December 20, 2005
QVC Queen: From Glendover Elementary to Home-Decor Mogul on a Major Shopping Network
By Barbara Isaacs, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky., The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.
Dec. 20--Valerie Parr Hill is smiling from the TV screen, selling baskets of bakery-scented soy candles, fresh balsam holiday wreaths and live topiary-style mini roses.
The phone lines are lit up -- there's no busier time for QVC, the cable-shopping powerhouse.
Parr Hill is bantering with callers, including several who come from Kentucky, her home state.
"I'm feeling the Kentucky love today," Parr Hill says.
A woman tells Parr Hill that she used to live in Kentucky -- near the crossroads at Newtown Pike and Ironworks.
"I know right where that is," Parr Hill says.
"I knew you would," the caller replies.
For more than a decade, Lexington-raised Parr Hill has been QVC's home-decorating guru, with an extensive line of Valerie-brand wares, many designed by her. Candles, ceramics, quilts, wreaths -- they're all featured exclusively on QVC.
"I pinch myself at least once a week with delight," said Parr Hill, 48. "I love design, home decorating -- and I don't mind the camera."
She's a major player in cable shopping. Parr Hill now has 370 products sold under her name at QVC. Last year, she spent 50 hours on the air and her line sold more than a million items. A top holiday seller is a fresh balsam holiday wreath. As of Dec. 2, more than 175,000 -- at $29 each -- had been sold.
"Our customers have an obvious love and passion for all of the items that Valerie brings to QVC," said Amy Corey, QVC director of merchandising. "Her Heartfelt Home line has grown consistently each year and it remains one of our top home-decor brands for the holidays as well as throughout the year."
The Goliath of 24-hour shopping channels, QVC last year sold 137 million items, posting $5.7 billion in sales. It reaches 96 percent of all American cable homes.
Parr Hill was born in Rochester, Minn., where her father, an orthopedic surgeon, was doing his residency, but grew up in Lexington from the age of 3.
She graduated from Tates Creek High School in 1975 and from Asbury College in 1979. In high school, Valerie Parr was involved in things such as student council, pep club and chorus. In 1974 she was crowned Fayette's Junior Miss. She won the state pageant and placed third in the national contest.
"When she walked into a room, it lit up," said Lexington's Nancie Field, who was Parr Hill's longtime piano teacher during that era. Field was thrilled when the girl played an excerpt from Rhapsody in Blue for her pageant talent competition. At Asbury, Parr Hill started out as a piano performance major, but switched to speech and secondary education.
Classmates who knew her throughout grade school and high school said she's still very much like the Valerie Parr they knew.
Andrea Marcum Gottler of Lexington attended Glendover Elementary and Tates Creek High School with Parr Hill. She said the young Valerie Parr was "smart, beautiful, talented, such a good kid -- very well behaved, the epitome of the teacher's pet."
Gottler said that even as a high schooler, Parr was "very mature beyond her years. She would walk down the hall and sincerely wish people to have a nice day."
Another classmate, Barbara Papania of Lexington, said her family always orders Parr Hill's fresh balsam wreath for the holidays and Papania has ordered a variety of Parr Hill's decorative items.
"They're good quality products," Papania said. But more than that, Papania said, Parr Hill is a masterful presenter of the items: "She has style and she looks like she would have good taste."
Though Parr Hill now lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two young sons, she has many ties in the area and visits several times a year. Her parents, Eugene and Joan Parr, and her brother, Dr. Jeff Parr, live in Lexington. Her oldest brother, Gene Parr, lives in Morehead and is the Baptist campus minister for Morehead State.
Parr Hill also is a member of the board of trustees at Asbury College.
"I think her appeal is that innate dignity that comes through the camera," said Janice Crouse, an Asbury College trustee who has known Parr Hill for more than 20 years. "She is warm and gracious, and she does not hold herself aloof or have any sense of putting up barriers."
"She is who you see," Jeff Parr said of his sister. His 7-year-old son, Christopher, gets a kick out of seeing his aunt on TV. Jeff Parr, a Lexington orthopedic surgeon, said he's even giving a sampling of his sister's products to members of his office staff.
Parr Hill would not have imagined that she would one day be a cable-shopping force. Her career background had been primarily in not-for-profit fund-raising. At one point, she was representing the vendors of live wreaths and swags and made contact with QVC, who put her on the air with a group of the wreaths. A decade ago, Parr Hill entered an exclusive partnership with QVC.
Parr Hill and her husband, Will, now head their own company, which scours gift shows and a variety of vendors to find new items to become part of the line. They're already hard at work gathering the holiday offerings for 2006, Parr Hill said.
Parr Hill said her passion for her products is real.
"I'm so proud to bring the caliber products we do," she said. "I learned about 10 years ago, if I don't love it, I shouldn't be selling it. I'm a really bad faker."
Copyright (c) 2005, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
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