I turned my dining room table into a sweatshop and spent all Sunday afternoon manufacturing. Finally I put on my brunette Hairmuffs, which gave me a Princess Leia look, and showed my husband.
"I admit I didn't think you could do it," he said. "I thought you'd be up crying at 2 a.m. the night before, with fake hair and earmuffs glued to your head. It turned out 100 times better than I expected. You have a very appealing product."
"Really?" I asked.
"No, but you seem a little depressed."
Then I put on the NoHairmuffs. My 9-year-old daughter burst into tears and ran to my husband saying, "Make her take them off!" My husband explained the fake ears were for my work, and she calmed down. It had snowed all afternoon, and when my husband and I went out to shovel the walk, I convinced him to wear NoHairmuffs, while I wore Hairmuffs. No one even noticed me, but people walking by did a double-take and scurried away on the icy sidewalk when they saw him.
Before I set off the next day for my date with home shopping destiny, my husband advised me to have some marketing jargon ready. He said during my presentation I should throw in "ramp up," "supply chain management," "price point," and "efficiencies of scale." I tried to memorize this as I rode the Metro wearing my Hairmuffs. My confidence built as no one gave me a second look; I was obviously just a chic woman on her way somewhere important, not a nerd in earmuffs.
I took off my Hairmuffs when I arrived at the Sheraton in Arlington, Va. Masses of people were milling about. A woman was carrying a teddy bear; a man was pushing a shower curtain on a stand; another man had a Lazy Susan for displaying prized golf balls; a whole family was there with their sweet-potato pie. I approached a confident-looking woman and asked where I should go. She pointed me toward the registration table. I asked her what she was selling. She was a QVC veteran, here with a new line of moisturizing gloves. She asked about my product. I put on the Hairmuffs.
"That's cute!" she said with real enthusiasm. "That's really cute!"
The woman at the desk told me 500 people had registered for the day—one of five such events QVC was having around the country. It looked as if all 500 of us had a 2 p.m. appointment. As we snaked our way around the waiting area, I struck up a conversation with the two 50ish men in front of me. One of them was holding a plastic box filled with Limburger cheese, and the other was holding a plastic box filled with cigarette smoke (he had gone outside to fill it up). I asked about their product.
It was a spray bottle of an odor killer they wanted to start retailing to the consumer market. They were already selling it at hospitals and nursing homes. Mr. Limburger held up the bottle and launched into his pitch. "You're a boomer," he told me. This fact meant that before I knew it, I would have an elderly, incontinent parent moving into my home. Unless I used his product, the smell would be intolerable. Once that phase of my life was over, he went on, I would be the incontinent parent moving into my child's home, and my daughter would need to spray me daily. If QVC accepted their product, I hoped they sold mood lifters in the following segment.
It took an hour and a half to get to the front of the line, and a cheery camaraderie developed. People praised each other's products and passed around snacks. As I shuffled I listened to the conversations around me. It was clear that as sod busting was to 19th-century Great Plains America, marketing is to 21st-century urban America: the go-getter's way to success. As we got closer to the QVC review panel, I took a breath mint from a young woman with a line of jewelry. Mr. Smoke freshened his breath with a spray from his product.