How I spiced up the Shopping Channel to make a million

Five years ago, Hasfa Abubacker saw a product demonstration at the Ideal Home Exhibition and decided to film it. A year later she was head of her own production company.

Running a business turning over £8.5m a year hasn't left 34-year-old Hasfa Abubacker much spare time for interior design. The mother-of-one moved into her home in the Hampshire village of Wheathampstead four years ago and it still doesn't have any curtains. "There's never any food in the fridge" either, she says. "We're never home." But asked if she'd like to return to her old job in a TV company, and the answer is a definite no.

The daughter of immigrants from Kerala, India, Abubacker worked as a buyer for a TV shopping channel from 2001-2004, bringing in US commercials to broadcast in Britain. "After a while I began to think the commercials were all a bit samey," she says, "a bit cheesy and exaggerated." The point of buying a product is that it brings some benefit, such as reducing the amount of time you spend cooking or cleaning. But the American commercial presenters never convinced you of that, she says. The actors would read off a script, "with this exaggerated look on their face like their whole life had been turned around", even if it was just a hose or a set of knives they were selling.

Convinced that British audiences were more sophisticated, Abubacker headed to the Ideal Home Show in London in 2003, where she saw a professional demonstrator selling a mandolin slicer for chopping vegetables. "He had a great interaction with the public, who represent your average armchair shopper at home." The audience's laughter and surprise were genuine reactions. "So I thought it would be great to film it." After three months of persuasion, the TV channel allowed her to film the demonstration and put it on air. "Bang. Within a week, it was our biggest seller, doing 5,000-6,000 a week," she says.

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A month later she landed another bestseller, a car-cleaning product called a 'washmatic'. "I thought, I'm on to something here. So I left my job." She raised £50,000 from a friend in a TV production firm and in April 2004 started filming commercials, which she sold to her old employer. "That was easy because they knew the format worked." Then, from the living room of her two-bedroom flat in north London, she began selling the commercials to six British shopping channels, including QVC, and selling the stock for her products from a warehouse. "We started building up our own air time and within a year we were on 40-plus channels."

By 2005, when Pitchwell was turning over £1.6m, she decided the firm should have its own shopping channel to become less dependent on other broadcasters. She heard that Richard Desmond was selling the Express Shopping Channel and raised £2.5m from private investors to buy it, using her flat as a part-guarantee. Pitchwell TV launched in January 2006, rapidly moving online and then into high-street stores, including Woolworths and House of Fraser. "We have screens in store with our products underneath." Moving into HomeBase later this year, the company sells products in 300 stores nationwide, and is on track to grow sales to £30m by 2010. "Retail is struggling, but things are looking good for us."