Gem Shopping Network thrives during pandemic, expecting its best year ever

CEO Eduardo Hauser poses for a photograph in his Duluth studio on Nov. 16, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
CEO Eduardo Hauser poses for a photograph in his Duluth studio on Nov. 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Duluth-based company has been around 23 years.

On the Sunday before Christmas at the Gem Shopping Network studios in Duluth, host Marvin Pierschbacher is working to sell dozens of colorful diamond rings, bracelets and earrings off a turntable, each for $9,950. He is throwing out superlative adjectives with abandon: “Amazing!” “Unbelievable!” “Absolutely gorgeous!”

And when he introduces a new piece to sell from Modani Jewels, he can’t help but utter his favorite go-to phrase “Oh my goodness!” He can keep this energy level up for hours on end.

“This will be the craziest opportunity of the year!” said Pierschbacher, who has been with the network since 2000. “Don’t be upset if someone grabs a piece that you want. I’m warning you!”

This is how Gem Shopping Network works 24/7, hour after hour of bling, bling and more bling. On any given day, they sell 70 different types of gemstones. The only time they aren’t selling anything? 7 p.m. Christmas Eve until 7 p.m. Christmas Day.

The bling does not translate to the Gem Shopping Network’s non-descript building, across the street from an HVAC contractor and a Korean Methodist church. There isn’t even a sign identifying itself.

“It’s very much on purpose,” said Eduardo Hauser, chief executive officer, who joined the network a year ago. He previously was general manager for Hispanic markets with the Discovery cable networks including HGTV and Food Network.

Reality is the company does not want to draw attention to itself since millions of dollars worth of gems and jewelry pass through the building every day.

What differentiates GSN from Knoxville, Tennessee-based Jewelry Television and its other competitors is that it sells one-of-a-kind pieces. This is not a volume business. The average purchase price of an item on GSN is $2,800. (Last year, a buyer picked up a rare $1.1 million Kashmir sapphire ring.) So if GSN sells 20 items in an hour, that’s a good hour.

Although the privately held company does not reveal annual revenues, GSN now has more than 130 employees and is projecting its best year ever. Hauser said they are set to sell more than 100,000 pieces of jewelry for the first time in a calendar year, splitting the sales amount with the vendor 50/50.

Its revenues do not go into building a fancy production. The hosts use two cramped sets that lack any particular visual pizazz. The focus is squarely on the jewelry and gems, typically on a rotating display.

Asif Rupani, the production manager, said the operation is like the Beck song “Where It’s At,” which repeats the line, “two turntables and a microphone.” And like a DJ, the hosts take requests from callers seeking to look more carefully at particular items on the turntables.

Jewelry is on display during a live show at the Gem Shopping Network's Duluth studio on Nov. 16, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Jewelry is on display during a live show at the Gem Shopping Network's Duluth studio on Nov. 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

In March, COVID-19 restrictions meant the operation had to go largely remote. They stopped using models and forced hosts that normally tag team to go solo. Supply chain disruptions reduced available inventory, leading to more repetition of non-selling products. They even began dabbling outside the gem world, with luxury handbags adding $400,000 to the top line.

“There were times we thought we were very close to not going live on a show,” Hauser said.

But the network never shut down, even when a few employees caught the virus. Fortunately, Hauser said, there was never a mass outbreak.

On the demand side, GSN has benefited from people shopping from home and watching more TV. The network is available in more than 60 million households nationwide including the major cable and satellite operators in metro Atlanta. The average viewer is a 55-plus female.

The back part of the room featured three rows for operators to take calls. When someone calls in, it rings like a rotary phone circa 1975, a ring that can be heard by the viewer to generate a sense of urgency. On a recent Monday morning, only three operators were working but during busier times, say, on a Thursday evening, as many as a dozen would man the phones. Hauser said an average of 5,000 households are watching at any given time, based on Comscore data, but the number varies wildly depending on the time of day.

“It’s companion TV,” Hauser said, noting that some viewers watch a long time, similar to networks like HGTV or the Food Network. “People want friction-less viewing that’s soothing.”

At the same time, the GSN’s pacing can be a bit frenetic compared to other home shopping networks. “There seems to be a lot of yelling from the GSN hosts,” observed Stephanie Stalworth, an Atlanta radio traffic reporter who is more of a QVC shopper. “It seems like more a carnival atmosphere at GSN, but that may be preferred by some shoppers.”

Kurt Schneider, who has one of the more booming voices among the hosts, has been in the jewelry business 29 years and a host at GSN for 15. “I love the challenge of selling product to people they can’t touch or feel,” he said. “And I am happy because the buyers are happy. The only thing I miss is the retail face-to-face interaction.”

Gem Shopping Network on-air host Kurt Schneider talks with his viewers in their Duluth studio on November 16, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Gem Shopping Network on-air host Kurt Schneider talks with his viewers in their Duluth studio on November 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

GSN likes to keep inventory fresh, using about 35 active vendors at any given time. Those vendors purchase jewelry from estate sales or closeouts or create the jewelry themselves. For a particular show, they’ll bring in around 1,500 units to hawk. Many also sell at high-end brick-and-mortar stores like Nieman Marcus, Barney New York and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Sumit Modan, who has been in the jewelry business 25 years and runs New York-based Soham Diamonds, has been working with GSN for eight years. “We get direct exposure to the customer,” he said. “We’re definitely able to move product quicker [than through retail], and the customers are loyal.”

John Askew, a Virginia Highland accountant, watches multiple shopping networks and enjoys GSN. Over the years‚ he has purchased a signet gold ring for himself and a bracelet for a friend from the network. He can’t recall the cost but said he felt the deals were fair.

“Customer service is great,” Askew said. “The product is insured; if you don’t like it, you can return it, and there’s no restocking fee.”

Since most of the rings need to be re-sized before they deliver them to the customer, GSN employs several in-house bench jewelers. Some customers send in photos and have jewelry custom made by GSN.

The company started in 1997 as a weekend show hosted by gemologist Frank Circelli focusing on unique colored gemstones. Rupani said when he joined the station in 2001, they were on for only eight hours a day and sold $7,000 in product a day. GSN didn’t go 24/7 until 2008.

Circelli, who couldn’t be reached for comment, sold his company in 2013 to private equity firm Sun Capital Partners and is no longer involved in the company.

GSN remains old school. While it hosts separate mineral shows on Facebook, it doesn’t offer an option for customers to buy off the website. They still have to call in, the type of human touch GSN loyalists prefer, Hauser said.

But he plans to offer more Amazon-style buying options in 2021. “People make jewelry investments here backed by experts,” he said. “We have to make sure those experts are still available even if the media we interact with them is different.”

And while millions of people are now just watching streaming services and have “cut the cord,” the typical older, female GSN viewer is a late adapter so that, Hauser said, will buy them some time. And many now watch GSN off their website on a tablet or phone.


Bench jeweler Sebastian Duran resizes a ring at the Gem Shopping Network's Duluth headquarters on Nov. 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Bench jeweler Sebastian Duran resizes a ring at the Gem Shopping Network's Duluth headquarters on Nov. 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

WHERE TO WATCH

A sampling: AT&T, Spectrum, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, Roku, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV

On-air 24/7 except Christmas Day. gemshopping.com

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