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Q&A: ShopNBC’s Keith Stewart

At the age of 45, Keith Stewart ShopNBC president and chief operating officer already has a quarter century of experience in the retail business. At his first job he sold Hi-Fi equipment but the bulk of his career was spent at QVC. He came out of an early retirement to join a troubled ShopNBC in August. Stewart promises to "build this organization for long-term sustained growth." He spoke to Multichannel News contributor Luis Clemens about the network's performance, product mix and digital sales. This interview was conducted before the board of directors announced it had hired an investment bank to explore a possible sale. The following is an edited transcript of the interview:

MCN:How do you put to rest among your cable partners any concerns that ShopNBC will be here a year from now or two years from now?
Keith Stewart: All you really need to do is to take a look at our books and our cash and then monetize our assets. You could very easily see how we could sustain ourselves beyond that period.

MCN:Any initial thoughts about adjustments to the product mix?
KS: I can do a complete article on that if you'd like. Yes. We have a dearth of home products. We have very, very narrow assortments of electronics and some collectible coins and a few things here and there. I don't see that we are doing enough in appliances and cookware. I don't see seasonal merchandising. I could just go on and on and on and on.

Broadening that home mix is going to be critical for two reasons; it is going to continue to drive home viewership higher and new customer acquisition tends to buy more of the home and hard goods prods in contrast to jewelry and apparel. The jewelry and apparel businesses have a set of core customers that will buy once a week, once a month, more frequent customers. We need to drive both segments in new customer acquisition but also feed her these new concepts and ideas in the jewelry and apparel business.

MCN: What has changed in the home shopping television industry since you first started?
KS:The basic element of what we do is not going to change. One of the most significant assets that I believe we all have is that we have one person, one television screen communicating perhaps a very complex message to millions and millions and millions of viewers whereby that really cannot be done at a retail store.

The antithesis of that is our dotcom business whereby we have a large, large assortment of items that we offer. Instead of one item to all the viewers it is several items where you have a choice. Actually, bridging the two is the most exciting part of the future.

MCN: Why do you say that?
KS: Utilizing the leverage of the television advertising to not only drive viewers back to your company but drive viewers into your dotcom business is a pretty unique thing. There are three or four of us that do that. There are a lot of dotcom guys out there that don't really have the money and wherewithal to advertise their brand to millions and millions of people. That is a significant advantage we have over retail stores and standalone dotcom shops

MCN: During the second quarter investor conference call you used the football metaphor of the importance of basic blocking and tackling. What constitutes basic blocking and tackling at ShopNBC?
KS:  Buying the right type of item that our customer will enjoy. Buying it at the right level where you are not buying too much or not enough. On-air execution. Just proper execution. Presenting it in a respectful manner to the consumer.

There are so many dif things that we touch every day in a v. complex biz that basic blocking and tackling is critical.

MCN: That same conference call included bitter complaints from investors. Did you feel like a punching bag afterwards?
KS: I looked like one, too.