Mike George

In a COVID-19 stricken economy, there are 20 small retailers with a reason to feel pretty lucky.

They’re participating in the “Small Business Spotlight” initiative by the Qurate Retail Group and the National Retail Federation Foundation, enabling them to tell their business stories on QVC and HSN via video, Skype and web sites from May 12 through June 6 — and potentially reaching millions of viewers.

In addition, every Saturday throughout the campaign, the QVC3 broadcast will air a show dedicated to the small businesses, which will also be promoted on QVC.com and HSN.com, and via mobile and social, and Zulily is promoting the campaign on its web site, e-mail and social pages.

The merchants are as varied and far flung as the Master’s Hand candle shop in Tekamah, Neb.; the Tiresource tire and auto repair shop in Fairlawn, Ohio, and Stephenson’s bridal, prom and special occasion shop in Elkhart, Ind.

“I am really excited, and a little nervous. I’ve never done a live interview,” said Nicole Panettieri, owner of The Brass Owl on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, N.Y., which sells accessories, clothing, shoes, gifts and beauty products largely locally sourced and from women vendors and artists. “I’ll share my story and how we have adapted to continue to do business.” She said she closed her store just before Gov. Andrew Cuomo put New York on pause, and quickly built up her web site with many more offerings.

“We’ve also been doing care packages for people sending them to someone who may be feeling down, or to nurses, or to their moms for Mother’s Day. It’s a customer-curated package. A lot of them include candles, teas, chocolates, face masks, lotions, body scrubs and Schitt’s Creek mugs. Pop culture mugs and stickers are really popular.”

Panettieri will be appearing Tuesday at noon and 9 p.m. on QVC, and 1:55 and 10:55 p.m. on HSN.

“We were fortunate to have been able to quickly pivot some of our business to takeout, pickup, and delivery, but all of our special in-house events and classes were postponed or canceled,” due to the pandemic, said Susie Robison, owner of Master’s Hand, which aside from its hand-poured candles sells flowers, gifts, home decor, chocolate and other products, and in the midst of the health crisis developed sugar cookie decorating kits which are being shipped around the country. “Being selected by the NRF Foundation and Qurate Retail for the Small Business Spotlight program provides us with an unprecedented visibility platform for my brand both locally and nationally.”

Robison will be appearing May 27 on QVC at 12 noon and 9 p.m.,, and on HSN at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

“The criteria was kind of simple,” said Mike George, president and chief executive officer of Qurate, when asked how the 20 small retailers were chosen for the initiative. “They had to have 100 or fewer team members. They had to be impacted by government-mandated closures and we wanted to select retailers that also made a difference in their community and were giving back in interesting ways. We also wanted to have small retailers representing a diversity of locations around the country and a diversity of product categories, and we had the assistance of the NRF Foundation to help us find the right retailers.”

“We have a legacy of working in small businesses, but typically it’s on the brand side,” with brands selling their wares via the multichannel Qurate platform. “However, we have become more curious about the small retail community and what they are experiencing through this crisis.”

George, who serves as chairman of the NRF, said he’s both touched and impressed by these small retailers. “They all have a passion for serving people, and believe their businesses are a way to connect with people.” Like the Pastaio Via Corta, in Gloucester, Mass., which sells pasta, Italian wines and specialty provisions. “They create a community through the joy of food and connecting with local farmers and farmers in Italy,” George said.

Each of the retailer’s videos will run three or four times on a single day on QVC or HSN. They will also be Skyped in from their stores or homes, enabling the merchants to tell their story in a personal way.

Each retailer’s products won’t be sold via TV shopping, though the products will be listed on the QVC and HSN web sites, as well as being available on the retailers’ web sites. On Saturdays, there will be a one-hour dedicated program recapping all 20 of the small retailers. Qurate does not derive any revenues from this initiative.

Qurate has a long tradition of helping small business owners and entrepreneurs launch and grow their business, but typically they’re product from brands, not retail shops.

“The virus and social distancing have changed everything. We believe that with a higher profile, these businesses can rally the public to support them through this crisis,” George said.

The small businesses are also being given access to a virtual mentorship program connecting them with Qurate retail team members to help solve a business problem created or exacerbated by the coronavirus. As previously reported, Qurate has committed $29 million toward aiding victims of COVID-19, organizations fighting the disease, relief efforts, small businesses and its own workers.

“The strength and growth of the American economy rests squarely on the shoulders of small businesses that serve communities across the country,” said NRF president and ceo Matthew Shay. “With Qurate Retail’s longstanding history of launching and fostering brands, it is uniquely positioned to use its powerful platform to highlight small retailers from across the country and encourage consumers to support them in this time of need.”

Small businesses — defined as fewer than 100 employees — make up 98 percent of all retailers, according to the U.S. Census.

Nicole Panettieri, owner of The Brass Owl. 

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