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032: As Seen on TV – Getting Your Product onto QVC & Wal-Mart, From Zero to a Billion Dollars in Sales (w/ Bill McAlister)

Bill McAlister is the owner and president of Top Dog Direct, the newest company in the direct response television (DRTV) industry. He has over 24 years’ experience in the manufacturing and wholesale distribution of consumer products. Throughout his career, Bill has sold more than $ 1 Billion worth of “As Seen on TV” products. He focuses exclusively towards the Direct Response TV arena which has resulted in the successful development of innovative TV marketing formats for a host of popular new products. He specializes in finding products, developing marketing strategies, and implementing the plans. His success stories include dramatic wins in both short-and long-form advertising and home shopping sales 

Period in full time business 

Never worked for anybody. Has owned businesses since he was 7 years old starting with lawn mowing/snow shovelling services and later while in high school, a painting company which put him through college. After college, he started an import company which led him to start his current business, Top Dog Direct. 

Was the first person to import products for QVC and also worked on air selling the products which led him to specialize in the “As Seen on TV” products industry. Made more than 3,000 appearances on air within a 5 year period. QVC later bought his 100-Million dollar import company 

Tough moments starting the import company and overcoming them 

Was fortunate enough to get his first client as QVC which depended on him wholly as their sole importer thus ensuring sustainable revenue for him in the long-term.  

Tip 1: Try to do one thing and do it very well 

Tip 2: In business, when you do what you do very well, clients automatically recommend you to other clients 

Reason for starting an import company and getting the first customer 

Got introduced to the import business by a friend who had experience and success in the industry. The friend gave him the necessary industry knowledge and contacts necessary to set up his import entity. 

Tip: Do not start a business without a game plan and make sure you develop a good business plan 

Finding manufacturers/suppliers for his products 

Currently works with the most established company in East Asia, Base4, which has offices across China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. The company has been manufacturing all his products exclusively for the last 15 years.  

Growing the current business 

Doesn’t worry about growing the business, concentrates more on getting new products to keep sales going due to the fact that the “As Seen on TV” products business is primarily dependent on new products that attract demand.  

He finds products from inventors, produces them; and sells them on TV and through online channels 

Core revenue streams 

The primary sources of revenue are retailers and online channels which have so far been extremely profitable 

Product cycle from inventor to the market 

Takes product ideas from inventors and has his engineers develop CAD/CAM drawings. It can take up to 90 days to develop a mould of the product and an additional 30 to 45 days to put out a television commercial of the product after which the product is tested on television with $25,000 worth of media. When the product sells well on TV, Bill approaches retailers like Wal-Mart so they can buy the product in large scale.  

Works on 14 to 20 products a year with only 3 to 4 making to the market and thriving in terms of sales. Comes across thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of products every year. Constantly looks for new products online (for example, Kickstarter), Amazon, QVC, and other sources. 

Selling inventors’ products on TV without charging them any money upfront 

Understands the financial hardships that inventors go through while developing their products and therefore prefers to offer them a long-term partnership during the development process of their products from idea to market. Once a product makes to the market and achieves sales then both parties benefit from the sales generated in accordance to their prior revenue sharing agreement   

Most favourite product sold so far 

Bill’s most favourite product is the “Watanabe Pillow” which is made with buckwheat filling. One of the unmatched characteristics of the pillow is that it cools a person’s head down naturally thereby leading to a better night sleep. It is the No. 1 Best-Selling pillow in the history of the United States with over 22 million units sold so far. 

Key ingredients to a product succeeding on TV and in retail 

There are 3 ingredients; it has to solve a problem, it has to hit a price point and it has to be demonstrable (meaning it has to be easy to demonstrate on TV for viewers to be impressed by it and consequently buy it) 

Online sales 

The company makes considerable sales online due to the fact the entire population of Millennials in the US only buy products online. The products that sell well online do not sell in retail (for example, at Wal-Mart). Bill is therefore continuously investing on selling products through online channels to compliment the TV/Retail sales channel 

Researching/selecting good products and due diligence 

Due diligence is mostly legal in nature since products have to be patented and passed through intellectual property ownership checks before being produced and sold in mass. 

Tip: When starting a business use the internet more to do your market research on the business idea you have 

Current core products 

In order to attract the consumers who watch TV and shop in retail outlets, Bill’s company currently deals a lot in products that are related to pain and pain relief. The best performing 3 products on TV in the last 3 years have been related to pain and pain relief 

Fear of failure 

Bill uses a baseball batting average analogy to approach the fear of failure in business. In baseball, one’s batting average measures how good they are. A batting average of 300 means a person successfully hit the ball 3/10 times. In business, Bill chooses not to measure his successes that way 

Tip: No matter how many times you fail, keep going and don’t listen to anyone else. Always put your blinders on as long as you know what you are doing 

Biggest failure/low moment in business 

Bill and his partner lost $11 Million in a deal with unscrupulous business people. Though Bill and his partner sued them and won the case, they were only awarded a small percentage of the much they had lost 

Tip: If it doesn’t kill you it only makes you stronger 

Biggest breakthrough moment in business 

It’s always a breakthrough moment for Bill every time a new product he invests in is gaining momentum in the market and selling amazingly well 

Faith, Fun, Family, Friendships and Finance 

Faith: Bill is not a big believer in religion 

Family, fun and business are all the same for him but he always makes sure he is putting his family first while also constantly engaging in his business. He doesn’t view his business as work but rather as part of who he is 

A day in life when starting his current business Vs. a day in life today 

When he started his business he had no furniture in his house, had an old school fax machine, woke up at 5 am every day, worked out, got to the office at 6am, and was always on the phone looking for products. 

Today, he wakes up much later than 5am, still works out, and used to drive his kids to school and pick them up but not anymore since they can all drive. His work life is more laid back and he allows his employees to do their work so he can focus solely on acquiring new products. 

Investing in mentors 

He doesn’t need to invest in mentors because he always knows everything about the business he is in and how to keep succeeding in it. He has had people ask him to be their consultant but he doesn’t accept because he feels he cannot be of any help to another due to the fact that he is only good and experienced in the business he does  

Book recommendation for entrepreneurs:   

Bill is severely dyslexic and cannot retain anything he reads so he does not read any books other than the children’s books he reads for his kids 

Legacy: 
To be known and remembered for providing the world with high quality products that have a positive impact, and add value in people’s lives – Bill.   

Best way to connect: 
www.topdogdirect.net  – Bill’s Business website  

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Cheers,
Davis!

About the author, Davis

My Dream of sharing inspirational success stories started many years ago and this Podcast is an amazing show that brings some of those conversations to light.

This show is dedicated to being a voice of encouragement to you because I believe God created you and I with a purpose to fulfill and I want to be here to cheer you on through this Podcast, our Blog and through our other channels of interaction via our comments section after each Podcast and Blog as well as on social media.

I love business and entrepreneurship and I truly believe you have greatness inside of you 🙂