Merchandising: The Merchandising School of O; or What I learned from observing Oprah Winfrey in action
When one of my clients, Lollia, a merchant of luxury bath products, was featured on both Oprah Winfrey’s “O List” (a monthly magazine column of her favorite products) and on her Christmas Special show, I got an inside glimpse of what can happen when the media mogul waves her magic merchandising wand and endorses someone’s products. Winfrey made Christmas come early and extravagantly for Lollia.
Lately I’ve been mindfully observing how Winfrey operates. And I’ve discovered some merchandising lessons that catalogers could borrow from her.
1. Winfrey has Passion with a capital “P.” Winfrey’s life is a dream come true story, and she looks to make dreams come true for others. Her generous spirit pervades all she does. She is an enthusiastic supporter of people and products. When she gets behind something, there’s no mistaking her energy and commitment. She doesn’t do things halfway.
Lesson: As you begin a new venture, launch a new product category or simply introduce this season’s new products, are you going all out in your commitment, or are you leaving some passion on the table?
2. She “gets” her audience. Winfrey started off her Christmas show, in which 300 teachers in the audience received more than $15,000 worth of presents, by saying how she had wanted to be a teacher. She also knew her audience well. She knew they were overworked and that they often spent their own money on school supplies. She knew they sometimes worked with outdated equipment. She understood them. She knew just what products they would love to see under the tree, what their “wish lists” were.
Lesson: How well do you know your customers? How much time do you spend getting to know their needs and desires?
3. Winfrey gets a little help from her friends. All the products she enthusiastically shares with her audience (from the Pontiac G6 cars to the Lollia bubble bath) are given away by the vendors. It’s estimated that Winfrey has parceled out more than $10 million worth of products to her guests. This is an example of excellent vendor-partner relationships, a true win-win for both of them. Vendors share products, Winfrey provides the forum and the “fairy dust.”