Ron Popeil is famous for a phrase that perfectly describes his next business move: “But wait, there’s more!”
Popeil is the infomercial pitchman who invented the Veg-O-Matic, Inside-the-Egg Scrambler and Showtime Rotisserie. From the 1970s to the 1990s, his high-energy presentations were a staple of late-night TV advertising. Now 76, Popeil announced last week that he’ll come out of semiretirement from his Beverly Hills home to sell his latest invention, the Popeil Olive Oil Fryer.
For the first time in his career, he wants to sell the fryer project to a company and simply act as product spokesman. Also, he wants to add Facebook and Twitter marketing to his traditional TV infomercial blitz.
The Popeil Olive Oil Fryer is a kitchen device that can fry a small turkey, leg of lamb or vegetables. Popeil has been working eight years on the project, cooking as many as eight turkeys a day to test and perfect the invention. But mass-merchandising of his product would require an office and warehouse with about 200 employees and would demand more energy than he wants to give at this point in his life.
“When I sell this project, I’ll sell the patents, the infomercial, the tooling for manufacture – everything,” he said.
But he doesn’t plan to stop there: “Then I can get on with my next invention.”
Thomas Haire, editor-in-chief of direct-marketing trade publication Response magazine in Santa Ana, said the sale of an invention to a company is unusual for a known personality like Popeil, but is common for unknown inventors. He speculated that companies such as kitchen equipment manufacturers, or direct-market houses Telebrands Corp. in Fairfield, N.J., and Hearthware Inc. in Libertyville, Ill., would be interested in this particular deal.
“If they can put Ron Popeil’s name on it, then there are people who would buy it,” he said.
Between 1964 and 2005, Popeil controlled his inventions as chief executive of Ronco Inc. in Chatsworth. The company handled manufacturing, marketing and shipping of his products, including Smokeless Ashtray and his father’s invention, Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman.
In 2005, Popeil sold Ronco for $56 million to Denver-based holding company Fi-Tec VII. When Fi-Tec tried to drop the infomercials and sell through retail stores, results were dismal. By 2007, Ronco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Later that year, it was purchased out of bankruptcy by El Segundo’s Marlin Equity Partners for about $6.5 million.
In 2008, turnaround expert Larry Nusbaum bought it from Marlin for an undisclosed sum. Now called Ronco Holdings Inc., the company still sells some of Popeil’s inventions using infomercials with vintage footage of him combined with fresh hosts, demonstrations and testimonials.
Popeil hasn’t produced an infomercial in eight years, and the memories of his most successful products go back decades. That may make it a more difficult sell, said Palmer Reuther, senior vice president at Boston marketing consultancy Racepoint Group.
“He has been out of the business for years,” Reuther said. “So he has work to do in rebranding himself to reach consumers.”
Popeil admitted he’s a newcomer to Facebook and Twitter, but he’s determined to quickly figure out how to use those platforms to sell.
“If you get enough people following you, and they see your products, the two will be married soon,” he said. “These people are all potential customers.”
Popeil believes TV will provide the basis for selling the fryer, with video, images and testimonials from the infomercials serving as content on Facebook and Twitter.
Reuther said the biggest challenge in social media is rising above the noise, with about 200 million daily tweets on Twitter, and 2 billion posts or comments on Facebook.
“The ability to stand out is a challenge, even for a personality as large as Ron’s,” Reuther said. “Because people are bombarded with information, the content will have to be relevant, funny or immediate to gain any attention.”
Also, Reuther said Popeil’s reputation in TV broadcasting won’t necessarily translate to social media. While the number of 30- to 60-year-olds on Facebook and Twitter is growing, the majority of users are in the 20s and 30s, too young to remember Popeil’s most famous products.
Popeil’s said that everyone, no matter their demographics, will like his fryer.
“Everyone is looking for a healthy way to fry food,” he said. “And I believe my product satisfies that need.”
Advice to inventors
Popeil expects to sell the fryer project quickly. He hopes manufacturing will begin in early in 2012 and that an infomercial will tape a few weeks later. He said TV viewers should see his product on their screens by next spring with a price in the $99-$150 range.
To build up the number of his subscribers on Twitter, Popeil is offering would-be inventors advice on their next product.
Through Oct. 31, followers can send Popeil their ideas via Twitter. He will then opine whether the product will “fly or fail.”
One inventor recently tweeted Popeil about a kit that would help people find clay in their backyard so they could make pottery.
“That was a fail,” Popeil said. “I told the guy I’ve made candle-making kits, plastic flower kits and pottery kits. All those were successful, but yours will fail.”
Popeil acknowledged that most of his responses will be “fail,” and that’s not a good way to impress potential customers.
“When someone comes to you with an idea, and you show them how it can’t work, they don’t feel too good,” he said. “But sooner or later, you start building up the numbers and soon those people will start looking for gifts for the holidays. It’s an add on to TV advertising, and one would be remiss to not take Facebook and Twitter seriously in any future marketing campaigns.”
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.