She’s been a vital part of QVC almost from day one, after her mother convinced the then 24-year-old TV production grad that she could sell a plain old pencil to everyone from a school kid to an architect — and, as it turned out, the gentlemen who was hiring show hosts for the new little shopping network focused on three customer-focused principles: Quality, Value, and Convenience.
Nearly a quarter-century later, Jane Treacy is one of the most beloved and trusted personalities on the now $7 billion dollar home-shopping giant that has turned her into an international girl-next-door star.
Even warmer and funnier than she is on your TV, the happily married mom of two took time out to talk shop — and shopping — with us.
What does a typical workday entail?
The excitement of my 24th year at QVC is that every day is different, which is what makes it so fresh and exciting. But I’m here at least three hours before my show just to prepare. That would be everything from just looking over the product to meeting with the guests — and of course the all-important hair and makeup. After all these years, that gets more and more important to me every day.
But we also do a lot of off-air education. It might be a round table with my host team, learning about the newest trend in jewelry or in fashion. Or it might be a really intensive group that’s talking about a Today’s Special Value that’s coming up in a month or two. We call that a jam session — where we all get together.
A good memory helps as well.
What is the process of pairing hosts with products?
When I look at my tie to gemstones and the Irish programming and Shoes On Sale and even my new Enjoyable Entertaining show, those are things that are passions in my personal life as well. So I think what happens when we go on the air with a particular product or product category, you really can see that spark and that excitement.
So it’s not really a set process — it’s more of an evolution. We’re often asked by our team, “What are your interests? What are your likes and dislikes?” You may find something new because things are changing so quickly and rapidly that even myself who’s been here for many years can suddenly find a new excitement or a new passion. So it really is a wonderful evolution of what we love and the products that are here.
We’re also given great creative license in coming up with new shows and new concepts, so all the program hosts, on a certain level, work with our programming team. I can point to my own Jane’s Rock Stars, Shoe Shopping With Jane and Enjoyable Entertaining — those were all my own ideas that I really wanted to do, they gave me the chance and they’ve really done well. Our job is so multi-faceted.
Has there ever been an item that you absolutely feel you cannot, and should not, sell?
Our customers are so smart and so savvy and they would know immediately — that’s why we all gravitate toward shows that bring out the best in us, and therefore, the best in the viewers. They’re really having a good time right along with us.
I look at it this way. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I am a huge QVC shopper as well an employee. But if I bought everything, I don’t think we would have just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. That being said, I look to our quality assurance lab so I know that whatever the product is, it has gone through really rigorous testing — that sets us apart, too, from other retailers and other places to shop — and I know that for someone somewhere, this product is their passion, and is really important to them. That’s how I approach something that might not be in my home and in my Top 5. I still have confidence in the quality assurance and that it really will resonate with someone that is watching.
I’m going to use beauty as an example — because we really have so many high-end, really prestigious beauty brands at QVC and I’m proud of all of them. But I can’t possibly use all of them. So if they’re watching me present say Peter Thomas Roth skin care, which is what I DO use, you will hear me give a lot of “I” messages. “I use this” and “People have told me this.” I may be working with another just as prestigious brand and I’ll talk to the aspects and benefits of the product without saying “I use this.” A customer puts her trust in me, so I won’t — and none of my team members will — go on the air and say, “We use this!” and “We use that!” if we don’t.
However, right now, without even thinking about it, I’m in a George Simonton top, I have a Joan Rivers watch on, and I have Denim & Co. jeans on. It’s part of my life.
And really, you are not so far removed from many of the folks who are watching you — wildly overscheduled working moms who don’t have time for the mall.
It’s so convenient and the products are so wonderful, so WHY NOT? And if you want to call my husband when we are done here and explain that, that would be wonderful.
Do people ever ask to check the tags on your clothing when you are out in public?
It’s mostly with jewelry. Our viewers love to stop and chat — and I feel like I know them just like they feel like they know me — and usually they’ll grab my hand and say, “Is that a Joan Rivers watch?” But more importantly, our customers are joyous in showing me what they’ve bought. They show me their bracelets or their earrings or their rings or their outfit, so I think it’s a moment of pride for them to say, “But look what I’ve bought!” And since it really is all about our customers, I think that’s the way it really should be.
Television viewers regularly get attached to a TV character or a newscaster or a weatherman that they particularly like, but in your case, you’re really putting your whole self as a human being out there for hours every day — what you do, what you like, what your family is like, what you did over the weekend. And many people tune in as much to spend time with you as they do to shop. Did you ever consider that kind of celebrity when you signed on for the job?
We are totally unscripted, and we don’t have a teleprompter, and we do speak from the heart. And I don’t really look at it as “celebrity.” I look at it as “family.” Because when I meet someone and they say, “I feel like I know you!” I say right back to them, “I feel like I know you, too!” We’re just sort of separated by a camera. But it really is sort of an intimate, one-on-one relationship with the customer and me.
I almost didn’t take my job 24 years ago, because I was 24 — so now you all know how old I am going to be on my next birthday. Yes, 48! I almost didn’t come to the audition and my mother asked why. She was alive at the time. And I said, “Because I can’t sell things!” I didn’t even have a job at the mall when I was young. And she said, “Oh you could sell anything. You are a natural born salesperson. Sell me this pencil.” And she shook her pencil at me.
So I said, “Well, a pencil is great because a child can get an A on a math test and an architect can design a building …” She said, “Go to the audition, Janie.”
So I went to the audition and the gentleman said, “Sit down, clip on a microphone and its really quite easy — we just want you to sell us this pencil.” And I looked at him like a deer in the headlights and said, “Well, a pencil is great because a child can get an A on a math test and an architect … ” And I think I was on the air two weeks later.
I thought, “Well if I have this job for six months, that would be great.” Because in a typical early television career you jump around a lot. I never, ever thought that it would become such a part of my life and my family’s life and that it would evolve to where it is today. So it’s just been an amazing journey and a happily unexpected one.
I recently had the chance to talk with Doug Rose about QVC’s unique blend of shopping and entertainment — are you continuously cognizant of the fact that you have to make good television in addition to being a good salesperson?
It might make you laugh, but I don’t think of myself as a salesperson. I don’t. I love to shop and that’s what I do for a living. So how nice that this whole genre came to be.
There truly is such a unique blend of program hosts, but the common denominator is that we all love what we do. And so it doesn’t have to be calculated or forced. It should be natural.
You could plug David Venable or Rick Domeier or Lisa Robertson in this seat and we would all say the same thing — it is an inherent feeling that you have. I don’t go on the air and think, “Oooh, I’d better be entertaining today.”
I’ve often been asked to train the new program hosts coming aboard — which I love to do, because I have the benefit of now being the longest-running program host on QVC. But I always have to put in there that I was the youngest when I was hired. So sometimes people will say to me, “How do you do this?” or “How do you do that?” and I will say, “I don’t really know!”
And we don’t stop talking when we get off the air. My dear dad, God rest his soul — I used to call him as soon as I got home and he’d say, “Janie, you just talked for four straight hours!” and I was still chatting away. It has to be part of who you are: That you love to relate to others, you love to talk and you love to shop.
So what do you do on those days — because surely you have had them in the course of 24 years — when you are in the midst of a difficult time or in an off mood and you just don’t feel like being in front of a camera?
I’m a working mother like so many moms, so sometimes it’s something as little as worrying about my daughter who has a big spelling text today. Sometimes it’s something as large as going through the illness and death of both my parents. And there are happy times, such as the birth of my daughters, as well as some difficult times. I’ve always felt that I leave my worries at the door. I walk into QVC and I put my makeup on, because it’s really my duty — as well as my privilege — to really be able to brighten someone’s day.
And in a way that’s a blessing for me, too, because when there have been times that I have had some sadness, I really can leave that bundled at the door. And then, when I am finished and I go back outside — well, we’ll worry about that then. But I really feel that it’s a blessing to me and a duty to my customer to always put that bright face on.
And honestly, there is something about this job. I said to my daughter Cara the other day … she loves swimming. She’s a year-round swimmer, very competitive and very intense with long, long practices and sometimes she says, “Sometimes, with practices, I don’t feel like getting up and going there, but when I get there, I love it.” And I said, “Cara, that’s exactly how I feel about work. Sometimes when it’s 7 o’clock and its raining outside and everyone else is cuddling in their pjs and I’m the one heading out the door … I really don’t want to head out the door. But as soon as I get here, I love it.”
And I think that’s a gift that anyone can have, whether you’re a 13-year-old at swim practice, or you’re a lady like me at work.
It’s also very humbling. I took a year off from QVC and the heartfelt e-mails I received from people were one of the reasons that I decided to come back. I have a brother who is a classical musician and I have a sister who is a lactation expert at the University of Washington, and I feel like they are doing so many wonderful things in their lives that if I can brighten somebody’s life and put a smile on their face and help them through the day, then that’s MY mission.
QVC is really driven by the men and women who tune in and who buy the products — in your experience, how has that audience changed and evolved over the course of your time at the network?
What’s interesting is now we are working on the next generation of QVC shoppers. I see it in my nieces who grew up watching Aunt Jane on QVC — and now my niece who is 30 and making her living as a musician, she orders a lot of pet things at QVC. I think that’s clearly an interesting way that our audience has evolved. But in many ways, it’s the same. Because I think we are better able to keep up with our customers.
When I started, we didn’t have e-mail. So we’d get letters in the mail: “I wish you would have more blue topaz.” Well, now we have e-mail, we have Facebook, we’re on Twitter, we have the app on the iPhone. You can text in. We have our product reviews — which I use, too. I wanted to buy a pair of skinny jeans from Denim & Co. and I hadn’t tried them on, and I wanted to know how skinny they really were. So I listened to the ladies in the reviews and decided, “Yeah, I think I better go up one size just to be comfortable.”
So, we’ve changed … but in some ways we’ve stayed the same. And I think that’s the beauty of QVC. We’ll never forget where we started and we’ll always hold dear the shoppers who have gotten to this stage — but we’re always opening our arms to welcome in new shoppers, whether it’s the 22-year-old I talked to on the phone not so long ago who was buying her first Dell notebook to get her first job to a grandmother or great-grandmother who’s buying a gift for someone in her family.
Is it daunting to you to put yourself out there on Facebook or to read the online comments at QVC.com — or do you appreciate the feedback in whatever form it takes?
I absolutely need the feedback. I’m constantly learning and looking at my Facebook page and thinking, “What can I do better?” I think that’s what keeps it fresh.
And, thankfully, I have a 13-year-old who helps me very much.
I have to admit I was a Facebook skeptic. I thought I was too old for it — until my 60-year-old uncle challenged me to try it for a week and if I didn’t like it, I could bail out. A year and a half later …
I absolutely adore Facebook! I have my fan page, and people have just been wonderful and welcoming and it’s so much fun. I can see why it got so big so fast because I have to say, it is something I am really enjoying.
I was talking some of the other program hosts into starting their own pages the other day. My husband had dug up some vintage QVC clips from the late ’80s and early ’90s and we put some of those up there. It was just a hoot to be able to share that with our fans.
What do you think is people’s biggest misconception about home shopping networks?
I think the biggest misconception about QVC is someone thinking, “Oh, that’s not for me. I only shop at X-Y-Z.” And I’ll say to them, “Did you know we have Bare Escentuals? Did you know we have Philosophy? Did you know we have Isaac Mizrahi? Did you know we have Rachael Ray?”
I can see when I’ve hit the nerve. Sometimes it’s with another mom when I’m at pick-up at school and she’ll say, “Oh I don’t shop at QVC.” And I’m like, “Mmhmmm, well what makeup do you use? And she’ll mention Mally or Laura Geller or whatever brand that she buys, and I’ll say, “Do you know that we have that at QVC?”
And I also send customers to QVC.com. Because sometimes they’ll say, “Well, I don’t have time to watch TV!” Or, “I don’t know when that program is even on!” So, since so many people love to shop online and I adore our website, I’ll tell them to go to QVC.com then and search that product. We often have things at QVC — for instance from Leslie Blodgett at Bare Escentuals — that you can get nowhere else. And that’s usually what opens their eyes.
Also, I think our return policy makes it so easy. Because we do have that 30-day — or as we often say in beauty, “bottom of the jar” — guarantee, no matter what it is.
I was raised on the early days of QVC, and our founder and former president Joe Segel always used to say, “Always give the customer more than she expects. Don’t ever say it’s bigger or better and more exciting than it is — so that when she opens the box, she is always pleasantly surprised.”
In the early days we had no guests, so I was — and my colleagues had to be — the product expert, because we didn’t have a guest to ask or answer a question. And I’ve never let that go. I still think of myself as the product expert even if I am lucky enough to have a wonderful guest standing next to me.
“Always give her more than she expects.” I think that’s why I’ve lasted all these years.
When I graduated — with a degree in straight television production — this business didn’t even exist yet. And in some ways, QVC still is that small, brand-new company that is reaching out to its customers. And in other ways, when I look at Facebook and Twitter and the app on the iPhone that my daughter just used for a project, I think it’s just been such an incredible journey.