For the past 25 years, QVC has looked at pumps and seen more than fashion possibilities. Instead, the omnichannel retailer envisioned a way to change the lives of women impacted by breast cancer.
In 1994, QVC signed on as a partner in a charity fundraiser created the previous year by members of the Fashion Footwear Association of New York. The event, which was initially launched under a tent in Central Park, sold donated, unused shoes to collect funds to support medical research into a cure for breast cancer.
But with the help of QVC and its vast media network, the charity — now called QVC Presents FFANY Shoes on Sale — has expanded far beyond New York City, reaching consumers across the globe and raising roughly $57 million for the cause.
In recognition of QVC’s long commitment, the company has been named the 2019 recipient of the Jodi & Jerome Fisher Humanitarian Award. Mike George, president and CEO of QVC parent company Qurate Retail Group, will accept the honor at the Shoes on Sale gala on Oct. 10, at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York.
The executive, who has personally been involved in the charity event for 14 years, sat down with FN last month at the company’s West Chester, Pa., headquarters to talk about this important mission.
“There’s a lot of pride that we’ve been doing this for 25 years,” said George, noting that thousands of employees have contributed in that time, by answering customer calls, packing boxes and working behind and in front of the camera.
“For me, it’s so powerful every year to connect with the researchers, doctors and scientists involved in the work and to connect with those in the industry who’ve supported it all these years,” he added. “Many QVC team members have been affected by breast cancer, [so it’s good] to hear those stories and be reminded that this is important and makes a difference.”
This year, QVC will once again host its live, three-hour TV broadcast, where it will sell discounted shoes donated by the footwear community. The show will take place on the same night as the Shoes on Sale gala and will feature interviews and video from the red carpet in New York. Hosts will include Jane Treacy, Carolyn Gracie and Nancy Hornback.
But George noted that QVC isn’t reserving its support for just one night.
The retailer kicked off the effort in mid-September with its Shoe of the Day promotion and plans to continue to tout the cause until December through its sister TV networks, digital platforms and social media.
Additionally, the company has also tapped its “Q Crew” of customer ambassadors and other online influencers to share their experiences with followers on social media.
Among QVC’s most powerful tools in raising both funds and awareness for breast cancer has been the personal stories shared by its hosts.
Treacy has been hosting the charity broadcast for over 23 years and told FN, “It is hard to put into words how much Shoes on Sale means to me. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago and is a true survivor. Keeping my sister in my heart, along with everyone who has been affected by breast cancer, is how I present each shoe.”
For Gracie and Hornback, the cause is deeply personal: Both are breast cancer survivors and have openly shared their tales with audiences on the air.
“Four years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy — proactively,” said Gracie, whose mother is also a survivor. “The biggest impact of my diagnosis and treatment has not been what happened to me, but rather, the effect it has had on my QVC viewing family. I was very frank with them about everything that was happening to me every step of the way.”
Gracie recalls appearing on the Shoes on Sale live broadcast after returning from surgery and recovery. “I told my story live on the air and the response was tremendous,” she said. “It reached so many people and impacted them in such a positive way.”
According to Gracie, she has succeeded in inspiring some viewers to get check-ups. “Many people who’d been avoiding getting a mammogram — because of worry, fear or procrastination — decided to make an appointment due in part to my experience,” she said.
For Hornback, her breast cancer diagnosis came three days before she was set to join the QVC team.
“I said to my new boss, what do you want [me] to do?” she recalled. He quickly responded that, of course, she should still come on board. “They just embraced me.”
Since then, Hornback has been committed to encouraging QVC viewers to join the Shoes on Sale cause and support those impacted by the disease. “I’m so grateful for this platform and humbled by it,” she said. “I don’t feel my story is really a big deal. But it’s that one-on-one interaction where I can identify with what they are going through and we are here for each other.”
As a host presenter for Shoes on Sale, Hornback admitted she often goes against QVC policy by encouraging shoppers to keep their purchase even if the shoes are not a perfect fit.
“I’ve said, please keep it, keep the money in the coffers to fight breast cancer. Instead, give the shoes to a friend, charity, somebody will love them.”
Treacy added that the special broadcast is an annual highlight. “Our customers look forward to this every year, and I do as well,” she said. “There’s something about looking down at a great pair of shoes, knowing they have made a difference. That is just the coolest thing ever.”
For the QVC and Qurate teams, Shoes on Sale also serves as inspiration for a range of other charitable efforts. Each year, the company teams up with the Cosmetic Executive Women Foundation to present “Beauty With Benefits,” where 80% of the purchase price benefits Cancer and Careers. Qurate also lends its support to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and local community causes.
“[Our philanthropy] goes to the center of what we do, which is, we see our job as inspiring women every day with wonderful stories, products that can make a difference in her life,” said George. “Whenever we find that intersection of being able to touch our customer community, our team member community, and use the power of our airwaves and storytelling to make a difference, and do it in partnership with our industry and footwear vendors, that’s everything.”