“Ron Popeil, the TV pitchman known for his infomercials
and his “set it and forget it” tagline,
died [today]at 86.”
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Failure: Dad Was All Business!
On This Day: May 3, 1935, Ron Popeil was born to Samuel & Eloise Popeil.
Ron Popeil is one of the most, if not the most, successful “pitchmen” of recent history. Beginning in the 1950s, Ron Popeil has appeared on more infomercials than any other salesman, promoting products that he himself invented, marketed, and sold by the millions.
Ron began selling his father’s goods at the Maxwell Street Flea Market in the mid ’50s at the age of 13, for 10 hours a day — from six in the morning till four in the afternoon.
Popeil’s father, uncles, and cousins were all known for their skills at selling — “My cousins could sell you an empty box.” — Ron Popeil.
Ron Popeil: Born May 3, 1935
As Gladwell’s book states (“What the Dog Saw” by Malcomb Gladwell), it was Nathan Morris, who came from Europe in the 1880’s — who was one of the first “pitchmen” who walked the boardwalk of Atlantic City & Asbury Park, New Jersey, along with Ed McMahon. Nathan hired Samuel J. Popeil, his nephew, just before the war.
At the age of 3, Ron’s parents were divorced (1938), and at the age of 5 (Ron says “5” — some say 6, and others say 7), he was rescued by his grandparents and moved to Florida to live with them.
Ron and Jerry were Samuel’s two sons. Both sons were sent off to boarding school (Ron Popeil says it was actually an orphanage) in upstate New York.
Jerry died at the age of 46 of alcoholism in 1980.
“Most of the early years were so painful . . . I blocked them out.” But he does have one memory. “It was a Sunday, and I stood in the middle of the road, and I cried, looking for a car coming, with the hope that a parent would be coming to see me. That vehicle never came. They never visited.”
In 1952, at the age of 17, he moved to Chicago to work for his father (Samuel Popeil)– Popeil Brothers — who was an inventor and salesman, as Ron himself came to be. His father was the inventor of the “Spiral Slicer.”
“There was no love for my father at all. I had a respect for the guy as a businessman, but I hardly saw him. He was a single man and did what single guys do. I was 16 when I started selling my father’s products at county fairs and flea markets. I made almost $1,000 a week, spending as fast as I was earning it.”
“I don’t ever remember having a birthday party in my life.” — Gladwell pg. 26
[After moving to Chicago with his father and working in his father’s business] “My father was all business. I didn’t know him personally.” — Gladwell pg. 27
That would be followed by “Chop-o-Matic” and “Veg-o-Matic.” When these were originally sold, two million were sold, and they sold for $3.98 each.
I was working in the Woolworth’s store in Chicago selling the Chop-O-Matic, standing eight or 10 hours a day. I would do six demonstrations an hour. My vocal cords were so strained that I wouldn’t want to talk to anybody when the day was over.
“I was stuffing money into my pocket,” he says, “more money than I had ever seen in my life”—as much as $500 a day, big money in 1951.
“Radio” was invented in 1985 (the wireless Marconi telegraph), and television was invented in 1927. By 1952, Samuel Popeil decided that television advertising seemed a more sensible way to sell his inventions.
Ron Popeil formed his own company called “Ronco” in 1964.
“If I create a product, I can market it as well as or better than anyone on the planet. I have the confidence and the passion. People see that, and they know it is real. When you make your own products and you put your name on them, you better have something good, or else when you walk down the street, people will be throwing stuff at you.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you the greatest kitchen appliance ever made … All your onions chopped to perfection without shedding a single tear.”
“Slice a tomato so thin it only has one side.”
“They [Morris & Popeil] believed that it was a mistake to separate product development from marketing, as most of their contemporaries did, because to them the two were indistinguishable: the object that sold best was the one that sold itself. They were spirited, brilliant men. And Ron Popeil was the most brilliant and spirited of them all. He was the family’s Joseph, exiled to the wilderness by his father only to come back and make more money than the rest of the family combined. He was a pioneer in taking the secrets of the boardwalk pitchmen to the television screen.” — Gladwell, pg. 5
“You have to explain the invention to the customers — not once or twice, but three or four times, with a different twist each time.” — Gladwell pg. 15
“Popeil is one of those rare survivors who’s built up and amazing fortune, lost it and made a remarkable comeback.“
Ronco Spray Gun (One of his first products)
The Pocket Fisherman
Electric Pasta Maker
Feather Touch Knife
Dial-o-Matic “Set It And Forget It!”
Rotisserie — sold over 8 million of them in the U.S.
“My latest project is a deep fryer. I’ve been working on it for four years. It will be my last product and my last infomercial. There are two million people who use turkey fryers, mostly down South. QVC saw the product in its early stages, and they said to me, “Ron, when you’re ready, we’ll buy 40,000 for a one-day sale.” JCPenney said they’d take another 40,000. It’s all about brand reputation.”
Ron Popeil was married three times to Marilyn Greene, Lisa Boehne, Robin Angers. He is the father of 5 children.
“Here is a man who constructed his life in the image of his father — who went into the same business, who applied the same relentless attention to the working of the kitchen, who got his start by selling his father’s own products — and where was his father? /. . . . ‘You know they could have done wonders together . . . They could have been a war machine.’” — Gladwell pg. 27
Key Illustrative Thoughts:
The men of this world are wiser than the children of light.
“Confidence and Passion”
A Work Ethic: Hard work
“Without shedding a single tear.”
When two dynamics collide — Sales & Television
A Joseph in the world of sales.
Blocking out the pain!
Rich, but unhappy in relationships.
They could have been a war machine if they worked together.
Explain it more than once!
And where was his father?
How to lose your children: Be All Business.
Failure Midst Success.
Living Our Father’s Lives.
But Wait — There’s More!
Additional Information & Links
“The idea from the Showtime [Rotisserie Oven] came about . . . . [when] Ron was at Costco when he suddenly realized that there was a long line of customers waiting to buy chickens from the in-store rotisserie tens. They touched on rotisserie chicken, but Ron knew one thing: they did not have rotisserie ovens. Ron went home and called Backus. Together, they bought a class aquarium, a motor, a heating element, a spit rod, and a handful of other spare parts, and began tinkering. Ron wanted something big enough for a fifteen-pound turkey but small enough to fit into the same between the base of an average kitchen cupboard and the countertop. He didn’t want a thermostat, because thermostats break, and constant click on and off of the heat prevents the even, crispy growing that he felt was essential.” Gladwell pg 7-8