By  on July 27, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Home Shopping Network is practicing what it preaches to its viewers, a do-it-yourself approach to self-improvement. The TV shopping network has placed beauty at the cornerstone of that effort, in an ongoing move to shed the staid image of TV retailing.

"HSN is becoming a crossroads of editorial programming with a commerce platform," said Mindy Grossman, chief executive officer of IAC Retailing at Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, which owns HSN. "It's a place where a woman can go to be entertained, educated and empowered to make choices for her lifestyle. We want to have the right curation of brands to help her make the right choice."

She added that when it comes to beauty, the strategy is about offering solutions. For its part, HSN saw Sephora as a solution to an underdeveloped beauty portfolio, particularly as TV retailing rival QVC continued to add high-profile department store brands to its airwaves.

HSN and the specialty beauty retailer kicked off their union in December with a live broadcast from Sephora's Fifth Avenue store near 48th Street in New York. The alliance with Sephora was designed to give HSN instant beauty authority, a position that QVC has cultivated for years. HSN now allots five hours of programming each month to Sephora shows, which include brands such as Cargo, Christian Dior, Murad, T3 hair tools and Juice Beauty. Several of the beauty brands included in the Sephora partnership — Bliss, Clarins, Oscar Blandi, Cosmedicine and Fusion Beauty — now have their own shows on HSN.

Drawing a parallel between Sephora's evolution from a fledgling U.S. beauty retailer in the late-Nineties into a makeup mecca, and HSN's strategy to establish itself as a beauty stalwart, Michael Henry, senior vice president of beauty merchandising for HSN, said, "I would say we are at the halfway point in our journey."

Henry recalled that when he joined HSN five years ago from L'Oréal, where he was vice president of Lancome promotional marketing, the TV retailer was highly dependent on three brands, namely Signature Club A, Perlier from the Borghese family and Serious Skin Care from Jennifer Flavin-Stallone, wife of Sylvester Stallone.

Henry said he saw an opportunity to round out the product offering, particularly in the makeup and hair care categories. In addition to piggybacking off of Sephora's might, HSN has attracted foreign-born brands, including Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare from the U.K., Napoleon Perdis from Australia, Yes To Carrots from Israel and M. Asam from Germany. It has also tapped talent to develop new brands, namely former Bobbi Brown makeup artist Cynde Watson, who plans to introduce a full color cosmetics range housed in dual-ended pencils called Color Theory in September, and former director of MAC Cosmetics Pro Marketing and Development, Philippe Chansel. HSN bowed the Chansel cosmetics collection, called Ready to Wear, on Tuesday. According to HSN, in just over two and half hours of airtime, Chansel had sold out of seven of the 10 items he presented. Some of the strongest sellers included Premiere Collection makeup kit, which sold out of 1,700 units in 11 minutes, and the Sugar Lash Mascara Duo, which sold out of 1,100 units in eight minutes.By year's end, HSN will have introduced 40 new beauty brands on HSN, with the Sephora partnership bringing in just over half of them.

Henry said he traded his career at traditional beauty firms, like Lancôme and Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, after visiting the HSN studios and seeing the retailer's ability to "animate a product" and control the brand experience. He continued that at HSN, the experts who created the items featured on the network can talk directly to the viewers about product benefits and demonstrate how to use them. Henry's sentiment echoes what QVC also views as its competitive edge against traditional retailers. The similarities of the two strategies give rise to the question of how HSN will differentiate itself from QVC.

Henry said HSN may be able to provide brands more airtime, more frequent programs, promotional support and, at times, customized sets. "We invest in these brands and we take the opinion that we form alliances for all parties to benefit," he said. "We know the power of TV can drive people to traditional retailers. Some of our brand partners can experience a 20 to 40 percent lift at retail after a show."

Grossman added that in addition to providing solutions and demonstrating products — QVC's strengths as well — HSN funnels its hours of programming across all its platforms. "Our content doesn't just live for a moment. It can also live online," she said.

Bill Brand, HSN's senior vice president of programming, said when it comes to viewership, HSN competitors come from a deeper pool. Brand said, "In terms of viewership, QVC is a very small piece of the pie. When we have Wolfgang Puck on air, we're competing against the Food Network. When we have beauty on, we're up against the Style Network. That's how I look at competition, but if you look at it in terms of the retail shopping experience, don't forget about brick-and-mortar stores."

Despite a broad range of competition, Brand declared that HSN's leg up is its ability to tell stories and to take what he calls the "intimidation factor" away. "When you walk into a department store, it's intimidating. The [beauty advisers] are either eyeing you, or they are nowhere to be found. Here, we are talking about product benefits and results in every presentation," he continued.Brand, who came to HSN in November from a more traditional TV background that included stints at Lifetime and VH1, said the challenge is prompting viewers to make purchases across multiple categories — or encouraging a beauty buyer to order consumer electronics, as well. He noted that the most obvious change in terms of programming is consistency, or a fixed programming schedule. "Our viewers need to start making appointments with HSN....So, they know if they watch Thursday nights at 8 p.m., they are going to see 'The Beauty Report.'"

HSN launched "The Beauty Report" — a program that introduces new products and spotlights trends — in April and has since seen as much as a 20 percent lift in viewership in some weeks, said Brand. "The customer knows she's going to find new product launches, her favorite products and it's going to be put together in a way that delivers on the [HSN] brand's promise of tricks, tips and techniques. The three Ts."

The company also credits "The Beauty Report" with boosting some of its beauty brands' sales on by 25 percent to 30 percent.

HSN recruited Andrew Sheldon as senior vice president of television in late 2006 to implement that programming framework, and help it come to life in HSN's seven studios. Since that time, HSN sets — from an outdoor pool to a lighted runway — are decidedly more upscale. Sheldon also has worked to take the host out from behind the table by placing couches and stools on set. "It's a gradual change," said Sheldon, who relocated here from London, where he held various TV retailing posts. "We are changing the rhythm of the network."

Settling into one of HSN's green rooms after a 30-minute segment for her Serious Skin Care line, Flavin-Stallone, who has appeared on the network for the last 14 years, reflected on the changes afloat at HSN. "There's a different energy here. People are really excited about the changes that are happening," she said, adding that HSN seems to be tracking trends more closely. Flavin-Stallone sells her line exclusively on HSN and on the brand's Web site. Since its introduction in the early Nineties, Serious Skin Care has generated $1 billion in retail sales. The former model hosted a two-hour show later that evening."When I'm on air I feel like I'm talking to my girlfriends. People who are watching want to watch. I just hope I can give them some tips whether they buy my products or not," she said.

HSN's Grossman said more updates are under way, emphasizing, "This is not about overnight change. This is a sustainable strategy that we are going to build over time." Sharing her five-year plan for the TV retailer, Grossman said, "I want HSN to be the first place that a woman comes when she has a need. I want this to be her first stop."

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