Sary Pfister was a one-woman show. Set up at home with a tripod and a station table stocked with equipment and supplies, the senior hair colorist at Gladwyne’s OMG Salon produced her own live Zoom segment on dyeing hair at home. It was in the earliest days of the pandemic, and Pfister was one of the first presenters on Girls Nite Live, a weekly virtual platform founded in 2020 to support women whose income was compromised by COVID-19.
Today, the Conshohocken-based operation continues to amplify the voices and talents of women worldwide. To date, it has hosted over 650 unique programs and shopping segments for over 170,000 visitors. Now, with livestreaming, GNL is reaching more than 825,000 social media followers. Each week, women learn new skills, try recipes, shop favorite women-owned brands, connect with industry professionals and unwind in a chat format with others from around the globe. In the process, GNL has become a viable platform for women searching to rebuild and empower their pandemic-infringed lives. “Staying connected is huge,” says Pfister. “And humans create connection.”
GNL’s president is Peg Casullo Hertrich, a descendant of the ShopRite supermarket family that sold the company 40 years ago. “My dad didn’t care how your soccer game went,” she admits. “He was busy getting the circular out for the week.”
Hertrich’s work ethic aligned with those of Villanova’s Shelly Lotman Fisher, GNL’s founder, who also grew up in a prominent local food family. Her father, Herb Lotman, founded Keystone Foods, the company that convinced McDonald’s to use frozen hamburgers and later invented the Chicken McNugget. The two women met 28 years ago at Gladwyne Elementary School as classroom moms. More recently, Hertrich left the automotive business to work with Fisher’s other companies. “When Shelly tells me she has an idea, I grab a pen and pad and start writing,” Hertrich says.
They built GNL in 10 days, launching on March 25, 2020, and quickly adding exercise programing as gyms began closing. “Yoga instructors were making more in a half an hour than they did all week,” Hertrich says. “Chefs came on and were teaching how to cook at home and make meals to last a week. Others covered how to be frugal.”
Santa even made several appearances during the holidays. “You name it, and we’ve had a program—every topic, like how to pivot and change a career, or how to make a side hustle a career,” says Hertrich.
Ninety-five percent of GNL’s viewership remains female, though some men do like the food and the exercise shows. Its 12 employees all work for parent company PIF Group. GNL also has support from sponsors, partners, and advertisers via a QVC-style marketplace. “We’re monetizing,” says Hertrich, whose weekly programing schedule and newsletter goes to over 70,000 subscribers. “We have to keep monetizing to keep the lights on.”
Programing runs Monday-Thursday, and the varying times for access around the globe remain challenging. Every Monday at 7 p.m., it’s Let’s Chat, a space for people to have honest conversations with others they’ve befriended. At 4 p.m. Tuesday, air time rotates between a cooking and a baking show. In Wednesday’s 4 p.m. slot, Woo Woo focuses on a positive theme—“how to keep yourself in a good place,” Hertrich says.
Thursday programing focuses on how-to topics like astrology, journaling and photography. “The core purpose is support,” Fisher says.
Girls Nite Live has positioned ambassadors (presenters.) Some already have their own shows.
“There’s a desperate need for community, a place that’s welcoming to all backgrounds—and now that echo is so strong. We’ve created a time and place to unplug, a place to put on a program that distracts you. Some have told us that it’s the only thing that distracts them.”
With help from an engineer in New York, GNL started livestreaming in June 2021 on 10 platforms. “It’s not as interactive as Zoom, but it gives us a bigger audience to reach,” says Hertrich.
Occasionally, celebrities will appear—like three top female NFL coaches. GNL has also positioned ambassadors (presenters) for Tuesday and Wednesday shows. Some already have their own shows and platforms. There are now six GNL hosts. “I say we’re supersizing it,” says Hertrich.
In March, as part of International Women’s Day, GNL partnered with Sisterly Love, an alliance of Philadelphia-area female restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs fixed on elevating women in the food and hospitality industry. “We do believe we’re all stronger together,” says Hertrich, who was born and raised in Woodbury, New Jersey, where she returned to become mayor after raising a family in Newtown Square, Haverford and West Chester.
Abby Feerrar, who co-owns Four Birds Distilling in Havertown and Bald Birds Brewing in Audubon, hosted a virtual tour of operations on GNL. “It was fun for me to show our space virtually, but there was also the educational aspect of the different ingredients, components and styles in beers,” she says. “It benefited us on the back end, because then we had new visitors. For us, it kept things brewing and exposed us to an audience who might not otherwise have known we existed.”
Two years later, there are always new ideas coming out on GNL. “I do watch from time to time,” says Feerrar. “My sister hosted a show, and other friends have gotten in on it, too.”