QVC Studio Tour
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Shopping as wondrous entertainment is celebrated in West Chester, PA. It's the production home of QVC (that cable home shopping channel with better merchandise than the original Home Shopping Club). Out in the middle of a large, generic industrial park, the studio building covers an area equal to several football fields. As your helpful tour guide will remind you repeatedly, several thousand people are employed underneath QVC's broad, sheltering roof.
QVC's geographic isolation is a foretaste of its approach to tour-giving. There is something creepy about this place. Perhaps it's the full-body metal detector you pass through, or the bag search, or the admission QVC charges you to spend an hour basking in its tidy electronic retailing glory (no photos or tape recorders allowed). We know we're in for something special.
After buying our tickets for the next guided walking tour, we're encouraged to spend time in QVC's extensive gift shop, featuring the same merchandise that QVC's hosts are selling back in the studio. One does get some sense of QVC's scope as one surveys jewelry, kitchen appliances, beach gear, and food, as well as seasonal items such as Grinch cookie jars and endlessly looping jingle bell door chimes.
The tour begins with some cozy chatter from our guide. She quizzes the group on the fundamentals: "What does QVC stand for?"
"Quality Value Convenience!" barks out a grandmother in a wheelchair. An easy one, more a test of zealous response speed than knowledge. In the Milestone Room, an intro video presents a slick disco montage of products. "QVC is... a way of life... products! Cosmetics, collectibles..." The up-tempo glamor of the QVC Story is exactly what our tour group expects. We realize we are completely surrounded by QVC insiders -- America's hardcore home shopping addicts, temporarily pried loose from their couch purchase perches. Their presence here is more portentous than an Elvis impersonator's pilgrimage to Graceland, or a baby angel figurine collector's trek to Precious Moments Chapel. Somewhere along the way, we learn QVC's Founding father Joseph Siegel also spawned the Franklin Mint -- another collectible collector's paradise (closed in 2004).
The tour is well-paced for older visitors, with frequent stops to view frequent videos. It wraps around the 58,000-square-foot studio space, home to a beehive of activity viewable on the floor below, through glass so thick it might be bomb-proof (but more likely just sound-proof). There's the garage set, the first of several kitchen sets, and the living room set with its working fireplace. We are told that if all the studio lights were turned on at once it would equal 36 million light bulbs, or some similar impressive figure.
The Hall of Records features tastefully lit portraits and artifacts of landmark QVC product introductions, going way back to Craftsmen tools and Windows 95. The Scrapbook Gallery is festooned with photographs of every program host -- unknown to all but those who watch QVC and regard them as superstars AND intimate friends. The walls also display the march of real celebrities who have stopped by to hawk their latest products; Susanne Somers, Kenny Rogers, Quincy Jones, Joan Rivers, Peter Max.
A display of items in cases inculcates the group into proper respect for QVC as an entity worthy of history. The first phone on which the first order was received at QVC is enshrined, as well as other artifacts of similar import, one of which, a sign says, is on loan to the Museum of Consumption. We're shown a snippet of video from the first QVC broadcast, ever -- a 1986 demonstration of a hand vacuum sucking carpet greeblies in a cheesy early set. We can't help but be impressed at how glamorous electronic retailing has become.
The "testing lab" is where, we are assured, the people in the white lab coats we see (again through that blast-proof glass) are rigorously examining every product that hopes to get on QVC. A large microscope sits prominently; scales and oscillators are neatly arrayed.
Down the hall we're permitted a peek into the multi-leveled repository known as "The Ark," where two of every product shown on QVC are stored. "Oh my heavens," one elderly woman gasps.
A short break: "Is anybody hungry?" the tour guide asks, opening a big bin and extracting a handful of tiny "nutri-bars" -- Lite Bites, and Healthy Bites -- personally endorsed by the son of QVC's founder, and apparently some of QVC's best selling products. "I lost 80 pounds eating Lite Bites plus regular exercise and a healthy diet," the son informs us through the promotional literature. "This bar is not to be eaten by young children and pregnant women," the bar's packaging cautions.
The tour winds past the special 150-seat performance studio, where lucky visitors with advance reserved seats might see entertainment along with the hucksterism -- David Crosby, the World Wrestling Championship, a Diamonique Seminar. Kenny G., we're told, will be here next week, news that is received with excitement by our group.
The woman in the wheelchair asks "What about Engelbert Humperdink?" Yeah, what about him? "He's the best. "
Onward we continue, the tour guide's cheery spew of statistics and QVC minutia flailing us like strands of must-have jewelry during a Gold Rush Preview. What ... the QVC warehouse is equal to 29 football fields? And a new warehouse will open soon? Though in "a secret location." We are QVC insiders -- but not too inside.
Past the twin control rooms, past the battery of monitors that display, at the tour guide's whim, the ever-escalating totals of QVC calls received, products sold, customers tracked. The tour reaches its climax when we are instructed to be absolutely quiet for a brief visit to the "observation deck" the OTHER SIDE of the glass -- a metal catwalk out over the live studio. Visitors peer down into the program sets they have grown to love. They strain to catch a glimpse of the linen lady or the muscle flex host.
Note: Roadside America took the QVC tour twice -- once in the late 1990s, when photos were permitted, then again in the 2000-oughts.