A Shot At The Big Time

July 12, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

You want to find a big-band nostalgia station while you're driving through Rockport, Maine? Get WRKD, 1450 on the AM dial.

You want to make a million dollars? Get your brainchild on QVC, the home shopping cable network that reaches 50 million homes.

That's what Rick Caplan, a Parkville man, is trying to do with his book, which lists 5,000 radio stations on the East Coast along with their program formats, station letters and phone numbers.

"Heck of a lot of work," he said at the Timonium Fairgrounds, where the products of about 200 potential millionaires were being scouted by buyers from QVC headquarters in West Chester, Pa.

"I'm eventually going to have every station in the country," Mr. Caplan said at yesterday's opening of the two-day event, "and there's nothing else like it, no competition."

That's one of the roads to success, according to Winnie Atterbury, a QVC publicist. "We like something unusual, unique," she said. "We see some really nice stuff. Crafts do well, and so does food."

QVC (Quality, Value, Convenience) operates on three rotating stages live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except Christmas, and sells an endless stream of products. The network visit to Timonium is part of a 50-state search for new products.

"I've been in 42 states since October," said Suji Meswani, a buyer who has been with QVC for more than a year.

Maryland will have its three-hour segment, probably Oct. 22 at Rash Field in Baltimore. Twenty of the 200 distributors at Timonium and five alternates will be chosen by the buyers to appear on the program with their products.

QVC will purchase $10,000 worth of products from each qualifier up front for the program, and there is always the chance the qualifiers will do what an Arkansas woman did with her No Mess dough disk.

"It was just a plastic disk about the size of a big plate, with a cloth cover on it, and it prevents the dough from sticking," Ms. Meswani said. "It goes for $12.12, and we've sold 85,000 of them worth more than $1 million since January."

A man in Idaho carves dogs out of wood with a chain saw and sells them for $17.

"We were sold out even before he went on the show," said Rene Ward, another buyer and former school teacher, who has been with QVC for nine years. "People saw the dogs during the preview and snapped them up." The top three sellers from each state will be invited back for the regular programs.

"I love this job," Ms. Ward said. "People are so happy to see us, and the QVC hosts and hostesses do a good job of research. They'll spend two or three hours before they go on, working with the people and studying their products so they can talk about them at some length."

The buyers are also looking for items particular to a state, and Richard and Frances Gick, of Ellicott City, had those Eastern Shore favorites, hand-carved ducks and shorebirds, on display at prices ranging from $25 to $150.

"We used to go to a lot of craft shows, but they're tough because we're up against so much foreign, machine-made stuff. All you get is a sunburn," Mr. Gick said. "This is a real opportunity for us."

Opportunity is another key word. Most of the items are the result of mom-and-pop work in garages or basements, and few people have the money, time or expertise to find a distributor.

"This is their best shot," Ms. Atterbury said. "They're all very much small business, and this gives them the opportunity for national exposure."

Ms. Atterbury estimated that 10 to 13 of the distributors of the 20 selected will sell out on the show. "That's about average," she said. "We get some duds, but even those will sell something."

QVC buys the products at wholesale prices and marks them up 30 percent to 100 percent for its profit.

Jim Dolan and Patrick Hornberger of Baltimore had an item special to Maryland: a set of three seafood cookbooks that sell for $19.95.

"We've sold about 10,000 sets through bookstores and news stands," Mr. Dolan said as he made his presentation to Ms. Ward.

William Baxter and Angela Cobb of Baltimore were displaying brightly colored earrings, brooches and other accessories made of glazed cloth that they sell through private parties and jewelry shows at prices ranging from $25 to $300.

"These are one of a kind," Ms. Cobb said, "and they'll never wear out."

Mitch Gallon and Jack Danna of Ellicott City had their Bookkeeping Buddy, $29.95, on display. The package includes D DTC loose-leaf binder for keeping track of checks, savings accounts and credit card expenditures, and a book of directions. They are pledging $2 from every sale to a city library at Hollins and Payson streets.

Ms. Gallon, a bookkeeper for 18 years, designed the package to make money management easy.

"We've had a great response, especially from women," Ms. Gallon said.

And speaking of response, a Texas man created Hoof, Hoof Hooray, which included a conditioner for horses' manes and a cream for their hoofs. "While he was working with the cream on the [hoofs], he realized it made his hands soft and supple," Ms. Ward said. "He started selling it as a hand cream and we've sold $600,000 worth since January."

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