There’s an Abominable Snowman lurking inside the HSN studio.
Actually, it’s a lighting guy wearing a cheesy Yeti costume and standing on a crate to look gigantic, but this is show biz — use your imagination.
This Yeti’s wearing blue jeans — DG2 jeans by Diane Gilman — with his furry white mask and Bigfoot feet.
He’s part of the behind-the-scenes action at HSN, the home-shopping retailer based in St. Petersburg, where the slogan is “It’s fun here,” and they mean it.
It’s so fun here, the Yeti’s going to shake his Gilman-adorned booty with Gilman herself in a holiday promo spot.
She’s a giant of sorts, too — a retail machine who’s sold 9 million pairs of jeans on HSN in 10 years.
Tonight, Gilman’s wearing her dark indigo, embroidered skinny jeans, the “Today’s Special” jeans she’s about to start pitching for $49.95 in a 24-hour sell-athon.
First, though, she’s got to party with the Yeti.
On cue, the cameras roll, fake snow falls around the hot-pink set, and the Yeti and Gilman rock out to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.”
“That’s my kind of music!” Gilman shouts.
Diane Gilman doesn’t need the Stones to start her up.
“What gives me energy? What gives me the strength to get through TS day?” the designer exclaims. “Sales!”
How to sell clothes on TV
If you watch HSN, you see eager hosts and their guests using charm and psychology to push everything from Miracle Mops to Ahhh Bras.
Their exuberance compels customers to “express buy” via phone, computer or remote control — even if a Hurricane Fuzz Wizard lint brush or a Pinup Panty is the last thing they need.
This magic formula of entertainment, personal connection and good old-fashioned shtick began 40 years ago by accident, when an advertiser on a Clearwater radio station couldn’t pay his bill.
He offered 112 electric can openers in lieu of cash. The station owner auctioned the can openers over the air — and home shopping was born.
Eventually, the “Home Shopping Club” became the “Home Shopping Network.”
Now, it’s just HSN — and it’s part of what was once its biggest competitor, QVC.
In July, QVC — the world’s largest telecommunications-retail company, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania — announced it was buying HSN to keep Amazon from gobbling it up.
The $2.1 billion stock deal will close at the end of this year, creating a new QVC Group that’s expected to generate $14 billion in annual revenue and grab 23 million customers worldwide.
What’s that mean to Diane Gilman and the other designers who sell on HSN?
HSN will stay in St. Petersburg and remain a separate brand within the QVC Group, says Carmen Bauza, HSN’s chief merchandising officer.
What’s that mean to customers? It could mean better deals.
“This scale brings significant advantages and allows us to be stronger and more effective in the rapidly evolving retail industry,” says Bauza, who came to HSN a year ago from Wal-Mart, which is fighting its own battle against Amazon.
“Rapidly evolving” is corporate-speak for these cold facts: Malls are struggling, stores are closing and retailers like HSN will survive only if they’ve got the right products at the right price with the right personalities.
Money is where the stiletto hits the road, and Gilman knows how to make money.
On this night — 9 p.m., Sept. 16 — Gilman’s stilettos are pointy-toed and sharp.
From the dozens of boots and pumps lined up in her HSN dressing room, she has chosen maroon boots by the British shoemaker Dorayteymur to go with her embroidered skinny jeans.
“Aren’t these boots fabulous?” she says to her team, as her makeup artist of 20 years, Marta Rosenberg, paints on Gilman’s matching maroon lipstick. “Pointy shoes make your legs look longer.”
The boots, with distinctive Western-style buckles, are called “Saloon” — an apt name, since Gilman promises her jeans will kick your outlaw butt into shape.
Midnight is Gilman’s high noon, her big-money moment.
It’s when she’ll start pitching her “Today’s Special” embroidered “Virtual Stretch” DG2 jeans. They come in five embroidery designs, three lengths (petite, average and tall) and sizes from 2 to 24.
Every midnight, a new “TS” debuts. It’s the product of the day, the one HSN bigwigs have ordered in mass quantities.
HSN has ordered approximately 78,000 pairs of these jeans. Today’s Special price: $49.95. Regular price: $79.95.
If Gilman’s TS jeans are hot at midnight, she’s riding high.
But so many factors affect sales, and tonight, she’s worried.
Hurricane Irma hit Florida a week earlier, forcing HSN to temporarily close the St. Petersburg headquarters and send crew and a handful of hosts to a makeshift studio in Nashville.
They had just returned when Gilman flew in from her home in New York on Sept. 15.
Would women be in the mood to shop? On Sept. 16, it wasn’t looking good.
Joy Mangano, the reigning celebrity of TV retail, had the Today’s Special on HSN that day — a set of “JOY First Class TuffTech Luggage with SpinBall Wheels,” on sale for $149.95.
Mangano is so famous, Jennifer Lawrence played her in the 2015 movie based on her life, “Joy.”
But even Joy couldn’t set luggage sales on fire on Sept. 16. Her numbers were softer than usual — so soft, Mangano brought the luggage back at the same price the next weekend, explaining that people were distracted on Sept. 16.
Maybe it was the hurricane. Maybe people were tired or sweaty or had spent their extra cash on batteries and tuna.
Gilman watches the backstage TV monitors showing Mangano’s moment-by-moment sales figures and sighs.
Coreen Johnson — the wardrobe coordinator who makes sure DG2 clothes are wrinkle-free on-air — picks up on Gilman’s concerns, but, like her boss, she’s a tough cookie. She used to be a roadie for the Rolling Stones.
“The TS is not an easy gig,” explains Johnson, who’s worked with Gilman for a decade. “She can get snippy after 24 hours in high heels. But we’re like firemen. We mentally prepare for it.”
In the 24 hours from 11 p.m. on Sept. 16 to 11 p.m. on Sept. 17, Gilman will be on air — standing up, in heels, peppily pitching pants and tops — for 10 hours. For 10 hours she’ll be getting her makeup done, in meetings or chatting with hosts.
Sleep on a TS day? That’s for sissies.
Show host Suzanne Runyan sweeps into the dressing room. She’s in shorts and just back from Nashville.
She’ll be at Gilman’s side — selling jeans, turtlenecks, tank tops and blazers — from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.
“It’s fun here, Diane!” Runyan cracks, laughing.
Runyan’s exhausted, but HSN viewers will never know that — since Suzanne and Diane are pros, and they mesh like an old vaudeville act.
“Their personalities click together,” says Amie Hessemyer, Gilman’s brand manager. “Diane loves to kick off a TS with Suzanne.”
Midnight: HSN’s high noon
Diane Gilman’s best weapon isn’t her pants — it’s her personality.
That’s why she’s been selling clothes on TV for 24 years.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve had the worst day of your life,” Gilman says. “When you get on that set, you’re the happiest person in the world.”
She designs her DG2 jeans with Baby Boomer women and their real-life figures in mind.
Her message: Keep the faith, baby, and fan that eternal flame of fabulousness.
“My heart knows how to reach through that camera and send a message to the heart of my customers,” Gilman, 72, says. “When I talk about myself and my issues with my changing body, you see the sales go up.”
Moments before air time, several models of different ages, shapes and sizes are dressed and ready, styled by Gilman’s longtime stylist Sabrina Little-Alston, who will spend most of the next 24 hours in the models’ dressing room.
At midnight, the “Today’s Special” music cues up, and Suzanne Runyan takes off like an auctioneer:
“You’re gonna love, love, love what Diane’s brought us today! I’m always so honored to debut a Today’s Special with Diane, and this one is extra-special … she’s taken her No. 1 fabrication — the incredible Virtual Stretch — and created the most amazing embroidery I think we’ve ever seen.”
Gilman stares at the camera, reaches through with her heart and boom: After six minutes, they’ve sold 1,715 pairs of jeans, and the calls are jammed up.
She can see all the numbers on the monitors: How many callers are on hold, how many customers are online, how many items have been sold during the presentation.
By 12:16 a.m., they’ve sold 4,602 TS jeans, and they’re on a roll.
“I call these my 1968 jeans,” Gilman says, holding up the chambray style with the colorful embroidery. “These remind me of when I sat at my kitchen table and embroidered jeans by hand for Janis Joplin.”
Runyan excitedly adds: “I’m going home (to Ohio) on Tuesday. We have our big county fair. It’s a big deal! I’m gonna be rocking the chambray!”
With every personal story of hippie hope and happiness after age 60, Gilman’s sales jump. And when she and Runyan take callers, they get misty-eyed.
From all over America, Gilman’s devoted DG2 customers call and gush:
“Diane, I never thought I could wear jeans again … until I found you!”
“Diane, your jeans make me feel sexy again! And I’m 75!”
“Diane, you and your jeans gave me back to me!”
Call it the Sisterhood of the Stretchy Pants.
Gilman and Runyan are having so much fun, when Diane sneezes toward the end of their show, Suzanne jokes: “At least your jeans didn’t fall off!”
By the time they walk off set at 2 a.m., HSN’s “Queen of Jeans” is hitting her stride.
In two hours, she has sold 25,000 pairs of jeans — about one-third the quantity for the entire day.
Today’s Special is looking special, indeed.
Dollars per minute
It’s fun here at HSN, but it’s not glamorous.
There’s no fancy food in the dressing room — just candy, Veggie Sticks (Gilman’s snack of choice) and some cheese and salami left by Mangano’s team.
The sets are bright and fancy, but the practical pile-up of 24-hour live TV sales clutters the halls.
Wolfgang Puck pressure cookers, Simply Ming woks, Huggable Hangers, you name it — it’s all stacked on carts in the hallways.
By 2:05 a.m., Gilman’s traded those Saloon boots for sneakers. She put her hair up in one giant roller — to keep her blow-dry fresh.
“My feet are killing me!” she moans. “Those are one-hour shoes, not three!”
Fatigue is about the feet, more than anything else.
She doesn’t dare sit down on set, no matter how much her feet hurt, because “sitting down cuts sales dramatically! You lose urgency!”
HSN execs fiercely follow the “dollars per minute” made on each item — and give each item a certain amount of sales time.
The TS jeans get about 30 minutes of sales time in each segment. That’s more than five hours total talking about jeans.
A blazer, a turtleneck with chiffon back, some leggings and other tops also must be sold. Fashion has a season — it doesn’t last forever like Joy Mangano’s My Little Steamer, for example — and inventory must go.
It’s a constant juggling match. If one item is selling well, Hessemyer or a show host might ask for more time.
Gilman’s TS day ends after her show with Amy Morrison, one of the HSN’s top-selling hosts, from 9 to 11 p.m.
Morrison wants a sell-out on those TS jeans in her show — no matter how long it takes.
At 8:30 p.m., 14,300 pairs remain and if they sell 7,500 more, it’s considered a sellout — because so many sizes and styles are gone.
Gilman’s just about gone, too. “I’m delirious by now,” she cracks. “If I didn’t have Botox and fillers, my face would be on the floor!”
Out on set she goes — this time in some stylish black flat shoes by Wendy Williams that Coreen Johnson has dug out of the warehouse in Gilman’s size 10.
Even in flats, Gilman preaches with Yeti-size gusto: “What’s to love about a love handle? These jeans will make you feel 5 pounds thinner and 5 inches taller! I promise, you can’t not have fun in these jeans! You’re going to make memories in them!”
And when this TS day is a memory, Gilman’s DG2 embroidered Virtual Stretch skinny jeans with the 200,000 colorful stitches have blown out the door and blown away retail skeptics.
She sold almost every pair. (A few, in scattered sizes, remain on HSN.com, for a current price of $59.90.)
That’s $2.4 million in sales on those jeans alone, 17 percent more than the $2 million predicted and $5,913 per minute.
The total for all Gilman’s DG2 clothing sold that week: $4.2 million — $1 million more than HSN execs predicted.
Were those jeans a wild sales success because they’re great jeans? That’s part of it, sure.
On Sept. 17, they were the right product at the right price.
Were they also a big hit because Diane Gilman is selling passion in a pant leg?
If you watch HSN, you know what lights up the phones.
“I love my customers,” she says. “And everybody recognizes love.”
78,000 “TODAY’S SPECIAL” JEANS
• Five different styles of embroidery, some with 200,000 stitches
• 10 hours on air in a 24-hour period
Coming Dec. 7: Diane Gilman’s next “Today’s Special” on HSN