As part of our focus on women in direct response, we recently sat down with our longtime friend and client, Stephanie Stewart, owner and president of Exceptional Products, Inc. We discussed her career journey as one of very few female direct response entrepreneurs, as well as her advice to others looking to blaze a similar trail.
DM: Tell us about your current role at EPI.
SS: I am the owner and president of Exceptional Products, Inc., a direct response marketing company that specializes in creating nationally known brand names for new products by using infomercials, direct response television, and other marketing methods.
DM: What changes have you seen in the retail space during your time in the industry?
SS: We started in this business in the late 1980s. In the early years, it was just about TV, then we made the jump into getting DRTV products into retail stores. We had some of the first DRTV items in retail long before there was a DRTV department.
At first, retailers were resistant to DRTV items, but then became very eager once they realized the impact TV advertising had on their sales/shelf turns. Customers came in asking for the things they saw on TV and the “As Seen On TV” category was born.
Now, with scattered markets, a plethora of TV stations, social media, Amazon, etc., the landscape has changed dramatically. There is always room for more great products, but the pathway to get them to market is very different.
DM: You’ve had great success in the hair and beauty category with products like Hairdini and Wrap Snap & Go!. How did you discover these products and what marketing strategies set them apart?
SS: The hair and beauty category is a personal favorite of mine, with my thin long hair. I personally try out everything in the category—and I have since I was quite young. What has given us success in the business has been our commitment to the products we really love. We are a woman-owned boutique company that does not give up easily when we feel a product is exceptional. We have succeeded with items that others have tried and failed. Testing, getting lots of feedback, reworking the script and demonstrations, then retesting has worked wonders for us.
Having a woman-owned company that selects women’s products is very important to long-term success. I sit in front of the buyers and do the demonstrations right in the buying meetings. The buyers understand it immediately and it sticks with them as they sit through hundreds of product meetings. A product needs to be understood by the buyer, work well, and be different than what is already on the market.
DM: What is your experience with the giant QVC mogul? Did you experience challenges breaking through?
SS: I started going on the shopping channels in the early ‘90s. Very early on, we learned that full demonstrations on one’s self was very important to the success of hair items. Women want style and simplicity—and they do not have a helper in their bathroom every morning. Those demonstrations gave us many years of success on many products. Demo, demo, demo! That sells better than words.
One product we sold for seven years on QVC. That was the longest running single item for us on QVC. In the early years, we had three airings of 12-15 minutes per trip which was wonderful. As the shopping channels grew, most vendors were cut back to one airing of 6-8 minutes per trip. Being on air so often taught me a lot about scripting for DRTV and how to do good, fast demonstrations. Those are two big keys to success.
DM: What future trends do you see impacting retail?
SS: Many changes are happening in retail as our world transitions to online buying. There will always be space for retail, but it will be much different in the next 5-10 years. It’s already changed so much, and every year will bring new challenges in terms of competition on price, quality and quick availability.
DM: There are very few female-owned infomercial companies. What is one defining moment that stands out in your career?
SS: We have had success with women’s products because we can try them firsthand and relate directly to their use. Exceptional Products, Inc. was the only woman-owned DRTV marketer in the industry for many, many years. We are also a certified Women Business Enterprise (WBE) and there are a lot of retailers that support women- and minority-owned business. I can’t tell you how many inventors have called me to say they wanted to work with a woman for their women’s product.
DM: What advice would you give others looking to follow a similar career path?
SS: To keep it simple. Stick to products you know and understand well—and that you have a passion for. Then listen to all the feedback, good and bad, before making decisions. Love your product but understand its limitations and don’t be blinded by your personal connection to the item. Some products you will love, but they will never be good DRTV items for many reasons. Costs and perceived value are always critical, and you can’t get around the margin needs. Many try and fail. We’ve also been on that list. Numbers must add up. If you go forward with an item, do not leave any stone unturned.
Remember: There is more than one route to take to get a product to a successful rollout.
During our 30th anniversary year, Diray will feature blogs that look at where we have been, where we are, and where we think the industry is going.