Shop-at-home Tv Gets Closer

February 22, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

A local shop-at-home program being aired by Luskin's Inc. on WBFF Channel 45 could represent the newest expansion in a concept that has primarily remained a national phenomenon.

Luskin's, an electronics and appliance chain based in Columbia, has teamed up with WBFF, a Fox network affiliate, to produce what local advertising executives believe is Baltimore's first locally made shop-at-home program.

Long known for its frantic 30-second commercials proclaiming Jack Luskin as "the cheapest guy in town," the regional chain is gingerly testing the concept with an hour-long program that has been airing once a week on Channel 45.

"It's only a test show right now," said Cary A. Luskin, president of the chain, which has 30 stores in Maryland, Washington and Virginia. "We're going to keep playing with it."

While such national shop-at-home programs as Home Shopping Network Inc. and QVC Inc. have become common on the nation's airwaves, shows by local or regional retailers remain rare, said Watts Wacker, resident futurist for the marketing and research company Yankelovich Partners in Westport, Conn.

Luskin's "is on the cutting edge," he said. "I think it is something you will see more of."

Mr. Wacker, who worked on a study about home shopping for MasterCard International, said Luskin's would likely enjoy an additional advantage over the national home shopping networks because it has a chain of stores where products can be returned. "That will take away a barrier," he said, "the hassle of return."

While he said the Luskin's venture was a good idea, he cautioned that the company should be fully committed to the concept. "Either be really committed or don't do it at all," he said.

The move by Luskin's is a "logical extension" of its local franchise, according to David C. Robinson, senior vice president and media director for W. B. Doner & Co., Baltimore's largest advertising firm, which is not involved in the program.

"It's a very shrewd tactical move by Luskin's," he said, adding that he was unaware of any local company that has ventured into that area. "It certainly has caught on across the country and this area should be no different," Mr. Robinson said.

The Luskin's show had its origins last fall when WBFF General Manager Steven M. Marks was trying to decide what type of programming should fill two hours of local programming that will become available on a new Fox cable network, scheduled to be launched in June. WBFF is receiving the time as a concession to local Fox affiliates that will be competing against the new cable network.

Mr. Marks then hit on the idea of a home shopping program as an alternative to filling the time with reruns. He decided to try it out on the broadcast channel first.

"Home shopping is here and now, and it's going to be here for a long, long time," Mr. Marks said. "I think there is a great opportunity here."

Mr. Marks heard that Luskin's was interested in a home shopping program, so he contacted them in November.

Instead of paying a fee for its air time, Luskin's has an agreement with WBFF to share the profits generated by the show, according to Mr. Marks. Production of the show is handled by WBFF while Luskin's pays the host and provides the merchandise, Mr. Luskin said.

He would not disclose the sales during the first few shows or the production costs. Mr. Luskin also said it was too early to know the level of merchandise returns, which run as high as 20 percent to 40 percent on the national home shopping shows.

So far, the show has run only three times. Luskin's first show aired Feb. 7 and has run each Monday since from noon to 1 p.m. The final show this month will be Saturday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Mr. Marks said. The March schedule has not been determined.

Mr. Marks said the program's share of the potential audience was probably in the low single digits. "It's not there to be a ratings grabber," he said. "What we are pitching here is convenience."

In contrast to the frenetic pace of its normal commercials, the Luskin's Shop At Home program is produced in a set made to look like a sedate, book-lined living room where about a dozen electronic devices ranging from boom boxes to telephone answering machines are displayed and described.

The host of the show is Jeff Pylant, 39, a veteran television personality perhaps best known as the local host from 1983 to 1986 of "Evening Magazine," a syndicated feature show that ran on WJZ-TV, Channel 13.

While the store's offerings on the program are limited to small- to medium-sized electronic equipment that can be shipped easily by United Parcel Service, Mr. Luskin does not rule out offering appliances such as washers and dryers, which would be delivered by company trucks.

"We're reasonably pleased with the broadcasts," Mr. Marks said. "It's an interesting alternative to the 20th rerun of 'All In The Family.' "

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