Company: Ronco Corp. (sold in 2005)
Born: New York City, 1935
Education: Six months at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Career Turning Point: In 1967, a friend told him he should take his company public. Popeil's response: "What's that?" Ronco appeared on the American Stock Exchange in 1969.
Most Influential People: Casino developer Steve Wynn. Also, his father Samuel Popeil, an inventor who developed the Veg-O-Matic and Popeil's Pocket Fisherman.
Personal: Fourth marriage; five daughters, ranging in age from 6 to 49
Hobby: Cooking and fishing
Ron Popeil started selling gadgets at street markets but graduated to TV commercials soon after founding Ronco Corp. in 1964. He appeared in the ads without a script, demonstrating the products and delivering the pitches he had perfected while working the crowds. His ads created a direct-response vernacular with such phrases as "slices and dices," "but wait there's more!" and "operators are standing by." Early successes such as the Veg-O-Matic food-chopping machine eventually gave way to more expensive products such as food dehydrators and rotisserie cookers. In 2005, Popeil sold Ronco Corp. for $55 million; two years later it declared bankruptcy. In August, investment firm Marlin Equity Partners bought it for $6.5 million. Popeil spoke with the Business Journal in the living room of his Beverly Hills home. When a cooking timer sounded during the interview he retrieved a turkey from a prototype fryer in his kitchen-laboratory. Popeil said the turkey fryer, set to sell on airwaves in 2008, will be the last invention of his career.
Question: Can you talk about your famous products, starting with the Pocket Fisherman?
Answer: I have a fishing boat in Ketchikan, Alaska, named Popeil's Pocket Fisherman. Do I use it up there? Yes. Have I caught fish? A lot of fish. Salmon? Well, wait a second. I nailed a salmon with that Pocket Fisherman, a king salmon. It flew out of my hand shortly after the fish bit the hook. Somewhere out of Ketchikan there's a salmon dragging a Popeil's Pocket Fisherman around.
Q: It doesn't work for salmon?
A: But for small fish 8 to 10 pounds, bass Pocket Fisherman was one of the greatest inventions on the planet.
A: Way ahead of its time. It was the predecessor of the Cuisinart. In its day, it did a great job. In today's world no one would buy it. There are too many products that work faster and easier.
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