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Focus on Yes!

Jeanne Bice, Quacker Queen of QVC, transforms fear into success.


So there you are relaxing in your recliner, feet up, TV re­mote firmly in hand, flipping through the channels, looking for something to light on. All of a sudden you hit QVC, the shopping network. There’s this fat lady with a headband talking a mile a minute, selling sweaters that make you want to adjust the color on your set. “Who is this crazy person?” you wonder.

Well that would be me. And you’d be looking at someone doing something she really truly loves, and feeling blessed as can be. But that’s not always what I felt. I had some real struggles in my life and it took me some time to find my way and to love myself for who I am and what God made me. Only then could I use my faith to chase my dreams.

It might be hard to believe, but I wasn’t a born saleswoman. Growing up, I was shy and I didn’t know how to talk to people, a “chubby” kid from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Back then girls were meant to be seen and not heard. That was left to the men in my family. Both my dad and my brother were auctioneers. They were good at it too, especially Dad. He never just got up and started taking bids. Instead he’d talk about the family whose farm equipment or antiques he was selling. He’d give some background. “Everybody has a story to tell, Jeanne,” he always told me.

Soon you felt like you knew this family. That gave their tractor or their Chippendale sideboard greater value. And Dad always got some back-and-forth going with the crowd. “Well, Madam, what do you think this sideboard is worth?” he’d ask someone who looked like she might know something. It brought a great deal of credibility to the auction. Mostly Dad was successful because he liked people and they liked him back, and that came through loud and clear to me.

My self-esteem wasn’t that strong. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to talk to me. I wasn’t sure what to say to friends at school. But that’s when Dad’s method really worked. Everyone has a story to tell. All you have to do is give them a chance to tell it.

I went to the University of Wisconsin and there I met Butch. Our whirlwind romance resulted in a wedding and two children, Tim and Lee. I was a stay-at-home mom and got myself busy volunteering. My best friend Mary Ann and I organized a big charity dance and liked doing crafts and needlepoint together. One day Mary Ann said, “Jeanne, let’s start our own business.”

What did we know? We were just two housewives who coaxed our husbands into lending us some money. Never even took a basic business course. We opened a clothing shop and called it The Silent Woman. It was more of a hobby than a real business.

The next thing I knew Mary Ann was headed for divorce and needed a job that could actually support her. We hoped The Silent Woman could do that. Soon I would be alone too. On the last day of March 1981 Butch had just come home from the store. I was putting up the groceries. Butch started talking about the yard work he needed to do, raking and stuff like that. Then he gave me a kiss and said, “I love you, Jeanne.” He turned to go and dropped to the floor. A heart attack. My beloved husband, the very center of my world, was dead at the age of 40.

A shock like that hits you harder than anything you can imagine. You know what saved me? Fear. Fear of what I needed to do next. Two kids ready for college. How would I ever afford that? For a while I couldn’t even think. But fear has a way of getting you moving. I just needed to hang on tight. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

Do I have to tell you how long that hanging on lasted? Mary Ann and I closed the shop and I moved the kids and myself to Florida and started my own line of clothes—fancy tops that I sold at flea markets and street sales. They were beautiful, but the profit margin was slim to none and the bills still had to be paid. Once I was standing in line at the supermarket with a cartload of groceries and I looked in my purse and realized I didn’t have enough cash. I had to return half of the stuff to the shelves before I checked out. “God,” I wanted to shout, “I can’t work any harder. Show me what to do!”

That sunday i heard a sermon from our pastor called “Running Your Life.” It was just what I needed. I sat on the edge of that pew, listening to every word. “When life gets to be too much to handle, just give it over to God. All of it. Everything!” Yeah, I thought, easy enough for you to say, but how do I do that? “If you trust him, God will show you the way.” Okay, I was ready. Where once fear had mo­tivated me, now faith would do the job.

A couple days later my son, Tim, was going over the books for the business with me. “Mom,” he said, “if you were going to do one thing different, what would it be?”

“There’s this TV cable station called QVC, the shopping channel,” I told him. “I would get on there and sell stuff live. Telling stories—the way Dad did at the auctions he ran.”

That’s when I thought of what our pastor said. Maybe God was showing me the way. I got some poster board and in big black marker I wrote, “QVC—Yes!” I taped the sign above my desk and focused on it. If it wasn’t God’s will, that was okay. There’d be something else. In the meanwhile I would focus on yes.

The call from the Florida Chamber of Commerce came two weeks later. Had I heard of QVC? Yes! The channel was searching all 50 states for products that they could sell on TV. Would I like to try out? Yes, yes, yes!

My daughter-in-law, Karin, and I drove two and a half hours to the Tupperware Convention Center in Orlando. There were at least a couple hundred other people waiting to audition with their fancy videotapes and flashy equipment. For my audition I rolled out a stack of shirts, started talking and didn’t stop. It was just like Dad at an auction. I told stories about myself and stories about the clothes. “Just because you’re not a size six doesn’t mean you have to dress in boring things,” I said. “I don’t.”

In February 1995 I made my first appearance on QVC. In an hour every single sweater sold out. The company got so many calls I told Tim, “I’m going quackers with all this.” We’d christened ourselves Quackers earlier, and I’ve never turned back.

Except for one thing. To say thanks. Thanks to my wonderful customers. Thanks to my kids. Thanks to my father who taught me how to sell. Thanks to Mary Ann. And thanks to God without whom none of this would be possible. I wouldn’t have ever believed it if I hadn’t experienced it. God has greater plans for you than you can ever expect.

You’ll see!

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