WASHINGTON – Murari Sharma can pretty much recite the rejection letters from memory.
“They have looked at the product, but at this time they are not interested, but they will keep it on file,” said the Gaithersburg-based entrepreneur, who has twice been rejected in his attempts to get his invention, a cordless picture light, on the QVC network.
So when QVC invited Sharma on his third try to bring his invention to a national product search being held at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., later this month he was “surprised but quite excited.”
Sharma is one of 358 entrepreneurs nationwide so far — nine from Maryland — who will vie for a slot on the popular television shopping network, which reaches into more than 80 million U.S. homes. One state official estimated that the exposure a QVC appearance can bring “might have a price tag of $10 or $20 million,” if businesses could buy it.
“The free marketing that QVC provides is incredibly valuable and cannot be purchased,” said David Iannucci, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development.
The state has worked with more than 50 Maryland businesses that have appeared on QVC since 1995. It is now working to help entrepreneurs — including makers of sweaters, games and toilet-seat covers — in an effort to polish their pitches to the network.
“If a company is interested in growing, there is probably nothing more important to them than national exposure,” said Marilyn Montross, QVC’s director of vendor relations.
Just ask Ron and Margie Kauffman.
In 1995, their company, Chesapeake Bay Gourmet, was doing so poorly they had even considered selling it, Ron Kauffman said. But their fortunes changed on Oct. 22, 1995, when they got their shot on QVC.
In seven minutes, the Kauffmans sold 2,000 dozen crab cakes on QVC — more than 3,400 crab cakes a minute — and today the company is the leading seafood sales producer on the program.
“I will remember that day like I do my son’s birthday,” said Ron Kauffman, one of the four owners of the seafood company.
Sharma has similar hopes for his picture light, which he markets as “The Concept.”
He will be in Bloomington on April 27, when he will get 10 minutes to pitch his product to a QVC official, who will then decide whether or not to showcase on the shopping channel.
“My goal now is to demonstrate my product to them and hopefully have them accept it for airing on QVC,” Sharma said.
“This might be a steppingstone into other markets. In general, people don’t like to take a chance, so once they see that it’s tested on QVC it will be easier,” Sharma said.
A native of India, Sharma came to this country as a child in 1961 and moved to Gaithersburg in 1982. In 1990, the engineer started his own company, Halcyon Times Ltd., that initially focused on desktop publishing.
But the focus shifted in 1996 to the cordless picture light, an invention that was born out of Sharma’s need to illuminate one of his favorite pieces of artwork — “The Bellagio Promenade,” by Howard Behrens, which features a seaside village in Italy.
“Now I have them on many pictures in my home,” Sharma said.
Sharma boasts that “The Concept” is brighter and lasts longer — 45 to 50 hours, he says — than other cordless picture lights that provide a weak light for five or six hours.
He will make that pitch to QVC later this month, in the hope that it accepts his product. Whether he makes the pitch to a national audience remains to be seen.
“I have never appeared on TV before. I am camera-shy and I feel like am not very photogenic, either,” said Sharma, who hopes that QVC personalities can go in front of the cameras to show off “The Concept” instead of him.
“But if they insist for me to do it I will,” he said.
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