Andrew Whitlatch - Courtesy Laugh Network - July 19, 2011
In the summer of 2009, longtime prime time QVC host, Dan Wheeler became the oldest host at QVC. Dan Wheeler also holds the record for sales, with over $2.5 billion, on the most successful home shopping network in the world. In Wheeler’s two decades as host of QVC he has interviewed and written a book about the countless number of sports legends he has worked with. Dan let me spend the day with him at the studio and here is my story.
It is Thursday afternoon in early August, and Dan Wheeler is standing in a Subway sandwich shop with a blue button down shirt tucked into dark blue Hugo Boss Jeans, light brown leather watch that is stylishly coordinated with his brown belt and European styled Nike loafers. His balding brown hair makes him look wise and fatherly, like Heathcliff Huxtable on the Cosby Show. His new goatee and calming demeanor resembles U2’s guitarist, The Edge.
He recently became the oldest host on QVC at 55. Wheeler admits that he feels the pressure to post big numbers being at his prime time spot on television. “I’m expected to deliver on big ticket items,” he said. Wheeler is challenged to keep up with a business that is constantly changing. With the average viewer tuning in for only 42 seconds he is motivated to stay at the top. He relies on his humility, and honesty to connect to the viewers. He describes some of the young hosts that come in and put up big sales numbers. “They start to believe their own press and they self-destruct,” he said. He said he believes that you never want to get too high or too low and that there is always room for improvement.
Wheeler greeted the Subway sandwich shop worker with a smile and ordered a cold cut combo, Lays potato chips, and a soft drink mixed with diet Coke and regular Coke. He leaned over and whispered, “I need the caffeine.” It’s true for a man who is the oldest host of 21 years at the most successful home shopping network in the world, QVC.
Wheeler’s all-time sales record exceeds $2.5 billion. He wrote a book (Best Seat in the House: The Untold Stories of DiMaggio, Mantle, Foreman and Other Sports Legends) to share his interview stories with some of the greatest athletes of all time. He is a husband and father of two girls, Kirstyn and Kelsey. In his free time, Wheeler plays bass guitar for Blue Sky, a band that exclusively raises money for charity. On top of that, he is getting ready to be a grandfather; Kirstyn is expecting a baby boy later this year.
With a quick prayer followed by an “amen,” Wheeler chomped into his foot-long sub. His long successful career in journalism and sales was evident as he guided the chess match of questioning with ease, and touched on every talking point. During lunch he described what made him a successful salesman.
“The most important product you can sell is yourself,” Wheeler said. “Being real and honest with the customer is one of the most important parts of sales.” He told a story about one of his shows where he was selling kitchen products and he accidentally spilled pasta all over the floor.
The camera man tried to hide that Wheeler had spilled pasta all over the set, but he insisted to show the mess on the floor. “People that hide things don’t last,” he said. Wheeler believes strongly in honesty and calling attention to mistakes helps the viewer relate.
“You never want to lose their trust,” he said as he glided through sales 101. He described his selling style as a “backyard fence” approach. He wants to make the buyers feel comfortable like they are talking to their neighbors in the backyard. His approach to selling appears to be working with his sales statistics to back it up.
He left the sandwich shop and hopped into his navy blue Jeep Grand Cherokee. Dan slid on his sporty black sunglasses, like a professional baseball player would wear, and put the large SUV into drive. His driving mirrored his laid back personality. He coasted into a long, winding drive with a QVC sign in the front. The road led back through a wooded area like he was looking for the Bat Cave. He pulled into his front door parking spot and proceeded to walk to the entrance.
As he got closer to the entrance he whispered that the CEO, Michael George, was exiting the building. He was wearing a tie and white button up shirt, he wore round oval shaped glasses, and his dirty blonde hair slightly parted to the right. His nasally voice sounded like Waylan Smithers from the “Simpsons”.
His computer geek style and mannerisms showed a strong resemblance to Bill Gates. His $6.5 billion in revenue is second highest behind CBS. Wheeler and George exchanged pleasantries and before he walked away to get into his new smart car that looked like the size of a matchbox car, he said, “This is a good man to write about.”
Wheeler walked through the 40,000 square foot studio, the biggest studio in the nation, to Wheeler’s dressing room. He opened locker number 18 and inside is a picture of his two daughters, and a framed bible verse, Romans 8:28. Wheeler coasted through the hallways of QVC remaining cordial and professional with his co-workers by waving and shaking hands.
“Dan takes care of everything, is amazing to the crew, and is by far our number one,” said Coordinating Producer Allison Kealey. Wheeler met with his guest an hour before the show to review the features for Dell computers, the product they were going to sell on the show that night.
An hour before show time Wheeler was still telling jokes. He made his way down a long hallway to the studio where he was going to do his hour long show adjusting his clothes to get comfortable. He glided through the double doors into the warehouse sized studio, and walked onto the set.
The poised, Wheeler led the crew like Jordan in the 98’ NBA Finals. He knew his position and helped the crew on the set get ready for the show. Wheeler and his guest successfully completed the show with the highest number of sales for that day. He threw his hands up in joy, like a little leaguer who had the game winning hit in a baseball game. He snapped a quick photo with his guest, shook hands, and walked back to his dressing room.
In the dressing room, Wheeler took care of some minor paper work and sent out an e-mail to his boss to inform him on his shows success. He said that his boss wants him to report back when he has a good night. He checked the numbers again to see how well he did in comparison to the other shows. He nearly doubled the next highest to him.
When questioned about his $1.5 billion in sales, Wheeler quickly corrected it by saying he has sold more than $2.5 billion in merchandise. He said the numbers didn’t mean that much to him and all it meant was that he has been in the business a long time. He said his relationship with God is more important.
“I did not do those numbers,” he said. “Religion is the key to everything I do, if you don’t believe in something how do you find meaning?” His tone was a serious heartfelt quality as he confided about his deep belief in God. A blogger criticized the fact Kirstyn is not married.
Wheeler chuckled at the remark and stated that he did not take the news of his daughter’s well at all. “I was punching walls. I wanted to kill him,” He said about the father of his daughter’s baby, his light blue eyes gleamed with pride when he spoke about his two daughters.
When he found out about the baby he felt disappointed in Kirstyn, but when he saw his daughter for the first time after hearing the news he ran and hugged her. The news rattled him and he wanted to talk to her boyfriend. He said they met one night after work and he was really hard on him.
“I hope you never have to hear your unmarried daughter is pregnant,” Wheeler said. Everyone has to live with the consequences of their actions and Wheeler is aware that it is going to be difficult, but is excited to welcome baby Cole to the family later this year.
“If I can make them smile or laugh, that makes my day, even if I don’t sell,” he said as he got up to leave the studio.