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New TV shopping network tries to carve out market share

Model Corinne Bach shows off a pearl necklace Sunday while executive producer Mark Brown and chief merchandising officer Rebecca Moore sell it on the new home shopping satellite television channel EmVee TV at its studio in Clearwater.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Model Corinne Bach shows off a pearl necklace Sunday while executive producer Mark Brown and chief merchandising officer Rebecca Moore sell it on the new home shopping satellite television channel EmVee TV at its studio in Clearwater.

After a 9-month warmup, a new TV shopping channel thinks it's ready for prime time.

"We're trying to be a boutique TV channel, not another HSN," said Mark Brown, executive producer of tiny EmVee TV. "But we do want to capture some of the feel of the old HSN" that aired in the 1980s in front of live operators from an old Levitz furniture store in Clearwater.

Broadcast from rented Clearwater studios with operators standing by, EmVee appeared without fanfare in January in 35 million homes in the satellite TV shopping tiers, Channel 225 on DirecTV and 224 on Dish Network.

"We really didn't expect anyone to watch, but our first call came in five minutes, and she bought some pearls," said Dave Ulgenalp, 51, a former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants and Panera Bread executive who leads the investment group that put up $2 million to put EmVee on the air.

Brown, 50, is one of five veteran show hosts from HSN, or its smaller rivals, on EmVee, which just expanded its two-day a week broadcast by three hours, 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It also can be live streamed at emveetv.com.

EmVee is trying to crack a tough market. The field of bankrupt startups and the five CEOs and chief merchants HSN ran through in the past 15 years all would caution that live TV shopping is much harder than it looks.

But EmVee is a different model run on a comparative shoestring.

Vendors bankroll the inventory and fill orders. For a cut of sales, the channel provides an audience, takes orders and offers customers a money-back guarantee. Like HSN or infomercials, one of the biggest costs is paying for cable/satellite airtime.

The new network hedges its risks by sticking to high profit margin jewelry, handbags, art auctions, collectible coins and sports memorabilia.

Among the vendors are Brown's pearl wholesale business and a handbag company run by Ulgenalp's wife, Lisa.

Prices so far range from $10 freshwater pearls to a $19,000 ruby ring. The average sale has been $604, but shows get free-wheeling enough that hosts sometimes ask callers to "make an offer and we'll talk."

After a touch-and-go June, EmVee TV is breaking even financially and halfway to a goal of $8 million in first year sales.

Hard times

As one in six Americans relied on some form of government help to get by this summer, some food-buying habits changed.

At Winn-Dixie, sales tailed off the last week of each month.

"You could see people were running out of cash," said Peter Lynch, chief executive of the Jacksonville supermarket chain.

Prime turns Premium

Mall giant Simon Property Group, owner of two regional malls in the bay area, has completed its $2.3 billion purchase of Prime Outlets shopping centers.

That triggered a new name locally for Prime Outlets Ellenton, which is now called Ellenton Premium Outlets.

Simon added 21 outlet centers to its portfolio of 39 Premium Outlets. The company had to give up only three Prime projects, including what would have been its second in St. Augustine, to satisfy antitrust regulators.

That means two huge centers within a few miles of each other on Orlando's Interstate 4 theme park corridor are now both called Orlando Premium Outlets. To avoid confusion, one gets "Vineland" added to its monicker, the other "International Drive."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

New TV shopping network tries to carve out market share 09/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 8:55pm]
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