at the Food Network in 2004 to take the helm at Shop At Home. To sell products, the network has borrowed hosts from its sister networks, personalities such as Joan Steffend of HGTV, Carol Duvall of HGTV and DIY, and country artist Buddy Jewell, who is often seen on GAC.
"What we do know about the audiences of the Food Network and HGTV, from our market studies, is a very large percentage of those audiences are five times more likely to watch a home shopping network than a normal audience and three times as likely to buy," Girard said.
Convincing Lagasse to do a home-shopping show took six weeks of negotiations with Shop At Home, aided by Girard's long-time business association with the chef.
Lagasse also agreed to two more five-hour specials in September and November. In the meantime, Shop at Home plans to air a new series, From Emeril's Kitchen, that will feature Lagasse's handpicked sous chef, Jim Napolitano.
Napolitano, who works at Hillwood Country Club in Nashville, was selected from more than 50 contenders to train with Lagasse to fill in for him on those Shop at Home segments.
The Lagasse special proved that Scripps was right on track with its heavy cross-promotions, Girard said.
Even before Scripps' promotional strategy was put into place, the company was already hard at work retooling Shop At Home's image, including its on-screen appearance.
But the major shift came in its product categories. The coins, knives and electronics that branded the network in its pre-Scripps days have given way to a new emphasis on home products.
"We want to be everything around the home to you the consumer: home solutions, scrap booking, collectibles, food, and decorating," Girard said.
Shop At Home is setting itself apart from the competitors - which Girard describes as large mall merchandisers - by focusing on a narrower boutique market that caters to a more upscale clientele. The Shop At Home audience is 75 percent female, and half the households have an income over $50,000.
The network still has lots of room to grow. Its sales for 2004 totaled $293 million, compared to HSN's $2.4 billion and QVC's $5.7 billion in sales.
Shop At Home continues to lose money, having inherited a $22 million deficit when Scripps acquired it, Girard said. It lost $22 million in 2003 and $22 million in 2004 and expects to lose $15-18 million this year.
The deficit would have been smaller, she said, but Scripps is spending lots of resources to beef up its Nashville operation, which employs 650 people and 200 telecommuters.
It's starting to have a positive effect. The company's sales last year grew nearly 23 percent over the previous year and are up about 35 percent this year, Girard said. Shop At Home is expected to break even some time next year.
"We're trying to be a focused boutique and use our other networks to bring audience over," Girard said. "It's an uphill battle for sure, trying to turn a business that's losing money, but we think we have enough of a unique advantage to make this work."