Q&A With Mindy Grossman

First the CEO engineered a massive overhaul at HSN. Now she's bringing the company to the forefront of interactive shopping.

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Mindy Grossman

Photo By Robert Mitra

Grossman with Libby and Sam Edelman.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Mindy Grossman is a walking advertisement for HSN.

On a recent rainy, blustery day in Manhattan, the trendy CEO arrives at the Frank Gehry-designed IAC building and almost immediately begins dishing about her outfit, which includes Sam Edelman platforms, a Joan Boyce necklace and several other items purchased from the shopping network.

“I always say I’m a perfect example of how people interface with our product,” Grossman said in an exclusive interview with Footwear News. “I can wear a $79 necklace, a $500 ring, a $250 pair of shoes and a Balenciaga dress. That’s how people look at things today, especially because of this economy. It’s not about status, it’s about ‘Hey, this is something I desire, so let me see how I can access it on my own terms.’”

After moving to HSN in 2006, Grossman knew she had to shake things up. Competition in the broadcast world was fierce, and more viewers were tuning away to new lifestyle channels. Her aggressive revamp of the company — which in August 2008 spun off from parent company IAC to become a separately traded public firm — has touched every aspect of the 32-year-old HSN, from branding and product assortment to programming and customer service. In addition, she overhauled the Website, a move that has significantly expanded online sales and HSN’s reach.

“We embarked on this pretty aggressive journey to go from thinking of ourselves as the TV shopping channel to thinking of ourselves as a network of transactional innovation,” said the executive, who came to HSN from Nike, where she was global VP of apparel. Grossman also held several executive positions at Ralph Lauren before joining Nike in 2000.

The new strategy is paying off, and Grossman said the economy isn’t holding her back. HSN, which reaches 93 million households, reported a sales decline of only 1 percent for the third quarter, with Internet sales up 7 percent, representing 30 percent of total sales.

In addition to beefing up its online presence, HSN last year debuted an iPhone app, as well as applications with Comcast and Verizon Fios that allow customers to make purchases through their remote controls. The company also rolled out a high-definition channel in 13 million homes.

“The model of getting the consumer to come to you is old, and the new model is how can you get to the consumer on their terms, in ways they want to engage in,” Grossman said. “How people are choosing to interface with content is very different. You’ve got to marry different platforms.”

Giving the HSN audience access to more fashion-forward product and exclusives also has been a priority for Grossman during her nearly four-year tenure at the firm. Recent high-profile partnerships include the American Glamour line with Badgley Mischka; Curations with Stefani Greenfield, a lifestyle line by the Scoop founder; and new fragrances from Sean Jean.

In the footwear arena — HSN’s fastest-growing category — brands from all corners of the market, from Vince Camuto to Sam Edelman to Born, have been performing well, Grossman said. The firm also has steadily been adding apparel, accessory and footwear exclusives, including American Glamour and jewelry by Iman.

HSN’s partners cheered Grossman’s innovative rebranding.

“There is a very sophisticated merchandising and buying team within the HSN organization, and Mindy truly understands partnership and brand building” said designer and HSN vendor Sam Edelman. “People believe in Mindy Grossman.”

Several new initiatives are on the agenda for 2010, though Grossman remained mum on specific details. “[Overall], we will continue to launch new concepts, new brands and new business ... as we find our growth potential in alternative distribution channels. If 2010 is going to be the year of anything for us, it will be the year of innovation.”

FN: What were your impressions of HSN before joining the company?
MG: When I [first] looked at the channel, it didn’t feel very lifestyle or real — even though it was live — and there wasn’t a synergy between the experience on TV and the experience online. I knew we had to not just think of our competition as retail but as lifestyle television, whether it be the Food Network, Style, HDTV, DIY, or any emerging lifestyle channel. The more I looked [at the business], the more excited I got. Today, HSN is more relevant than at any other time in its history. Content is power in today’s world, and if you can own that content, create it and make interaction more of an experience than a transaction, you create a different kind of loyalty.

FN: Cultivating more loyalty among HSN consumers has been a priority. How have you done that?
MG: When I joined the company, I would say our customer experience was sub-par. We used to outsource about 30 percent of our calls off-shore. We changed that around and said the No. 1 focus is the customer experience. We brought 100 percent of our sales and service back to the U.S. and elevated our pay scales in those areas. We elevated our quality standards and changed how a package was received by the customer. We re-trained not only our sales and service people but even our hosts on air to be very authentic on how they articulate the product.

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