The most important eight minutes of Marc Kopoian's life could take place starting at 1 p.m. Friday on a stage in Gateway Park just outside Navy Pier.
That's when Kopoian, a sales executive from Chicago who was laid off 7 1/2 years ago, gets the chance to pitch his new pet-care kit to as many as 87 million households on the QVC shopping channel.
And did we mention it's a live broadcast?
No pressure or anything.
"I've never been on TV before. It is a blind date. I'm hopeful that I will do my best," said Kopoian, 51, as he paced the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel Thursday waiting to be prepped by QVC staff.
Kopoian is one of 100 entrepreneurs QVC selected from more than 3,000 applicants to pitch their upstart product lines to the nation as part of the network's 10th anniversary of recruiting small businesses. The network, which has grown into a $6 billion retailing powerhouse, is putting 10 entrepreneurs on the air in a tour of 10 cities this year. Each will get eight minutes to sell.
"I have no idea what happened, but I hit the ball out of the park. Usually I strike out," Kopoian said.
Marilyn Montross, director of vendor relations merchandising for QVC, said there's a good chance Kopoian would move all the 1,800 kits he has on hand and open the door to continuing business from all over the country.
"Most of these people who own small businesses will end up owning large businesses if they do well," she said.
Kopoian already has a good day job, running a small company that distributes medical products for humans to hospitals and laboratories. It had $1.9 million in sales last year.
But for more than three years he's also been hatching plans for the Choyce Products Pet Care Kit, which consists of an itching relief spray for animals, a pet shampoo and conditioner, and a stain remover/deodorizer--all for $19.49.
Kopoian owns Choyce Products with his mother. Eight years ago he was a senior vice president of sales for a medical products company when it was sold and everyone's job, along with his, was eliminated. Two days later his mother lost her job at an engineering firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Determined to rebound, they teamed up to start their own hospital supply company and, after a rough start, got on their feet and now have seven employees. Then came another interesting development. A nurse he worked with looked at an itch relief treatment for humans and wondered why it couldn't be adapted for pet use.
"I've been working on this for 3 1/2 years and conducted hundreds and hundreds of test," he said.
Practice, practice, practice
On the rapid-fire demo he will perform on television Friday--and before a live audience of several hundred--he will quickly show how to use each of the products in the kit. All, he says, are "100 percent organic, biodegradable and natural."
It's a spiel he knows by heart and which he practiced virtually non-stop on the June flight to QVC's headquarters in West Chester, Pa..
"The guy sitting next to me on the plane finally asked me to stop," he said.
It is critical that he has his sales pitch down pat because the soon-to-be television stars receive only one day of coaching from the cable network, and there are no full-scale rehearsals. Instead, they got 15 minutes on Thursday with the hosts who will be working with them for last-minute advice.
Despite the lack of training, many presenters have done well over the years, Montross said. Junior's CheeseCake, made by a restaurant in Brooklyn, has sold more than 1 million cakes since it first presented on QVC 10 years ago. Chesapeake Bay Gourmet has sold millions of crab cakes.
"Over half on this series of shows have sold out or nearly sold out," she said, and those that did well likely will be invited back.
That could be good news for some of the Chicago-area entrepreneurs who already have appeared on the tour.
Talie Shnoll of Lake Bluff sold 95 percent of her pet first-aid kit, while Walt Sedlacek of West Chicago nearly sold out of his lockjaw pliers.
Fortune didn't shine so brightly on Neal Katz of Wheeling, who sold 68 percent of a device he developed to hide electronic wiring, or Bobbi Panter of Chicago, who sold 52 percent of a pet shampoo she developed.
Looking for support
Nerves are common among the soon-to-be TV guests. So are moments of panic.
Ann Merlini, 44, of Gilford, N.H., who is slated to pitch a multi-use travel pack that can double as a pillow with a blanket packed inside, spent part of Thursday morning searching for a high-back chair she had shipped to the hotel.
"It's my prop," she explained as she demonstrated how she hoped to use the chair to simulate an airline seat.
QVC officials repeatedly assured her that they would help find the chair once "rehearsals" were complete. It was found later Thursday in a security storage room where it had been placed for safekeeping.
At $26.55, Merlini's Plane Comfort is one of the more expensive products featured during Friday's two-hour show.
"This is all in one handy bundle," said Merlini, easily slipping into pitch mode. "This has taken the thought process out of taking comfort items with you." It can also be hung on the back of a car seat, she extolled.
Like everyone who will appear on Friday's "10-city Decade of Discoveries Tour" show, Merlini can only hope to face more logistical headaches in the future. She said she likely will have to go to China to find the necessary capacity to produce the travel product. She also figures that even though she has applied for a patent, it likely will be copied.
But Merlini quickly agreed when Kopoian summed up how most felt about the opportunity given them by the television network.
"This is not about the money. This is about the moment to build your dream," Kopoian said.