Shortly after Kashwere LLC's robes were featured as one of "Oprah's Favorite Things," Oprah Winfrey phoned the Northridge company to buy a few for her trainer and some close friends.
But Winfrey couldn't get through. Peter Seltzer, Kashwere's owner, had added lines, but it didn't matter. The phones were ringing constantly from people across the country trying to get the robes before Christmas.
Eventually, Winfrey called the cell phone of a Kashwere vice president and was able to make her purchase, but others weren't so lucky. The fallout from Winfrey's blessing quickly overwhelmed the capacity of Kashwere, and orders were pouring in faster than they could be filled.
The $1.5 million worth of inventory on-site when the favorite things episode aired Nov. 22 wasn't nearly enough. And without a sizable infrastructure like Williams-Sonoma Inc. or Nike Inc., other companies whose items were featured on Oprah's list, Kashwere didn't have the muscle to handle a deluge in the fourth quarter already a busy period.
"It is almost like what you would imagine going to war would be like," a shell-shocked Seltzer said. "No matter how much you prepare, you can't know what it is really like.
"The power of Oprah is serious and not to be believed," he said.
In fact, many at Kashwere didn't believe it at first. On Nov. 19, just days before the show aired, a producer phoned in the middle of a Kashwere staff meeting and informed the company that Winfrey was planning to highlight its robe. "She just said, 'Oprah wants you,' " recalled Seltzer.
It turns out that Winfrey's boyfriend, Stedman Graham, had given her one of the Kashwere robes to lift her spirits after a hard day. On the show, she told the story and gave vouchers for 350 robes to her audience.
Kashwere waited to see what the outcome would be. Several staff members didn't expect much. Kashwere robes had been mentioned on the "Dr. Phil Show" before, and only a small number of sales came of it.
Still, Seltzer gathered his staff together prior to the airing and told them to prepare for hard work ahead. The producer warned the company to be ready for a deluge.
"We do make them aware of information we have gotten from companies in the past as it relates to sales and volume," said Michelle McIntyre, a spokeswoman for Winfrey's Harpo Productions Inc. "We advise companies that they need to be able to handle that volume."
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